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January 21, 2019

Price of graft not costly enough

Sacred cow
Sacred cow

Corruption is still a low-risk crime. You steal public money in the billions. If you are unlucky, you are arrested five years later, then given Sh2 million bail for a case that may stall for a decade. If you are stingy, you can get away with three years in jail and a token fine of Sh10 million. Many get away with suspicions of corruption on technicalities.

Meanwhile assets acquired with proceeds of corruption are registered in the names of relatives, including mothers who do not know they have millions in their bank accounts. Hiding assets in other people’s names is called ‘benami’ in Pakistan. Because of Kenya’s benami, the corrupt don’t worry about the presidential order on lifestyle audit. Pakistan has dealt with ‘benami’. When hidden wealth is discovered, the undeclared assets are nationalised to support victims of corruption. A good practice for Kenya to replicate.

While cases drag on courts, billions in investments from proceeds of graft earn billions. More than enough to buy protection for the suspect. Corruption remains attractive in spite of the current rambles: You graduate from a hustler to a billionaire without much effort in fair, productive, quantifiable work. Stealing by servants has broken the frontiers of reason. Jobs and tenders are given to cronies, who collect rent for their benefactors.

Proceeds of economic crimes hire lawyers and buy bail to delay and circumvent justice. They seek judicial review. You hire court clerks to ‘disappear’ the files. You compromise prosecutors to plead incompetence.

If you could not hire a lawyer, you rented a judge. Until recently, you got both for less than one-eighth of the loot. Corruption remained – and remains - a low-risk engagement, with high returns.

The current symbolic arrests – that’s the cynical view – come after years of public pressure for the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate, arrest, and prosecute suspects. The delay has nothing to do with the EACC being lazy or understaffed.

The lords of corruption know how to handle zealous investigators. They share a percentage of the loot with nosy ones. They pocket those who can derail justice. They buy time to steal some more. Twice they have burnt strategic offices in one county, and arranged thefts of computers to throw the EACC off the scent.

The EACC is yet to arrest, charge and prosecute ‘owners’ of counties where billions of public money have been looted. In one case, ‘foreign investors’ were paid Sh2 billion to support the development of middle-income houses that nobody needed in a remote village. In another case, millions bought hatcheries for youth groups without poultry farms. Without eggs to hatch, the hatcheries are rusting in bedrooms.

Maybe there is a reason the EACC delays in acting on some cases, while moving fast in some where only a few millions may have been stolen. Investigators moved fast in Bungoma, where prices of wheelbarrows were disputed. They also hit Busia for a possible loss of Sh8 million. Justice is delayed until the suspects are ready to corrupt the system. They also hope the public will forget. The rich and generous do not suffer fear of jail or shame. They cut corners around the judicial system.

The masses suffering the consequences of corruption are yet to stigmatise its beneficiaries. One suspect is building a 10-bedroom mansion for his fourth wife in a village, where the ‘executive’ sabotaged a water project. The man poached the water from the main line before it could reach higher ground tanks for supply to the lowlands by gravity. The government delivery portal records this project as complete and in use.

Take Mau Forest. Ordinary people who ‘grabbed’ quarter acres are being paraded as victims of overdue evictions. The decoys shield the elite who grabbed thousands of acres of the water tower. Malls went down to save a dead Nairobi River. The axe must fall on the power elite to save the Mau.

The low penalty threshold for the power elite explains why suspects and people perceived to be corrupt are still flaunting proceeds of economic crimes. Impunity has survived this long because the dragon is an official pet.

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