KIRUKU: Who’ll bring down the high priests of corruption in East Africa?

KIRUKU: Who'll bring down the high priests of corruption in East Africa?

A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers is saddening in its depiction of East Africa – and especially Kenya – as a hotbed of corruption. It is the kind of news that should send our leaders back to the drawing board and force them to make critical decisions to save all of us from global shame and ridicule.

Indeed, the “Global Economic Crime Survey 2016” released a fortnight ago gives Kenya the dubious distinction of being third globally in the list of most corrupt nations. It is no consolation that the country did better than South Africa and France.

In the recent past, Kenyans have been treated to the most unbelievable tales of the extent of corruption in public life. Corrupt deals running into millions of dollars are entered into with shameless abandon by officials at the highest echelons of government.

From misappropriated Eurobond cash to looted funds belonging to the Youth Development Fund and National Youth Service, the prevalence of corruption and impunity has reached mind-boggling levels.

What is most shocking is the open manner in which this theft is conducted at both the national and county levels. In one county, wheelbarrows that ordinarily cost USD30 in the open market were bought at a highly inflated price of USD1,000, with the cheeky explanation that they were made of special non-cancerous material.

The report also documents the rise in cybercrimes, which have now risen to second position in the list of most reported economic crimes. The situation is made worse by the fact that most companies are ill-prepared to deal with the vice. With the world undergoing rapid technological advances, every company must ensure all its systems are fool proof. Protection against cyber theft is no longer an option.

According to the report, the most prevalent economic crimes in the region and in the world at large are misappropriation of funds, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, and accounting fraud. These are the usual traditional forms of economic crimes, and it is sad that no one seems to have an idea how to deal with them decisively.

The PwC report further confirms that most perpetrators of economic crimes are in top and middle management levels, though a few of junior workers also participate to a smaller extent. When the senior cadres who are mandated with protecting public resources are engaged in looting of the same, the situation is certainly grievous.

Corruption is cancer that mutates and permeates to every sector of the economy. It deeply hurts the poor, rural dwellers, marginalised populations and all other disadvantaged persons in society, who have to dig deeper into their pockets and pay higher taxes to fund the corrupt cartels.

Time is ripe for the region to tighten the noose on corruption cartels if the economy of the region is to grow and its dignity on the global arena restored. Borrowing a leaf from countries that have dealt mercilessly with perpetrators of economic crimes could help, including China.

But even without formulating other laws, the ones we already have are not followed to the letter, courtesy of the same corrupt cartels that have infiltrated every facet of public life, including the judicial system.

As the region works on formulating laws and regulations that will fit the changing face of economic crimes, a cultural overhaul is called for. It is disappointing that most people, especially the youth, have adopted a materialistic get-rich-quick mentality that fuels corruption. The values of hard work and gradual build-up of wealth have been thrown out the window.

A key finding of the report that is that economic crimes have become harder to detect. This situation calls for some searching questions: Is there lesser management control? Are we simply unaware of emerging trends in economic crimes? Without answers to these crucial questions, the region cannot effectively fight economic crimes.

The disastrous effects of corruption cannot be overemphasized: From constant civil wars as citizens compete for the shrinking available resources to poor service delivery, it is clear that corruption stifles economic growth and diverts funds from critical sectors. Health, education and other public service areas are made to suffer. Corruption is a barrier to development and more often than not diverts resources from poverty-eradication efforts and sustainable development.

Yet, if the stink raised by corruption rises high up the official ladder, will our current crop of leaders in the region have the courage to take the bull by the horn? President John Magufuli of Tanzania has shown that it is possible; will his counterparts follow suit?

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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