How we will deal with corruption in this fiscal year will determine the nature of our society and the quality of our democracy for the coming decade.
When serious persons in government take steps to raise revenue internally, and overseas backers bring support to repay our overloaded external debts, the question both, and all Kenyans who are suffering the most, are asking themselves is ‘What is defeating these serious well-intentioned steps?’
The answer comes from concerned insiders within the government itself, and from friendly observers from overseas, and from the experience of the people themselves. The answer from all three sources is the same: It is large-scale corruption. Corruption is defeating and threatening to defeat both short-term steps and long-term programmes, to remedy this weakness in our economic situation.
One symptom of corruption is the manner and language in which the government responds to questions raised by well-meaning Kenyans and outsiders about the presence of corruption. Will calls by Kenyans to halt corruption be taken seriously? Will they be met with explanations and steps to staunch the bleeding? Or will they be met by abuse, ‘warnings’ and calls for ‘punishment’? These last responses are not only our experience of our past 60 years but also our experience of our past year. When the Nation Media Group exposed the possibility of corruption in an important ministry this year, a Cabinet Secretary attacked the media group in wholly improper language, with wild denials, and no attempt to deal with the matters raised.
The CS was not condemned by the government for his choice of language, or his wrong attitude. Nor was he relieved of cabinet rank. It was a missed opportunity to establish the correct manner and language in which such accusations should be dealt with. Where can we find the correct language and attitude that government, ministers and public officials must use in dealing with public affairs including questions about corruption?
Why must all these leaders search for better language and a different attitude in their responses to serious problems like corruption? The answer lies in the fact that leadership is a public trust, and not a post for the private profit of officials, whether elected or appointed. Flowing from that definition of office and leadership, it is in the Constitution that we will find the consequential requirements of language and conduct.
The Constitution has a prominent chapter dedicated to “Leadership and Integrity”. It is the famous Chapter Six. It sends shivers down the spines of many State Officials.
This is what it considers the speech and conduct of leaders to be: Article 73. (1)(a)(ii) provides that leadership is to be exercised “in a manner that (ii)demonstrates respect for the people; (iii) brings honour to the nation and dignity to the office; and (iv) promotes public confidence in the integrity of the office…” Article 73(2)(b) requires their speech and conduct to show that there is “objectivity and impartiality in decision making and that decisions are not influenced by nepotism, other improper motives or corrupt motives.”
One can easily see that none of these tests was met by the Cabinet Secretary’s language or conduct in the Nation Media Group matter. Leaders must also remember all the time, that covering up corruption is itself an improper and corrupt motive.
Further, Article 73(2)(d) requires leaders to keep in mind that “accountability to the public for decisions and actions”, is a guiding principle of leadership. In the Nation Media Group matter the CS’s speech and conduct demonstrated the opposite. He was rejecting accountability to the public. He behaved as if the government was not an accounting party. Further, the freedom of expression affirmed by Article 33, does not extend to hate speech, or ethnic incitement, or advocacy of hatred on any ground of discrimination prohibited by Article 27(4).
So, as questions from Kenyans about corruption increase, it is important for leaders at every level to move away from the past and respond in the ways the Constitution demands. The present harm, multiplied by social media’s easy availability, is to both individuals and corporations, but most of all, such loose talk breaks our national cohesion and harms our national integrity.
And the more ministers behave and talk like this, the more will increase the number of Kenyans who will suspect that it is because ministers are involved in corruption.
-The writer is senior counsel