Monster of graft must be weeded out from the grassroots

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BY MACHEL WAIKENDA

Corruption has a devastating effect on the nation’s progress especially in public service. It costs government billions of shillings every year, through loss of revenue and revolving funds that could have been spent on delivering services.

We are told that Kenya has lost an estimated Sh4 trillion to corruption since 2000. This is almost four times our current national budget and it is clear that this is money that can help us achieve the much needed development in the country.

Where resources are scarce, corruption is a demonic vice threatening to tear apart our nation’s economic fabric and must be exorcised from a multi-level approach through civic education, improved legal framework and strengthening of both public and private sector institutions.

It seems grand corruption has become so entrenched in the Kenyan mindset that it should be declared a clear and present danger and a national disaster.

No ethnic formation, interest group, religious order or geographical locale appears exempt. From Mombasa to Busia, Kisumu to Tana River, Mandera to Taita Taveta, Turkana to Kisii and all counties in between, there is a common narrative that is all-too-familiar.

The press is awash with stories of government officials, constitutional office holders, former civil servants and the now infamous “tender-preneurs” locked in a feeding frenzy to line personal pockets.

It has become a national pastime to clean out the public purse through direct cash withdrawals, solicitations, un-receipted allowances, nepotism, inflating bills through a network of cronies and old school networks. Local and foreign courts are being treated to bizarre tales of brazen looting and high-level bribery, now termed euphemistically as “chicken sharing”.

Few and far between are such narratives as that of the late Nelson Mandela and recently, that of the “world’s poorest president Jose Mujica” retiring this week. Theirs was a humbling example to all humanity as they lived as an example to all of us who are already in leadership positions, or even those aspiring to ascend to public office.

Their simplicity, respect for their subjects and family values will be sorely missed. That they were never caught with hand firmly in the public till speaks volumes about being servant leaders.

Hereabouts, however, all election cycles mirror one another as all candidates pledge to fight for and uphold national unity, promise hope and change. All political manifestos express and profess abhorrence to graft and preach a unifying agenda, all the while, vilifying the existing Establishment. But once aboard the gravy train, all pretensions are cast to the four winds.

No empty public space is left for its true purpose and grabbing has become endemic. Foreign trips have become the norm rather than the exception consuming taxpayer funds that would be better utilized in fighting widespread poverty, equipping hospitals with equipment and sorely-needed medicine, paying county staff, building and equipping schools, paying bursaries to needy pupils, developing roads, rail and energy infrastructure, as well as creating job opportunities to thousands of unemployed youths.

Shamelessly, many public officials parade batteries of legal teams whenever various taskforce reports, peoples’ watchdogs, parliamentary committees, and annual Auditor General exposés expose them. Reports of billions of shillings stashed in foreign bank accounts have made us laughing stock every time we go around the world with begging bowl in hand.

Not even students have been spared as we have seen incidents of exam cheating, most probably with the collusion of teachers and education sector officials. Even getting into public entities such as the police force and the military is highly ridden with corruption. These officers then spend most of their time trying to get back their money instead of serving Kenyans.

The government has laid out strategies to curb this vicious and lethal practice through key constitutional bodies like Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the directorate of Criminal Investigations.

However, there is also overriding need to develop sustainable Anti-Corruption Strategy that tries to deal with corruption in a holistic way including coming up with a toll-free anti-corruption hotline where incidents of corruption can be reported anonymously.

We also need comprehensive financial audits with true reflections of the actual and strengthening investigating units to root out corruption in the public sector. There must be follow up and actionable mechanisms that can be used to deal with issues arising from these audits.

Who will hold the moral high ground and shine the torch of shame on the dark recesses our public officers crawl through? Who among us will be the role models our gullible youth sorely need in their formative years?

How punitive should our laws be in criminalizing grand corruption? Even the voice of reason that should be religious leaders is tainted with leaders who preach water and gulp down the proverbial wine! Where did the rain start beating us and where shall we find veritable public servants?

It is a participatory national and collective course all Kenyans must spearhead for posterity. Corruption will continue to kill our economy if we continue to let it become a norm in Kenya and all must work to ensure that it is eradicated.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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