As the dust on 2022 elections eases, it is clear that corruption will be a topical issue for the next government to deal with on account of all the four Presidential candidates’ manifestos.
Whereas the matter of corruption received varying levels of emphasis in the manifestos, it is encouraging all of them indicated their intention to fight corruption. What may not be encouraging, however, is the depth to which the matter has been tackled in their outlines.
So, how critical is containing corruption and should it be a central point in the agenda of the next regime? In answering this question, many people tend to focus on the amount ‘lost’ to corruption, that is, stolen.
This amount is no doubt significant and various estimates exist including the Kes2 billion a day as noted by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta some time back.
What does not get as much attention is the role corruption plays in undermining economic progress. I’ll give two examples that touch on two areas that have been presented as key to our economic recovery in the various manifestos: agriculture and manufacturing.
In agriculture, the Western markets where we intend to export our agricultural produce typically require certification proving quality and traceability of the exported products from the farm to the dinner table.
One reason that keeps countries such as Kenya from growing their market share is the corruption in the issuance of such certificates and lax controls that for instance saw Kenya export immature avocados last year.
Unless such corruption and indiscipline is managed, the promised growth for instance in the horticultural exports will likely remain a pipedream.
In manufacturing, corruption has made the survival of legitimate businesses almost impossible.
Such manufacturers have to contend with requests for bribes before registration, unfair competition from competitors that cut all sort of corners including evading taxes, not paying for utilities or producing sub-standard quality goods; as well as having to contend with counterfeits and illegal imports.
In addition to the loss of public funds and its role in inhibiting development as shown in the examples above, corruption in tax collection also means that we are unable to collect adequate revenue needed to fund our development and repay our debts.
Beyond the economic effects, corruption also has ramifications on the social front where it undermines the provision of services such as health and education.
It suffices to say, therefore, that any Party that does not plan to effectively fight corruption, does not also plan to achieve any of the stated promises in its manifesto.
Having gone through the various manifestos, various suggestions and plans geared towards the anti-corruption fight have been presented. Whereas they are all good and well meaning, there are questions as to whether they will work, especially given that most are not new, and have not worked. I analyse some of them below.
One of the more common proffered solution is that of punishing offenders. The most extreme suggestion is the public execution of offenders.
Punishment does work and has worked elsewhere in deterring corruption. The main challenge is in effectively detecting, investigating and prosecuting corruption in a consistent manner so that punishment is not just meted out on a token few and is commensurate to the offence.
Research has indeed shown that it is the likelihood of punishment and not its severity that is the strongest factor in curbing corruption. As it is today, corruption in Kenya pays and is worth the risk to some, as the likelihood of punishment is very low.
This leads to the second and probably most commonly suggested solution across the manifestos, that is, strengthening the bodies that are mandated to fight corruption.
Kenya has a wide array of legislation and institutions that are mandated to fight corruption. It is not in doubt that these institutions have over time suffered from inadequate budgets, lack of independence, lack of clarity on mandate among other challenges. Additionally, the institutions themselves are at time manned by individuals who are themselves corrupt. Any efforts to remove these challenges and the tainted individuals will no doubt help in fighting corruption.
Whereas punishment and the strengthening of laws and institutions mandated to fight corruption are important, they are not adequate. Had they been corruption would not be the monster that it is today since neither of the two is new.
An effective fight against corruption will require innovation and commitment. Whereas there are many other initiatives that will help in the fight, I discuss two below which in my view are critical and urgent measures.
The first is culture. It is impossible to put in place measures – commonly referred to as ‘controls’ in accounting – that would completely eliminate fraud and corruption. This is because for one, the persons mandated to enforce these measures cannot be everywhere every time.
Secondly, people can always collude to override any measures that are instituted. As such, the fight against corruption can only be won by first convincing the general citizenry to shun, report and prevent the vice. In my view, there was scope, to varying degrees, for the political parties to give more details in their manifestos on how they intend to set aside resources and rollout a well-coordinated drive to advocate and build awareness in a bid to win over hearts and minds.
The second measure is technology and data. We live in the information age where more and more data is available and its analysis and dissemination is much easier. With the various investments made in areas such as IFMIS and digitization of the lands, courts and company registries, there are numerous opportunities to further automate processes such as procurement, application for services and payment of fines to reduce physical contact with officials.
Automation will also allow the institution of service level agreements on matters such as duration of time taken in processing payments or issuance of title deeds as an example. Further opportunities exist in data analysis to pick out outliers for further investigation and in developing and implementing measures such as supplier shortlisting and prescribed price lists.
Corruption has varied effects ranging from political to economic and from social to environmental effects. In the political sphere, corruption impedes democracy and the rule of law. To fight this vice effectively, we need sound political goodwill and cultural change.
The author, John Kamau, is an Associate Director, Forensic advisory services at PwC East Africa Market