Graft has been rampant in the east African nation for decades. The anti-corruption body has struggled to make an impact because of the determined opposition of the political class.
Matemu was appointed by the president to head the anti-graft body over a year ago. But the High Court nullified his appointment in September 2012 because of concerns over his integrity while working at the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC).
It was alleged he was involved in deals that resulted in AFC losing billions of shillings of taxpayers’ money.
“Businessmen of Asian descent would apply for loans of between Sh18 million and Sh24 million from AFC, and then, all these loans would be written off, and these loans amounted to over Sh5 billion,” member of parliament Gitobu Imanyara was reported to have told the Kenyan parliament in September.
A non-governmental organisation, Trusted Society of Human Rights Alliance, went to court in an attempt to block Matemu’s appointment.
It claimed that Matemu “swore an affidavit with false information” on the amount of money that Rift Valley Agricultural Contractors Limited owed AFC. It said that he approved loans which “had not been properly secured, and whose proceeds were paid out in fraudulent and unclear circumstances”.
It argued that during Matemu’s tenure as legal officer at AFC, the company’s governance record was “characterised by mismanagement, dubious writing off of debts and loss of billions of shillings of tax payers’ money”.
Last month, the Appeals Court overturned the High Court’s ruling, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove he was involved in graft.
FORCED OUT OF OFFICE
Matemu’s predecessor PLO Lumumba , a feisty lawyer, broke with the hands-off approach of previous holders of the office, and his no-holds-barred raids on corruption cartels and prosecutions of cabinet ministers were acclaimed by many Kenyans.
Parliament, rattled by his robust approach, disbanded the anti-graft watchdog in 2011 and set up a new body under the 2010 constitution. The lawmakers watered down this body’s powers, removed its ability to prosecute, and voted to remove Lumumba from office after he had served only one year of his five-year term.
"I am very happy that we all seem to be united that we are not going to allow the same body to investigate and prosecute because they can abuse those powers,” Charity Ngilu - one of the ministers Lumumba had been investigating – was quoted as saying.
“If the current person who is sitting as the director was going to be given those powers I do not think there would be anybody sitting in this Parliament."
The anti-graft body has a troubled history.
Its first boss, John Harun Mwau, took office in the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority in 1997 but was suspended after six months.
Mwau has since been named by the United States as one of the world’s top ten drug kingpins. The Kenyan government says there is no evidence to support the allegations.
In 2000, the High Court ruled that the existence of the anti-corruption authority was unconstitutional as it undermined the powers of Kenya’s notoriously corrupt police and the attorney general.
It was revived in 2003 under a new name, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), but was widely regarded as ineffective under the leadership of Aaron Ringera from 2004 to 2009.
The US Embassy described Ringera, in cables published by Wikileaks, as “part of the system within the GOK [Government of Kenya] that protects its own from prosecution regardless of the crime committed and will, if necessary, kill to enforce the system”.
Anti-corruption crusader John Githongo detailed how Ringera thwarted his efforts to expose the Anglo-Leasing scandal in the book It’s Our Turn to Eat.
Ringera resigned in 2009 after parliament voted to block his reappointment.
Matemu is the first person to take up the post of head of the newly named Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission since Lumumba’s removal from its predecessor.