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Save us from jaws of State capture

COMMENTARY
By Tania Ngima | March 14th 2016

I first came across the phrase ‘state capture’ when conducting governance research in my graduate studies. Since then, I have heard and seen it used by a couple of political pundits with reference to the quagmire we (Kenyans) find ourselves in.

According to Transparency International, state capture refers to a situation where powerful institutions, companies or oligarchs within or outside a country use corruption to shape a nation’s legal environment, policies and economy to benefit their own private interests.

This makes it one of the most ubiquitous forms of corruption. From where I sit, Kenya is in the throes of state capture, with all arms – judiciary, legislature, executive and regulatory institutions – aiding and abetting the act.

There are certain characteristics representative of countries that can be categorised as captured states. In the conventional forms of corruption, entities and individuals exploit loopholes in the way that prevailing laws and regulations are applied.

In state capture (also described as a form of grand corruption), parliamentarians’ votes on important pieces of legislation are bought through various means including outright monetary compensation, the promise of future favours or leniency against future crimes and coveted positions in decision-making roles.

Outside of legislation, bribes are made to the judiciary to enact favourable rulings and influence court decisions. The result is blatant latitude by the perpetrators that communicates ‘we will do whatever needs to be done to commit graft, including changing the existing laws’. Do the above scenarios sound familiar?

For all the noise we have been making regarding fighting graft, the reality on the ground begs to strongly differ. Territories which succeed in stemming endemic corruption apply a powerful trifecta - principal buy in, mechanisms to stop graft incidents before they transpire and non-discriminatory application of proportional justice.

On the converse, what we have succeeded in is the art of show and tell – a facetious mockery of speaking out against corruption while endorsing it behind the scenes.

Our principals make speeches, from which one out of every four is hard-hitting and rife with possibility.

And every time, we feel a sense of hope; thinking that we may be finally poised to see some real change in the political scandal trajectory.

And every time, we discover it was just wishful reform agenda.

How else would you describe the scenario we find ourselves in where every week there are new cases of foul play being unearthed, each conducted with more impunity than the last, and each trying to outdo the other? Or the fact that the perpetrators are in their (the principals’) immediate backyard? If this is not endorsing the very crimes being decried, then what is?

For the record, the mere condemnation of sleaze, without applying the ‘stick’ is not fighting corruption. It is simply noise, and does not amount to principal buy in.

The second part of the trifecta is sorely lacking too. Implementing systems in the form of mechanisms can only work if they carry out the task they were intended for.

I heard a supporter of IFMIS speaking on a public platform about the fact that if it weren’t for the system, we would not know that there were funds that had been misappropriated.

The effectiveness of a system is not in its ability to alert on a fraud after the fact, rather to appropriately flag and prevent it, as far as is possible before human intervention intercedes. To praise the implementation of a multi-million-dollar system whereby zeroes can be added without the back-end triggering an alarm is making a mockery of our intelligence.

Lastly, we have perfected the art of applying such discriminatory justice that it would be hilarious if it were not so sad. Did you hear of the lotion (priced Sh780) thief who was sentenced to two years in jail? Or the granny who languished in prison for months over stealing two plastic chairs?

Yet the perpetrators of billions in the Eurobond scandal, the NYS Sh791million, Youth Fund’s Sh115 million, billions from State-owned Kenya Power, returnees of Goldenberg with more procurement scandals all walk free while the public is hoodwinked into claims of ‘investigations’ and ‘gathering of evidence’.

The sentiment is that justice is for the rest of us. It is not for those who are milking this country dry and stashing away funds for the next elections.

One of the recommended ways for tackling the slide of a country into a captured state touches on prioritisation of the reforms agenda. However, because it is in the interest of the legislators, justice system and the political elite to maintain the status quo, this path is fraught with difficulty and frustration.

However, the grand total of those who are in a position to fight for the status quo amounts to less than 10 per cent of the voting population. As I keep saying, we have more power than we think and we need to start exercising that power.

As we prepare to go into elections, it is about time we started to pay more attention to those we are entrusting with our interests.

 

 

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