SOME GOOD

If BBI can tame corruption, so be it

In Summary
  • The challenge is not the additional offices the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2020 proposes, but institutionalised corruption.
  • Neither is the cost of political uncertainties that follow bungled elections being factored into the overall rationale for BBI changes.

Cynics of Building Bridges Initiative are not discussing what the proposed changes say about enhanced fight against corruption. The silence on this score suppresses the long-term value of the proposed changes.

The amendments propose speedier prosecution of corruption cases, steeper sentences and fines for convicts, protection of whistleblowers, aggressive recovery of proceeds of corruption, and restricting public officers from insider trading.

Most corruption cases are lying in court. Prosecuting such cases within two years would be a gain. The President has blamed the laxity of prosecution on the Judiciary. The Judiciary has blamed the backlog on poor funding.

 

The national economy loses about Sh300 billion to corruption annually. This is higher than the expected rise in the wage bill, after the 2021 referendum.

Corruption is the recurrent risk that continues to destroy the economy. Corruption erodes the moral fabric of society; violates the social and economic rights of the vulnerable; undermines democracy; subverts the rule of law, which is the basis of civilisation; retards development; and denies the poor the benefits of open competition.

The challenge is not the additional offices the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2020 proposes, but institutionalised corruption. Corruption has soared under the Jubilee regime, gobbling billions of shillings in deliberate wastage, ghost projects and raw theft.

The Eurobond scandal of 2014, when accounting for Sh215 billion was in doubt, was the plunder launcher, coming in the second year of UhuRuto regime. The Afya House scam, where Sh5.2 billion was stolen, is yet to be resolved. The Sh327 billion standard gauge railway scandal, ChickenGate and Sh791 million National Youth Service scandal are still pending.

Money lost in a single scandal, say Sh63 billion for Kimwarer and Arror dams, is five times more than enough to fund a ‘consensual referendum’. Yet we are blaming long-term investment in national stability on recurrent expenditure – salaries, wages, staff team, and allowances – without quantifying the cost of officialised corruption.

Neither is the cost of political uncertainties that follow bungled elections being factored into the overall rationale for BBI changes. Burgeoning wage bill is disastrous. Borrowing to pay salaries is foolhardy. But that is what it is for Kenya – seven years into the Jubilee era. Kenya is in a hole. Some would rather the country stays there, instead of draining the swamp.

National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani captures the mess: “Supporting the budget and preventing the economy from crashing is our main priority. We borrow to support the budget because revenue is either limited or not there. We are in a state never witnessed before. The drastic reduction in revenue and underperformance of the economy is a concern.”

 

Rise in revenue will depend on massive investments, local and foreign. These, in turn, depend on creating an enabling environment, by sorting out the political mess that breeds corrupt leaders.

Seven years of devolution show rising recurrent expenditure, which has been blown off the mark through untamed recurrent risks. The 2019-20 county report shows soaring appetite for recurrent spending: Sh172 billion paid in salaries, wages, and allowances between July 2019 and June 2020. The expenditure, an increase from Sh162.8 billion spent in 2018-19, represents 44.8 per cent of the allocation to counties.

But there is no enhanced services or productivity. Counties such as Homa Bay and Vihiga have reported cases of ghost workers, largely relatives and cronies of county executives. The wage bill is still rising because of runaway hiring and soaring appetite for personnel allowances.

Devolution has not ensured dispersed funds benefit the masses. Allocation for development is still wobbly, even after seven years of devolution. Except for Kitui and Makueni, and a couple others, the rest do not invest in development that add value to local farm produce or create jobs.

If, under better leadership, Kenya can reduce the cost of corruption through the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020, so be it.