• People talk a lot about changing the way we live in response to the coronavirus.
• Perhaps we also need to look at changing the way we live in response to the virus of corruption.
There is a high chance that the pangolin that may have carried Covid-19 to Wuhan originated from East Africa and passed through our country and out from the port thanks to corrupt officers, blind eyes and greased palms.
There is a simple word for this: Corruption.
There is not a person in Kenya who does not have strong views on this word. Most have experienced it several times and for some, it is an everyday occurrence.
Every day, the newspapers give us fresh stories of mind-blowing corruption schemes or evidence of how snappily dressed lawyers have exploited this technicality or that in order to acquit their client.
Meanwhile, ordinary motorists often have to part with a few hundred of their hard-earned shillings to avoid the laborious, time-consuming process of attending court for a tiny transgression.
What else does corruption mean?
Well, the Kenyan state has consistently come up short on its tax collection targets. This is largely the result of a system that captures only a small percentage of earners in the republic, but also one that has allowed too much room for individuals and businesses to buy an “amendment” to their tax bill.
Taxes are the source of funds the government relies on to carry out many of its responsibilities. Taxes are needed to pay public servants, for example, and distribute budgets to the counties– and now to finance pandemic-related costs in health and economic recovery.
Now that we are reflecting on the meaning of words, let’s be clear about the term “public servant”.
In any possible interpretation, a public servant is answerable to the public. He or she is appointed to fulfill a role that serves to develop the country and support its citizens. Public servants do not possess a licence to self-enrich, to pilfer from the public purse and to divert funds intended to lift people from poverty for their own benefit.
Corruption has allowed terrorists to cross borders and to move without hindrance. It has diverted free medicines intended for the neediest to private sales. Clinics destined for rural areas sit rusting at Mombasa port and water supply projects for arid areas lie unfinished because the money has instead been used to buy cars, houses and other trappings of wealth.
Corruption is the virus. It’s the reason Kenya is the recipient of substandard goods and services. It’s the reason some of our fellow citizens have no access to fresh water, healthcare and sufficient food. It’s the reason so many Kenyans are unable to sleep somewhere safe and wonder where the next meal will come from. People talk a lot about changing the way we live in response to the coronavirus. But perhaps we also need to look at changing the way we live in response to the virus of corruption.
There have been positives in recent years. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission is recovering record amounts of assets and convicting more people than ever before. The Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear he won’t rest until people guilty of corruption in high public office are convicted. Civil society has felt able to highlight abuses and more and more people are willing to stand up and say: This is no longer an acceptable way to get by!
Resources, bureaucracy and a backlog of cases in court are three very real things holding back the war on graft. But as we hopefully emerge from the limbo of Covid-19, can we think about what we can do differently as citizens and residents of Kenya? We need to be prepared to say no, to refuse to pay the bribe, to in return for something he shouldn’t be doing. And most of all, refuse to say it’s just a way of life.
In other countries, a cop who takes the equivalent of Sh500 would not just be arrested and prosecuted, he would be sacked, stripped of his pension and regarded as a social pariah. No colleague would entertain him and no one would employ him. In effect, it’s simply not worth it.
We need to apply the same stance: Any public servant who entertains graft is pushing another brick into the wall of the virus that corruption is in our societies, and should consider themselves one of the architects of it. Businesses who pay or accept bribes should consider themselves another part of the masonry. Such people should be cast down into social purgatory and serve as an example to everyone else.
To the corrupt: You are a virus and it’s about time that the public became the surgeon.
MARSH is the senior investigations expert, International Centre for Asset Recovery, Basel Institute on Governance
To report corruption call the hotline on 0727285663 or 0733520641 or report online at www.eacc.go.ke.