Corruption has been capturing newspaper headlines for a long while now. The amount of money that corruption couriers would put in bags and take from the bank to the boots of cars boggles the mind. The fact that all the suspects appear not to worry about what they have done to Kenya also boggles the mind and frightens anyone caring about Kenya’s future and development.
An important point is that the newspaper headlines and the social media outrage have provoked public anger and collective disapproval in an unprecedented manner.
There is general anger and disgust that tells people do not approve of what is going on and that they would like to see something done about it. There is also anger because they are yet to see effective action taken on those involved.
While all this is happening, there is little effort made to find out how as a country we have found ourselves here. There is little reflection on why there are no consequences on those involved in big-time corruption and why specifically the matters will remain in courts for as long as the cartels want the matter to.
We also tend to pay attention to big-time corruption forgetting that there is lower level corruption and what is now referred to as “quiet” corruption that affects millions of ordinary people. The various forms of petty corruption experienced in provision of public services; and the quiet corruption practised by those at the frontline of delivering services severely affects the ordinary person and undermines development perhaps relatively more than the big time corruption.
Corruption, bribes, and cheating are then things that appear quite common. Corruption applies to those involved in big-time money; bribes are transacted among low level officials of which the police are a common example; and cheating is common among those seeking shortcuts to anything.
But how did we get to this low level, the lowest level in recent years? First the society’s moral fibre has broken down. There is no limit to which some people can go to enrich themselves. Moral principles and issues of honesty and decency are no longer the shared ideals of our society. These have quickly been replaced by the desire for “more” and in particular the desire for riches.
The society no longer eulogises working hard and advancing education. Many in school now know very well that advanced education will not necessarily lead to riches. They are certain “personal connections” and the type of a job one gets in the public service are more important than the class or quality of degree they achieve. Degree courses in procurement and related courses have become more attractive than many other courses because the youth clearly see “procurement departments” as the place to be.
Honesty and honour, which are well underlined as pillars of a new Kenya in the Constitution, are not necessarily shared as a common good. And, because these ideals are always being betrayed, the common good is injured.
All this has consequences at different levels of our society. The moral decay is affecting lives at all levels. In the villages, you often hear ordinary peasants complaining about theft of their money by officials in the Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (Saccos). In the banks the tellers will not give customers loose change in coins — and this can run into millions in a year.
What used to happen in schools is more revealing. Last year when examination cheating was common, one would hear that schools would solicit money from parents for purposes of cheating. Parents would give out money knowing too well that they were helping their own children to engage in an illegality so as to get better marks.
In other words, parents trained their own children to become cheats and thieves of examination questions. These children, of course, will grow knowing very well that cheating and stealing is “not a bad” thing. I doubt whether these parents have a moral courage to speak about corruption.
Big time corruption is taking place because there is no action taken on those involved. The country is yet to see many of those involved in high level corruption punished. The process it takes in courts is enough reason for many not to worry about the consequences of stealing public funds.
Moreover, after the 2013 election, the country opted to ignore governance issues. Anyone who spoke about governance was seen and branded as an enemy of social development programmes that the government was embarking on. Furthermore, a majority of the leaders elected in the 2013 General Election were not elected to secure the gains made under the 2010 constitution. Some were elected to defend and protect ethnic self-interests from ruin by others. The “we” versus “them” narrative produced leaders at both national and county levels who cared relatively less about governance than what they promised to deliver in terms of development. For all Kenyans now, the chicks have come home to roost.
There should be more public anger because corruption is bad for development. Studies since the 1990s continue to show that corruption distorts decision making in public investments. Cartels do this by pushing governments to go for big projects where there is big money. They also push the governments to go for external credits which often end up as a heavy load on the budgets.
Secondly, corruption leads to poor quality and incomplete development projects. Because the cartels start eating the money through the procurement systems, the projects are rarely completed. White elephant projects become visible in many cities. African cities have these example of projects than anywhere else in the world. I had an encounter with such a project sometimes back in Nigeria when we drove on a very good road that abruptly terminated in the middle of nowhere. Corruption cartels had “chopped” the money, as they say in Nigeria. The road could not be completed.
And, where the projects are completed, they are of so poor quality that they do not last long. This is common especially in infrastructure projects. Roads in which cartels have made money are quite distinct; they are of such poor quality that dilapidation begins even before the construction is over.
Third, corruption leads to leakages in development budget. And since the budget is focussed on projects aimed at poverty reduction, corruption makes it difficult to undertake such projects. The projects that the government can undertake when money is lost through corruption are clearly insufficient to address poverty or the felt needs of the ordinary people. Corruption, when viewed this way, undermines development and the wellbeing of the society.
Significant also is that corruption worsens income inequalities. The rich corrupt elite become richer because money circulates among the rich. They engage only in middle class type of projects — with middle class tastes suited for urban elites. This widens the deep gap between the poor and the rich. It also increases levels of crimes and general insecurity which even the rich cannot deal with.
Studies on corruption reveal another consequence, which the corrupt should be worried about. Corruption and how it operates breeds more corruption. Because the corrupt always seek to outcompete one another, factions emerge among them. Some of them get help from criminal groups who infiltrate procurement systems to intimidate public servants and even the competitor corrupt factions. Others emerge to form protection rackets with a mission to defend and promote the interests of their lords. All this causes a climate of fear and many more people become corrupt as they seek resources to protect themselves.
This generally leads to uncertainties. Those who obtain certain concessions through bribery and corrupt practices remain uncertain about how long the benefits of their corrupt gains will last. They remain fearful that they will lose out. All in all, corruption undermines the stability and organisation of any decent society.
But corruption can be successfully fought. When there is single determination and resolve to fight it, there can be good results. We have already seen the payoffs from the determination of Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to end cheating in examinations.
©Alleastafrica and Dialy Nation