Not long ago one politician made headlines by claiming we are all corrupt in this country. Sadly, he ended up getting convicted on similar charges down the line. Some would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy but it was more metaphorical.
The statement was a matter of defending a regime, which at its prime had scars of the Exercise Book, Land Rover, Tata, Petroleum and National ID shady deals. As is the case often, someone is usually given the mantra to counter obvious truths, no matter who is calling the shots at plot 1. Most of such acts are committed with a veil of public interest.
The intellectual side, however, of the “we all are corrupt line” give us further understanding in how we define corruption. For instance, the Corrupt Practices Act, under which the ACB has carried its mandate, with varying degrees of success, is quite clear on specifics of this vice. Simply one would think corruption is some way of gaining undue advantage to one’s gratification through crooked means. But other aspects are not very clear just like our tendency to say thank you with a monetary gift for a service we have duly paid for. Tipping in the third world?
Since the ACB was established some years ago, we have often been very critical of its success, and many have linked it to a machine for oppressing political opponents or a publicity stunt minded organisation that has successfully prosecuted “20 dollar bribe” suspects. It could be true, but each one makes own judgements. The record is there for all to see. Nonetheless, we continue to view the ACB from the perspective of who committed a particular corruption related crime, and how we define the offence.
Our society, however, has loads of corruption that we have let go and considered as a normal, and it is beyond the domain of any prosecuting agency to fight. Maybe someone was right to argue the fact we are all corrupt. And those that have exercised control over leadership have fully taken advantage and in the process we seem to forget the roles of an elected government. I contend that using taxpayer funds under the guise of personal resources to offer certain public services or social protection is corruption. It is even worse when one’s wealth does not add up.
In this day we still glorify some alleged philanthropists that go on the podium dishing all sorts of things to vulnerable people. There used to be some gentleman or lady, can’t remember which one, that used to go around the country with a truckload of maize and some 50 kwacha bills distributing to “his or her people”. Sometimes huge cheques were given out to fund a particular project of some kind. Surrogates similarly run nocturnal errands in suburbs and villages with khaki envelops of different sizes, to corrupt minds of the vulnerable on Election Day. The trend has never stopped. This is a form of corruption that is not within the practical reach of the ACB but nonetheless, it is and we must stop it through relevant legislation.
It is corruption in the sense, that the average person is manipulated with a veil of philanthropy in the form of “platform benefits”. But the real catch remains the intent to influence voting behaviour for one’s political benefit using taxpayer funds or even personal funds. Any act that is meant to deliberately deceive, such as giving some benefits to a vulnerable person in return for a vote is no different from a clinician sedating their patients to commit a crime.
Now that we head toward elections, we can as well reflect on the law of asset declaration.
The current statue in asset declaration is not enough and a fertile recipe to perpetuate wanton abuse of public funds for self-aggrandisement. We need potential leaders that can commit themselves to protect our hard earned tax by enacting legislation with punitive acts for all senior public and elected officials that fail to account for their wealth before and after office.
Otherwise there is nothing to hide, and all public leaders must understand that serving the nation is a matter of trust, not an entitlement. Is there anyone out there seeking the highest office and willing to take on such bold reforms and make it their campaign promise? Otherwise the line, “we are all corrupt” may hold some nasty truths, unfortunately.