Some years ago, some politician made headlines claiming we are all corrupt in this country. We also decided to establish an anti-corruption agency that is systematically short-changed and draws mixed results. Sadly, prisons are for chicken thieves and the poor. Some would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy but it was more metaphorical.
Now we have a new “gate” involving the deadly “magawagawa” syndrome whose resources are being tactfully put in white envelopes. A sign of peace or surrender to the war of corruption? Bring back the khaki envelopes please. Who is crippling the corruption fight? 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 Anti-Corruption Bureau (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? Now the weak ACB, despite promises that more resources will be given to its work of fighting the corruption pathogen has its staff threatening a strike. Give them new Toyota Corollas as the current ones have already clocked 150 000 kilometres
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 bribe” suspects. It could be true, but each one make own judgements. The record is there for all to see. Nonetheless, we continue to view ACB from the perspective of who committed a particular corruption-related crime, and how we define the offence. Could it be that this institution is deliberately and systematically short-changed so that it is preoccupied with offences of the poorest that do not cost the taxpayer any tambala?
Our society, however, has loads of corruption that we have let go and considered as 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, I cannot remember which one, that used to go around the country with a truck-load of maize and some K50 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 and all “alumni” of the thuggery school have behaved no different since 1994. 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 towards elections, we can as well reflect on the law of asset declaration. Some soul searching is required. The law on political party funding is almost non-existent. It is time that we enact a law that puts limits on how much money individuals or businesses can give to a political party. If political parties can get millions from individuals, one can expect that in power they will somehow clandestinely pay such donors using taxpayers’ money in ways not in the interest of public finances and taxpayers.
We have too many examples around the country. 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 protecting 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. In other words, no one should assume office if they have not provided a detailed list of their wealth. Similarly, benefits should not be given if one’s wealth is not accounted once they leave office. A real ACB is possible. 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.