The Kenyan government is under heavy domestic and international pressure to prove its commitment to fighting government corruption.

At the same time, President Mwai Kibaki has renewed pledges to vigorously battle graft in a transparent manner.

“The management of public affairs requires that nothing is done in secret,” he said.

The prosecutions announced this week are the first brought since foreign donors launched a furious assault on Mr Kibaki’s administration earlier this month for failing to meet pledges to crack down on abuses of the public trust.

Attorney General Amos Wako said the six would be prosecuted for their roles in awarding millions of dollars in irregular contracts to supply equipment to Kenya’s immigration department and to build a police forensic laboratory.

The deals were cancelled and the six sacked last year after protests from lawmakers who claimed the tenders were fraudulent and Attorney General Wako said his office believed there was “sufficient admissible evidence” to prosecute the men.

The six to be tried – Joseph Magari, Sylvester Mwaliko, Wilson Sitonik, David Onyonka, Zakayo Cheruyoit and John Agili – were all senior civil servants in Mr Kibaki’s government and that of former president Daniel arap Moi.

Last week, Mr Kibaki, stung by intense donor criticism and threats to much-needed foreign assistance, ordered Kenyan anti-graft officials to review the deals and recommend possible criminal action to the attorney general.

The contract awarded to the apparently non-existent British company, Anglo Leasing Finance, for new-generation passports and visas tender was valued at tens of millions of dollars.

Earlier this week, Mr Kibaki demoted Chris Murungaru, the chief of the powerful internal security ministry that was in charge of the suspect contracts, but the move prompted complaints that he should have been fired outright.

Also, critics pointed out that the integrity of his replacement, former transport minister John Michuki, has also been questioned.

Mr Michuki said this week that the fraudulent contracts had actually been approved during the Moi administration, which was widely accused of condoning massive corruption during its 24 years in power.

The two contracts in question were among 20 suspect tenders that British High Commissioner to Kenya, Edward Clay, said on February 2 he had brought to the government’s attention to no avail.

Mr Clay accused Mr Kibaki of failing to prevent “massive looting” of public funds and his comments were followed by the resignation on February 8 of the president’s top adviser on corruption John Githongo.

His departure buffeted the war on graft and, the next day, the United States suspended some $US2.5 million ($A3 million) in anti-corruption assistance to Kenya.

Since then the European Union, Japan and Canada have all warned that their assistance may be jeopardised by the scandals and Britain has said it will deny visas to Kenyan officials implicated in corruption.

Last week, top anti-corruption adviser John Githongo resigned, saying he could no longer serve the government.

President Kibaki came to power two years ago promising to make fighting corruption a top priority.

Most donors cut off aid under former President Daniel arap Moi, citing corruption. They restored funding under Mr Kibaki.

A Transparency International survey of perceived corruption rated Kenya 122nd out of 133 countries in 2003.

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