Heinous face of corruption

25 Mar

Heinous face of corruption

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By Wanjala Wafula

I am thrilled that I am still able to bring to you this third rate column. I was recently involved in a grisly road accident involving a public road transport vehicle I was traveling in and an oil tanker along Mombasa road near the capital city Nairobi. Three people lost their lives and many are still nursing life threatening injuries. I sustained fractures on both of my legs but that is a story for another day.

It all begun at a traffic police checkpoint when a mean looking policeman openly asked for a bribe from the temperamental driver of our minibus. We vehemently opposed the move and the driver remained adamant insisting he wanted to be taken to court if he had any charges to answer. We were kept waiting for thirty minutes until the driver sped off towards the city with the police officers in hot pursuit. I openly protested, insisting that both the driver and the police were putting our lives in danger. It was not long before we rammed into a stationary oil tanker.

Corruption perpetuates a vicious circle of the lack of transparency, accountability, fairness, and responsibility in decision-making. Corruption has serious implications since it obstructs the development of well-functioning economies. Fighting corruption and especially bribery is therefore an integral part of addressing the larger governance and economic sustainability problems in Africa.Once petty corruption becomes heavily embedded in a country’s political and economic system, it ceases to be recognized as inappropriate behavior. This common compliance towards bribery as something “normal” is more dangerous than one large corruption scandal, since it reinforces a culture of bribery and strengthens corruption as an institution. If bribe-givers and bribe-takers no longer see bribery as a transgression and rather as an accepted norm, the rule of law is fundamentally undermined. This is precisely the case in many African countries.

The first step toward addressing the problem of bribery is to recognize that it is not just a political issue. Corruption does not begin with a few dishonest government officials or civil servants, nor does it end with simply replacing them. A better understanding of what causes corrupt behavior such as bribery requires casting it as an institutional and economic issue. Bribery thrives not because of character flaws of individuals. Much more crucial is the environment that creates incentives for corrupt behavior. Therefore, bribery and other forms of corruption are primarily economic phenomena enabled by poor governance and weak institutions.                                                                                                                                           

An economic perspective on fighting bribery requires it to be examined through the lens of supply and demand. All too often, corruption is blamed only on public officials who accept bribes. Public officials represent the demand side of corruption and obviously bear the burden or responsibility, but they do not bear it alone. It takes two sides to exchange a bribe: for every instance in which a bribe is accepted, it must first be offered. This is the supply side of corruption. A corruption-free political and economic environment is a valuable public good. Yet it can only be created through the collective action of individuals.

The overall recipe for combating corruption is universal. It necessitates reforming the institutional environment so that incentives for engaging in corrupt behavior are taken away both on the demand and supply sides. On the demand side, the goal is to limit the ability of public officials to extort bribes and abuse discretionary powers. On the supply side, the objective is to limit the ability of public officials to engage in corruption by empowering the public to embrace their solemn duty of being the watchdogs of society.

All too often, debates about corruption disintegrate into fruitless squabbles driven by national pride and a country’s unwillingness to admit that its corruption problems may be worse than its neighbor’s. Countries where corruption is most pervasive feel singled out and even if they understand how harmful corruption is, they still feel hurt by the perceived finger-pointing. In theory, highlighting a given country’s shortcomings can awaken the spirit of competition and motivate it to strive to be less corrupt. The sentiments of resentment often prevail and obstruct constructive progress. This is particularly the case in many African countries where openly discussing corruption still largely remains taboo.

In my view, ending corruption entails, among other measures, deep economic reform, active laws and mechanisms of accountability, and transparent governance. I affirm that structural corruption can be overcome only by radical reform of the political architecture and the inclusion of the supply side into the matrix. Combating corruption can create more accountable political systems and better functioning state bureaucracies, energize the private sector, shrink the informal economies on the Africa continent, attract investment, and avoid destabilizing capital flight that Africa is facing today

My honest opinion is that corruption remains a serious problem in Africa. It impedes economic growth, distorts competition, inhibits development, and undermines the rule of law and good governance. Bribery is one of the most common forms of corruption and can be particularly damaging if it becomes embedded in a country’s social, political and economic systems.  I insist that past anti-corruption efforts on the continent have frequently focused on weeding out crooked officials at the expense of addressing the real cornerstones of the vice. Most of the efforts aimed at addressing corruption in Kenya continue to remain publicity stunts.

More meaningful, but also much more difficult, institutional reforms have to establish the incentive structures that reward transparency and foster accountability. Governments need to recognize that they cannot solve the structural corruption problem alone. Governments are vital to making good on commitments to fighting corruption. But governments are not alone in their responsibility. We need to see concerted action from the general public, civil society and the private sector too.

The writer is a Director/ Founder of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, fostering HIV prevention and championing the rights of minority groups  in Kenya. Visit www.coexistkenya.com or email Wafula@coexistkenya.com- facebook-wanjala Wafula- skype:coexist.initiative. Tel: +254712653322

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