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Surprises, realities as we struggle to be let free from chains of corruption

Xn Iraki
 Integrity Centre where Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission office is located. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission’s report highlighting the pervasiveness of corruption at both national and county levels was no surprise. It merely confirmed what was already public knowledge. Few Kenyans can deny that the “price of corruption,” measured by bribes, has gone up, perhaps to keep up with inflation.

Let’s add that corruption does not always involve money. It could take other forms like influencing decisions, leaking or withholding strategic information, misuse of power, ethnic favours, sexual favours, and more. This type of corruption is the worst; it’s subterranean, and while you often forget the money given as bribes, non-financial corruption can haunt you through life.

We have been addressing the issue of corruption for generations, and it appears it will continue to be a pressing concern for many years to come. Are we inherently corrupt, or do we learn it? And what steps can we take to combat it?

Let’s delve into the complexities of this issue. Such a significant problem should have remained at the forefront of our headlines, trending. Yet, the next day’s headlines were about Easter and the WRC Rally.

Will corruption regain prominence after Easter? Could those among us who are corrupt repent during Easter and start anew, akin to the risen Christ?

Why is corruption so pervasive? Is it just about more publicity?

Our traditions planted the seeds of corruption or bribes. You never went to see the chief empty-handed. Do we feel obliged to do the same today?

Traditions again; helpless against the forces of nature, we believed tomorrow would take care of itself. Check your traditional proverbs. If corruption makes today better, why worry about tomorrow? We have not spent enough time on the psychology of corruption.

Many Kenyans see corruption as “helping,” not that evil. Your kinsman gets you a job, gets you into a good public school, helps you cut the queue, cut a deal, pay a bribe to avoid going through the court process or get that contract. Why not make life easier?

What about hurting the rest who might be more qualified and deserving? “I do not know them.” Or they have someone to help them, goes the reasoning.

This leads to our other cause of corruption: we misunderstood capitalism from day one. It was probably hidden from us by mzungu (whiteman) who enjoyed the fine things of life as we toiled in plantations. We did not see the connection between our toiling and his good life. When we got to his position, we decided to enjoy the good things, let someone else toil for us. Slavery is never far away.

In real capitalism, money is just the oil, the facilitator of the production systems. We get paid for adding value to the production process. The entrepreneur gets rewarded for taking risks and value addition.

Economic immaturity makes us fail to see that money is someone’s sweat. There is some level of immaturity among the corrupt. Add hypocrisy too.

Powerlessness also drives corruption. That’s why the poor bear the brunt of corruption. Think of police; they have no recourse if their bosses are unfair or if they feel they are being treated unfairly. 

Some have argued that the current rise in corruption is revenge against those who we think have made our life hard through taxes. You can’t reach them, get those you can - the public.

Others justify corruption by arguing that others “ate before.” It’s worse when ethnicity is invoked. Why are the powerful ensnared by corruption too? It’s probably the fantasy of childhood, own something through any means to prove you have power and influence. What did Mahatma Gandhi own?

Does our schooling make us corrupt by focusing too much on money, by any means, with less emphasis on the unintended consequences? Is that why ESG is being introduced?

Pervasive corruption is a sign that checks and balances have not worked despite the new constitution.

Where do we go from here?

What are the penalties for corruption? The mantra has been, steal enough to hire a good lawyer. Innocent until proven guilty is the soft underbelly in the war on corruption. I am not asking for mob justice. There has been a flurry of cases with some Kenyans losing ill-gotten wealth to the state. Is that a sign that corruption is finally losing its luster?

Centralisation was blamed in the old constitution for fostering corruption. Does the current prevalence of corruption suggest that devolution has not worked as intended? Some argue that devolution has allowed more public officials to engage in corruption.

The decentralization of services can mitigate corruption. With less money pooled together, there is less temptation. This was the essence of devolution, particularly from an economic standpoint.

Let’s face it; sluggish economic growth has fueled corruption. The few economic opportunities available are doled out through higher prices (bribes). Why should one have to bribe for a job if there are alternatives? Privatization can mitigate corruption by providing alternatives or choices— think of schools or hospitals

What are penalties for corruption? Jail? Shame? Ostracization? It should worry us when the government or its agencies score high on corruption.

Clearly politics hold the key to taming corruption, but only if voters are awake. Our nation is 60 years old. At such an age, taking care of the next generation matters more than accumulating ill-gotten wealth, which sadly hurts the next generation.

Happy Easter My Fellow Countrymen- wherever you are on this small planet.

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