Anti-corruption drive – What about the universities?

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta’s war on corruption has seen the arrest and prosecution of high-profile civil servants from current and past regimes, but have universities been overlooked in his campaign? Some academics and stakeholders think so.

Professor Sammy Kubasu, former chairperson of the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) said agencies mandated with fighting corruption – such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions – have failed to take serious measures, especially in Kenya’s public universities.

“The government seems reluctant to fight corruption in our universities, yet almost all public universities in Kenya suffer different forms of corruption,” said Kubasu in an interview with University World News.

Kubasu, who is currently the secretary general of UASU’s chapter at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, said unions have given enough evidence to institutions mandated to fight corruption such as the EACC; yet no serious prosecutions have been instituted.

Lack of audits

Why is corruption so deeply rooted in Kenya’s public universities? For a long time universities have not been subjected to auditing. “Government did not take keen interest in auditing universities until recently,” said Kubasu, with the result that most universities did not keep proper records of their revenues and expenditure.

“No one, except the top management, knew how much money came in and how much was spent,” said Kubasu. He said the lack of accountability among vice-chancellors provided an environment for corruption to take root.

Kubasu said in addition to regular audits, there is a need for lifestyle audits, especially of top university management staff who have amassed a money and property over a short period of time during their tenure. If properties acquired illegally are seized, for example, it will discourage future university managers from looting, he said.

Negative ethnicity and nepotism have also manifested in a number of public universities in Kenya, according to surveys conducted countrywide. Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission Chairperson, Francis Ole Kaparo, is on record as saying that only five out of 33 national public universities have complied with the law on national cohesion that outlaws skewed employment of ethnic groupings.

Nepotism and negative ethnicity

Dick Alielo, former student of a public university in Kenya, said negative ethnicity and nepotism had led to the employment of unqualified and incompetent staff in both academic and non-academic programmes in public universities. This had compromised the quality of services rendered from universities, including academics, he said.

The introduction of the privately-sponsored students programme that generated revenue for universities also escalated corruption and theft of money from universities, as the government continued to allocate money to the universities with no follow-ups on expenditure, said Kubasu. The income generated from these programmes was also not properly documented and recorded, he said.

With proper management of revenues from privately-sponsored students, Kubasu said universities should have been able to create centres of excellence and develop into world class universities. Additionally, he believes that public universities could even contribute to Kenya’s gross domestic product and would not face the financial crisis currently affecting most institutions of higher learning in the country.

Private sector partnership

Last month, the University of Nairobi announced a new partnership with the private sector to fight corruption in Kenya. Professor Julius Ogeng’o, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academic affairs, described the initiative as one of the efforts being advanced by academia to provide awareness and research on the social and economic impacts of corruption.

However, Kubasu said the research contribution by universities to the search for sustainable solutions to corruption has itself been jeopardised by corrupt university managers.

George Majimbo, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, told University World News that universities should establish mechanisms that ensure both internal and external auditors are independent. University accounts should be audited yearly, including forensic audits and a report compiled for scrutiny by the management board.

Majimbo urged universities to establish budget and finance committees, membership of which should include parents and students to provide oversight of the university's functions and organs such as the council, board and senate.