From corruption to lobbying, we can do it

Matters health should not be taken lightly. Many of the scandals that have been revealed lately are life-threatening to our beloved nation. For two months, we have been treated to the sad drama of the sugar scandal.

That some high-ranking individuals in Kenya allowed unregulated importation of thousands of tonnes of sugar duty-free presents the unedifying spectacle of a country determined to strangle a sector that supports the livelihoods of millions of citizens.

Even worse are the frightening claims of contaminated and unprocessed sugar finding its way to shop shelves, posing a serious health risk to Kenyans. To add insult to injury, news that MPs accepted as little as Sh10,000 in bribes to reject the sugar report left Kenyans worried: How low could our ‘honourable’ MPs sink?

Admittedly, corruption in Kenya has reached an alarming stage and seems to be borrowing the strategy of notable successful business enterprises. This is the strategy of acceptability, accessibility and affordability.

Coca-cola, for example, has grown successful by making sure its products are accessible (cold in a fridge where there is no safe drinking water), acceptable (meets the requirements of a refreshment) and affordable (as cheap as Sh15).

Safaricom, and by extension its M-Pesa services, is also accessible as it can be found throughout the country, acceptable due to its emotional proximity to Kenyans and more affordable when transferring funds.

Temporary happiness

The third example is the local brew, chang’aa. Strange as it may sound, in most counties, chang’aa is more accessible than clean drinking water, acceptable as a source of temporary happiness, an alleged cure to some illnesses, and more affordable than branded beer or liquor.

Clearly, when corruption finally hits the level of ‘affordability’ we must all be worried. It is dangerous.

Some years back, only those with a lot of money could think of bribing MPs. Now, MPs have made it a mass market business by accepting as little as Sh10,000; soon it will be cheaper than that.

Among the implications of this is that the poor can also afford lifestyle diseases willingly or unwillingly but without the means to treat them.

Some years ago, only the rich could afford processed foods and as such, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other lifestyle diseases were confined to the rich. However, now even the poor can afford them.

The effect is growth in revenues for the health sector. For many years there were only a few hospitals in Kenya: Kenyatta National Hospital (1901), Nairobi Hospital (1952) and Aga Khan Hospital (1958). But now as poor lifestyles become more affordable, so many hospitals have been built.

However, there is not yet good healthcare for citizens despite paying taxes for this. This is because corruption has become a mass-market product. To arrest the situation, something drastic needs to be done. Methinks the introduction of lobbying in Kenyan society would contribute towards solving this problem.

Obama observed

In Kenya, as former American President Barack Obama observed, corruption is not just a problem but a crisis – a crisis that is robbing an honest people of the opportunities they have fought for, the opportunity they deserve”.

But who is to fight against corruption in Kenya? Politicians? Civil servants? Various arms of Government?

Unfortunately, most of these have let us down terribly in this respect. The truth is all have to fight. To paraphrase JF Kennedy, let us ask not what Kenya is doing to fight corruption, but what we can do for Kenya in the fight against corruption. What is my contribution towards affecting public policy and bringing about social change?

From a functional perspective, corruption in Kenya enables business people to do business. Corruption makes MPs pass bills that serve the interests of partisan stakeholders, enables one to get a passport immediately and parents to get good schools for their unqualified children, makes people get jobs for which they don’t qualify...

The fear, therefore, has been: if corruption is eliminated, how do we get things done? My opinion is that we can introduce lobbying to replace corruption.

Done right, lobbying influences decision-making with transparency and integrity. Lobbying brings together other stakeholders, thereby reducing the power of a sole player.

For instance, if Parliament is the only entity with power, legitimacy and urgency in passing a Bill, motion, legislation or any decision, anyone with interest in any of these will be tempted to pay money to the MPs to twist the outcome for their benefit.

However, through lobbying, other stakeholders can be introduced in such a way that they discover they don't have the ultimate decision-making powers hence must be able to use facts to justify their decision.

Social change

This is because to effect social change, any lobbyist's case must be presented with skill, knowledge and confidence.

Lobbyists must be able to assess their political resources, set an agenda for action, understand who to lobby and how to gauge their power, motivation and ability to effect or impede social change as well as gather and use evidence to support their position. This is a better option than corruption.

America has gone this route and made many strides. In this regard, I urge every Kenyan not to resign to fate due to corruption, but to adopt lobbying mechanisms for social change. If we don’t do it, then corruption will become a mass-market product in the near future. And the future is now.

Dr Ogola is the director of the Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness, Strathmore Business School