In fighting graft, we must bite the bullet or hang separately

Swiss businessmen at one point regarded money as an end to itself rather than a means to an end. “God rules in heaven and money on earth. Even the devil dances for gold,” so goes a Zurich proverb.

But the rapacious theft of public funds by those entrusted with the keys to public coffers could easily make the Swiss businessmen look like holy men.

As Kenyan, an historical moment is upon us, we are at the precipice of a cliff. We can either pull back and steady our ship or plunge into obscurity by joining rudderless states that have been gnawed away by malignant corruption.

We are not short of examples in Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo, potentially one of the richest countries on earth, has been ravaged by slavery and corruption and is now consistently rated lowest on the UN Human Development Index.

Brazil as an example

On the global stage, Brazil offers a perfect example, where more than 80 politicians—including former presidents—and the business elite were implicated in the biggest corruption scandal in history. An investigation dubbed Operation Car Wash revealed that officials at Petrobras, a state oil company, had received bribes from construction firms in return for awarding them contracts at inflated prices.

Petrobras estimates that nearly $3 billion in bribes was paid as part of the corporate racketeering. These included gifts of Rolex watches, apartments, yachts, helicopters and prostitutes.

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The speed at which we are institutionalising theft is dizzying, it is almost becoming an accepted way of life at every social strata. This is despite the fact that Kenyans have in the past suffered the effects of institutionalised corruption which led to a crippled economy where the corrupt lived lavishly as jobs disappeared; state corporations crumbled and companies lost credit lines.

We are going down the beaten path of a falling nation with gusto. Besides rampant corruption, we are exhibiting other pointers of a declining of nation such unsustainable fiscal practices, declining political civility and moral decadence. 

In past studies of nations and empires that have crumbled, there has been a discernible pattern of decline of the family, the primary building bloc of a prosperous society, where men abdicated their leadership roles at the family level and morality became secondary.

In pursuit of material wealth and political power, we have selfishly cast aside the ethos that guided yester-year builders of the nation. Fathers and others in positions of leadership are no longer seriously invested in properly instructing and guiding their kith and kin, leading to weakened family units.

Leaders are a bad example

In fact, our leaders are on the front row of discouraging deference to civic authority and adherence to laws of the land. Our governors’ recent quest to be accorded immunity akin to that of the president attests to how deep the malady of impunity is engrained in our psyche as a nation.

But hope is not lost, the arrest and prosecution of senior officials in key state organisations is perhaps a pointer that the noose around the necks’ of the lords of impunity is tightening.

But to earn public confidence that the state is not dramatically conducting arrests to placate an irate populace, it is time the state upped the ante by deploying measures similar to those used in the Petrobras scandal investigation. To fast-track investigations, Brazil used plea bargaining to allow prosecutors to make deals with suspects by reducing their sentences in exchange for information that could lead to the arrest of the real kahunas.

The Judiciary can also weigh in by approving prolonged “preventive detentions” to curb the use of economic or political influence by the mighty to escape charges against them. This would exert pressure on suspects to either make a deal or stay in remand.

Though painful and potentially distablising, the country can also go the Indian route and use demonetisation.  To crack down on “black money,” the government can withdraw the use of Sh1, 000 note forcing those who have stashed away proceeds of crime and graft in their houses to exchange the note for new banknotes.

This way, the taxman will stop coming after the ordinary mwananchi through imposing additional taxes on my Tusker, M-Pesa transfers and airtime.

Mr Thiong’o is a financial journalist and strategic communications consultant

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war against corruptioncorruption scandalstheft of public funds