DEVOLVED CORRUPTION

Who wants to be a billionaire?

There would be devolved corruption – potentially creating a new billionaire class of regional politicians.

In Summary

• Why do we not have expense-monitoring ICT system tracking the day-to-day expenditures of our county governments?

• Such technology provides an easy way for auditors to obtain real-time information on minor expenses and serious money

In the period just before the 2013 General Election, the Weekend Star ran an analysis of the soon-to-be-established county governments, under the heading, ‘Who wants to be a billionaire?’

The gist of that analysis was that there was really no reason to believe that devolution would somehow avoid the pitfall of corruption that had so firmly taken a grip on the Kenyan political system. And that along with devolved funds, there would be devolved corruption – potentially creating a new billionaire class of regional politicians.

For the old municipal and city governments of previous years had already established a clear pattern – that the councillors of those days could not hold a mayor to account. So why then would anyone imagine that the much more powerful office of governor could be audited and checked by the new grassroots leaders soon to be elected as MCAs?

Now I am not really sure if the new devolved system of government has really produced any billionaires as such. But it is all the same true that devolved government has created new centres of corruption on a scale that would have horrified the framers of the 2010 constitution if they had accurately foreseen it.

We had just returned to his chancery after a very nice lunch, and he proceeded to enter into his online expense account, the details of this expenditure. He actually had up to two weeks to do this, but he did it immediately in order to make a point

Indeed, on this matter of limiting opportunities for corruption, the new Constitution may be dismissed as an abject failure.

Back in the days of the single-party state – and under the old constitution – there would be annual reports by the Auditor General just as there are now. These reports would be replete with indications of underhand deals made possible only by complete disregard for the law of the land. But after a few weeks of public outrage, life would go on as though those reports of massive official corruption had never been published at all.

Much the same situation exists now. Prior to the president taking a personal interest in seeing a move towards conviction of some big fish, the reports by the Auditor General have been largely a cause for short-lived public outrage, and not much more.

And yet it’s not as if there are no solutions to challenges of this kind.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I once learnt of the political culture in most Nordic countries, which made it unthinkable that a Cabinet minister from one of those nations would occupy a presidential suite, even if it were offered as a complimentary upgrade. That such an indulgence could spell ruin to the ambitious politician.

Likewise, the semi-autonomous development agency housed in the same chancery: if they made any electronic payment to an NGO they supported, or even to the Kenyan government, the details were available in their capital city’s computers in real time.

Well, the same ambassador who told me this story – and he is someone who has long left Kenya – on a different occasion demonstrated the level of financial surveillance to which public officers of his largely corruption-free nation, were routinely subjected to.

We had just returned to his chancery after a very nice lunch, and he proceeded to enter into his online expense account, the details of this expenditure. He actually had up to two weeks to do this, but he did it immediately in order to make a point.

This point was that his expense sheet was accessible to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accountants in his country in real time. And that if one of these accountants chose to do so, he or she could examine the ambassador’s recorded expenditures to the last cent. Nor did it only apply to the Nairobi embassy – all of their dozens of embassies around the world were randomly monitored in the same way, by a process that did not have to wait for an annual audit.

Likewise, the semi-autonomous development agency housed in the same chancery: if they made any electronic payment to an NGO they supported, or even to the Kenyan government, the details were available in their capital city’s computers in real time.

Which of course raises the question:

Given that such expense-monitoring ICT systems exist. And given that such technology provides an easy way for auditors to obtain real-time information on minor expenses like the ambassador’s lunch bill, as well as serious money, like a development grant of hundreds of millions.

Why do we not have such a system monitoring the day-to-day expenditures of our county governments?