We must address the causes of corruption and not the symptoms

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Twalib Mbarak. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]
This week marks my first anniversary since I was appointed the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Chief Executive Officer.

Upon my appointment, I undertook a commitment to the public that the EACC will be firm on corruption and that it will be expensive to practice corruption in Kenya. The key mandate of the EACC is to combat corruption by enforcement, prevention and education.

Many Kenyans are of the opinion that nothing much has been done in the fight against corruption. Moreover, the country is perceived globally as one of the most corrupt. These concerns are genuine and there is more that must be done for Kenya to slay the corruption dragon. As for now, we appear to be fighting the symptoms of corruption rather than the causes.

Corruption in Kenya can be divided into three main components. We have grand corruption usually perpetrated by powerful individuals who may be politically connected or very wealthy and influential. Then we have petty corruption perpetrated by junior citizens mainly in the public service.

Petty corruption is more directly felt by the citizens, for instance, when one gets harassed by the traffic police or delays in issuance of relevant government services.

Grand corruption is more lethal but indirectly felt. It includes poorly constructed roads and substandard government projects. We also have ghost and stalled projects where millions of public funds end up enriching individuals.

Most lethal

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The third type of corruption is the most lethal and fuels grand and petty corruption. We are talking about political corruption. This is the foundation of corruption in any country. It is said that many citizens globally do not trust their governments.

Unfortunately, the root cause of political corruption is the public. We are all up in arms that county governments are corrupt. The perception out there is not whether counties are corrupt or not, but how deeply they are engaged in corrupt activities. But all county government leadership came to office through the people’s mandate. They never dropped from heaven. The fact is that our political choices are not based on performance but other factors such as handouts, ethnic inclination and political euphoria.

Government enforcement agencies mandated to fight corruption are trying their best. The Multi- Agencies Team (MAT) comprising of National Intelligence Service (NIS), EACC, Directorate Criminal Investigations (DCI), Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Attorney General (AG), Asset Recovery Unit and others have intensified the fight against corruption.

Corruption is mostly felt at the enforcement level, for example, when taking a suspect to court. While this is appreciated, we must address the real causes of the vice that appears to have spread in all aspects of our lives.

Spreading vice

For example, a parent is ready to buy leaked examination papers for their child to pass examinations; a motorist is ready to break traffic laws because he knows he can bribe the traffic police. We no longer have merit in employment ?— to get a job you have to know someone. We use fake academic certificates to vie for political positions. Kenyans believe nothing moves unless you bribe or use influence.

A multiple strategy against corruption will yield better results. Other than enforcement, the EACC is now focusing on asset tracing and recovery. The approach is punitive and preventive. The commission is tracing, restraining, recovering and returning corruptly acquired assets to the public. Previously, corrupt public officials would openly brag how they have amassed illegally acquired wealth. The public even glorified them. This is fading away.

In 2019, the EACC recovered assets worth Sh22.56 billion and averted loss of Sh135 billion through dubious State contracts and tenders.

Kenyans must profile the real causes of corruption and face them head on. We must overhaul the current anti-corruption laws that appear too lenient and ambiguous. Lee Kuan Yew, the former Singapore Prime Minister, asserted that no country will win the war against corruption with velvet (soft) laws.

While the responsibility of fighting corruption falls within the purview of the enforcement agencies, its success lies squarely with the public in addressing the root causes of the vice.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer, EACC. [email protected]

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EACC CEO Twalib MbarakWar against Corruption