For most Kenyans, the difference between big and small corruption is opportunity. In moments of rare honesty, a typical Kenyan will confess that given the opportunity, they would do it. They would use their positions to benefit themselves. They would inflate tender prices. They would ask for kickbacks.
They would financially benefit from the organisation they work for or do business with, beyond their actual remuneration.
According to the PwC Kenya Economic Crime and Fraud Survey report of 2020, 58 per cent of Kenyan respondents said they had experienced economic crimes in the past two years, which is down from 75 per cent in 2018 - probably due to social distancing - but it is still higher than the global average of 47 per cent.
In another report a year ago, more than half of interviewed employees confessed to have stolen or thought of stealing from their employer. You would think people would be elated after walking away with millions or even billions. Turns out they are not.
And although it’s not conspicuous in the report if this relates more to the perpetrator or the victim but almost 92 per cent of respondents said they experienced negative emotions after an incident of fraud, 33 per cent suffered damaged brand trust and reputation.
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The most common feelings were frustration and anger. It turns out that when people commit fraud of any kind, they are not particularly blissful about the outcome, even if research shows that most of them would do it again given the opportunity. They would certainly not want to be victims either. When you give that askari Sh200, deep down you know it’s wrong. You have to justify it. “Everyone is doing it, there is no other way, it would have messed up my day”, you would say to yourself.
And this speaks to moral failure, the denominator in any act of fraud. Morality is the most central question in all corruption cases. It is, at the end of the day, a tussle between right and wrong, between darkness and light. It begins in the heart and not in the act. Before corruption manifests in actions, it has to be conceived and nurtured in the heart.
You have to dismiss the voice telling you that what you are planning is malevolent. You must go through that exclusive moment of choice. Nobody stumbles upon fraud.
No one walks by a government office, notices a crowd, gets drawn to it and later walks away with a multi-million shilling fraudulent tender. Those are swanky stories for the headlines. There is more to it. Since we have determined that a good number of Kenyans would steal given the opportunity, then we need to ask ourselves questions that go beyond the systems and laws in place to combat corruption.
What really motivates people to steal even beyond what they can spend in a lifetime? What is the beginning, the source, the trigger of this moral failure?
In that PwC report 84 per cent of respondents said they have - in their workplaces - formal documented policies and procedures and controls for key compliance areas, more than the global average of 64 per cent. We have more than enough laws against fraud than most of the world, and we know them, but that awareness does not stop us. Why?
It makes understanding corruption in Kenya akin to finding method to madness. A madness begins in our hearts, incubates our minds and once it finds concurring parties and enablers, it becomes exponential.
The truth is corruption begets more corruption across all levels of government or private sector. People will be encouraged to steal because they see others stealing and getting away with it. When some steal billions, you can trust that their subordinates are getting away with millions and more are embezzling thousands.
It’s a chain reaction that can only be arrested by moral uprightness. Yeah, the law can play its part, by punishing actual perpetrators and masterminds (especially the big fish) but even the best enforcement of the law would still be the short end of the stick.
We will not win the war against corruption unless we win it in our hearts, unless we hold ourselves to a higher standard, unless we choose to be a bit more virtuous, unless we choose the silent heroism of standing for what is right. Our moral choices distinguish us more than anything else. They make it clear to everyone who we are, where we stand and they are the most effective ways to fight corruption.
And so, in this season of Christmas, in a tough year as we gather around our families to celebrate the birthday of the saviour and greatest moral teacher to ever walk on earth, perhaps we can reflect more on the state of our nation and ask ourselves ‘What if I do the right thing? What if I would be that broken link in the chain of corruption?’
Ephesians 5:11 - Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Have a blessed holiday season and a kinder 2021.
-The writer is an IT specialist based in Nairobi and a blogger at www.naibei.co.ke.