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February 21, 2019

Private Sector Corruption Is Dangerous

Private sector
is dangerous
Private sector corruption is dangerous

What does it feel like to be the person behind the company that supplied the ballpoint pens, piano, photocopying machines and other items at inflated prices and got paid handsomely. It feels like Christmas and their birthday all rolled into one. It’s flipping awesome. You get all the money, all the perks and none of the pain. You get to sit back, watch the drama unfold, watch Waiguru being attacked, watch Mangiti fumble over his words at a press conference as you sip on a cognac and shake your head and laugh.

For being party to the corruption but being a "private" company, no-one comes after you. No EACC, no one talks about your genitalia, no statements, no police, no suspension, no court, no visa ban — nothing. All the fun, all the money and none of the pain. Every time I raise the issue that it takes two to steal from Kenyans, I get told off for being a Uhuru supporter. Really? You think for two seconds this nonsense will end when we shield the other players in this game? How many times were you dropped as a child? Until those who partake gladly in swindling us are also shamed, until it is painful to see your name in the press everyday, corruption will continue to be a big part of business as usual.

The Kenyan media has tirelessly reported on corruption in the public sector, but not so much in private sector where companies get off scot-free. Yet all indications are that more executives are paying bribes to win contracts, as noted in a recent survey by professional services firm, EY. The survey ranked Kenya’s private sector among the world’s most corrupt.

Sebastian Gatimu, researcher at Institute for Security Studies’ Governance, Crime and Justice Division did an interview earlier this year where he spoke on the nasty side of private sector and corruption. The man barely got an audience — after all, we are so shallow, so myopic we think that the public sector can actually swindle without the help and support of private citizens. Bitter pill — yes — swallow it. It’s good for you.


Sebastian Gatimu says: "The private sector has always been culpable because bribery is a two-way street. In every public sector corruption scandal there’s one or several private companies involved. A recent example is the procurement scandal at the Ministry of Devolution and Planning. Suppliers acted in cahoots with some department officials to defraud taxpayers of hundreds of millions of shillings. The sector is unregulated, making it vulnerable to corruption. The situation is exacerbated by lack of mechanisms to make corporates accountable. The government is rather focused on tax compliance and licensing. There is overemphasis of corruption in the public sector, yet private companies are the perpetrators. Please underline and walk around today saying that phrase 'private companies are the perpetrators'.

Away from Kenya, let's look at another part of the world where corruption is rife and what they are doing about it.

In Manilla, Philippines two lawmakers moved to amend Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which targets public officials, in order to penalise corruption by private citizens, too.

Lawmaker Sherwin Tugna, in an explanatory note, said “the country has no law penalising corruption in the private sector even though graft and corruption are not limited to the government sector.

“People always see that corruption is only prevalent in the government offices, agencies and departments. They believe that public officials are the only ones who abuse their power and position to gain advantage. But the evils of graft and corruption have always plagued both the public and private sectors of our society in the Philippines,” he said.

Even those of us who know better are happily portraying private sector as the epitome of efficiency, honesty and productivity. This is wrong. The citizens of this nation need to know the whole story, why are we only giving them half. Why? Once our money leaves the government coffers, where does it go?

Of course I can see you fidgeting, squirming, getting hot under the collar, angry that I would dare call on the "silent" partner at the corruption buffet to step up and take a bow for being so smart. In fact you have a defense ready — allow me to spare you the embarrassment of writing it. The private sector are 'victims' who have been coerced to participate in corruption when seeking to do business with the state.  Isn't that what you were going to say? Then don't.

Because these "victims" never come forth to report the crime and best of all, they're paid handsomely for their "pain" and never once have to account for their business practices to others.

My fellow Kenyans, private sector corruption is dangerous. You only need to look back to the financial crash of 2008 in the west to know. Let me go back to Sebastian Gatimu and hope I can sober you down from your public sector drunken state.

As private firms gain tremendous financial muscle and as Kenya continues to attract huge foreign investors with untold wealth (being as we are now a preferred investment destination), they will afford to pay for more than just business. Underline that — they will and can afford to pay for more than just business.

If corruption is allowed to thrive as it is, powerful private enterprises will be looking to use the same illegal avenues to broker power. They will be looking to open back doors and use them to buy seats at the law- and policy-making tables from where they can determine significantly current and future regulation, policy and political direction. 

Yes, government will be run by private entities and crooks who have the money to buy a seat at the table. You will go to the ballot to vote, but the people who will truly run the country will be sitting in plush boardrooms from here to Moscow.

The danger is that when this happens, the private sector’s capacity to cause untold human suffering increases. Ultimately, when big businesses have a stranglehold on policy, laws, decisions or even political direction, there can only be impoverishment for the rest.

Ultimately, private sector corruption is about power and control on a grand scale. With this kind of power in private hands, citizens will no longer be able to argue poor working conditions, price control over essential goods and services or control of exploitative pay rates. 

So don't get your knickers in a twist about me. On the tango between private and public sectors, I'm right. Let me say that again — I am right; and I know the war will never be won until both parties pay dearly for the deed. Right now, the most dangerous people are sitting pretty or maybe not. Maybe at this moment they are glaring at my article knowing that EACC may call them. We should be baying for them to take to the podium. It's time they too were paraded through police stations and they too ruled the front pages of the paper. If this doesn't happen in the next 72 hours, then we all need to shut up. We are not serious as private citizens or even media about fighting corruption in Kenya — we’re just making noise. These 72 hours my friends, we either call up the true “eaters” or we shut up and wait for the Pope.

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