Nothing illustrates the dishonesty of our corruption discourse more than the loss of momentum on the graft debate after Jubilee, having faced a non-ending onslaught of corruption allegations from CORD, turned the tables and declared the opposition also culpable, with examples of “CORD counties” that were graft-prone and its luminaries that had fairly healthy corruption CVs.
The national debate on corruption has since ebbed awaiting a more convenient political opportunity. This dishonesty makes an all out assault on corruption difficult; the space between reality and falsity, just like the space between villains and those fighting corruption is blurred. The dishonesty in the corruption debate is weaved through many false narratives. One falsity, traditionally popular with those in government, argues that it is wrong to accuse government of corruption.
Since no government outlines and pursues corruption as its policy agenda, culpability and focus should be on individuals and not governments, it is argued. This argument fails to recognise that governments exist to define and enforce policy. The anti-corruption policy imperative is only effectively pursued by government in the institutional infrastructure that reduces the opportunities for pilferage combined with a strong enforcement drive.
When it appears that government has no investment in these two areas, it will be defined as a corrupt government. Unfortunately for the Kenyan Executive, it does not fully control the levers of power in several critical areas. Courtesy of a people-centered Constitution, the Executive no longer controls the investigative, prosecutorial and adjudicative arms of the State.
While the Executive manages the infrastructure through which state services and goods are procured, it has to defer to independent institutions when things go wrong. While this reality makes an all out accusation against the Executive that it has failed to stop graft dishonest, the government will still be said to be corrupt because on the procurement sector that it controls—there is evidence the system is still controlled by shadowy characters.Until that arena is totally cleansed, the Executive will carry the tag of a corrupt government.
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The second false narrative confuses perception and actual corruption. There is no doubt that corruption thrives in Kenya. There is enough anecdotal and other evidence to prove the obvious. I, however, doubt that the picture as presented, which defines Kenya as one of the most corrupt counties on earth and that indicates that graft has been on an upward trend are true.
If one were to aggregate all the verifiable corruption scandals in the Jubilee government relative to the size of the budget, they are relatively miniscule compared to verifiable scandals in past governments, the Grand Coalition included. In the same way, if one were to compare the level of actual corruption in some of our neighbours that perform better on the TI index to the Kenyan reality, Kenya’s good governance performance is far better than its perception, yet the latter is what the index measures.
What has occurred in Kenya is that with a free press, a constitutionally weak Executive and a vibrant opposition, no scandal goes undetected. Take Kenya’s free media to the neighbourhood and Kenya will suddenly be attractive!
The third false narrative relates to devolution. It argues that the counties are so corrupt that we need to recentralise so as not to devolve corruption. Nothing could be a bigger falsity. If one looks at the entire revenue base of the counties, at about Sh300 billion, against their verifiable expenditure, one realises that what is stolen in counties is relatively miniscule. Our graft challenge is heightened at the national level, indeed more devolution may mean less graft.
Let me be clear, there is no such thing as forgivable corruption. The loss of even one shilling of the public’s resources in a country struggling with debilitating poverty is unacceptable, criminal and must be stopped. What I believe, however, is that for as long as we refuse to pursue an honest discourse, those benefitting from graft will continue to encourage false narratives for it is therein that they thrive and continue to benefit from the vice.