When my son turned ten and had a bacterial infection, the doctor prescribed him an antibiotic.
He had never taken tablets before and as we forced him to swallow, he threw up. We had to crush the next tablet to get him to take the medication.
From a pharmacy, we replaced the tablet we had wasted. When we crushed it, we discovered saw dust inside. It was a counterfeit sold by greedy and corrupt businessmen.
The impact of such corruption is far reaching. Had we not crushed the tablet, we would never have known.
Some patients may have unknowingly used fake medicine leading to non-compliance of the standard treatment. Doctors say such non-compliance sometimes leads to drug resistance, which makes treatment impossible.
The antibiotic regime particularly is usually very sensitive to standard protocols of treatment. Patients strictly follow the regime to avoid falling into the category of people who become untreatable.
African countries have had serious cases of drug- resistant tuberculosis partly as a result of failure to comply with the treatment regime.
Private sector corruption is rampant in Kenya. It ranges from small-scale farmers who knowingly sell contaminated milk to high flying executives authorise the re-labelling of expired commodities and sell them as normal goods.
The practice destroys trust and eventually undermines growth of enterprises. In the long run, the vice will hurt the entire economy if urgent measures are taken. Transparency International says: “Corruption distorts markets and creates unfair competition.
Companies often pay bribes or rig bids to win public procurement contracts. Many companies hide corrupt acts behind secret subsidiaries and partnerships.
Or they seek to influence political decision-making illicitly. Others exploit tax laws, construct cartels or abuse legal loopholes. Private companies have huge influence in many public spheres”.
The 12th Global Fraud Survey by Ernst Young, Growing Beyond: A Place for Integrity reports that 39 per cent of the respondents (corporate executives) reported that bribery or corrupt practices occur frequently in their countries.
Almost a fifth of executives claimed to have lost business to a competitor who paid bribes. More than a third felt corruption was getting worse.
Studies have shown that hard times strain ethical standards. It is for this reason that the executives are increasingly willing to make cash payments and misstate financial performance.
Whilst there are many possible causes of corruption, procurement processes remain the key driver of corrupt practice. In most countries that have made significant progress in anti-corruption measures, automation of the processes has helped reduce the vice.
The use of information communication technologies help create anonymity of suppliers, removes the face to face interactions that encourage corruption and enables traceability of transactions for the purpose of auditing the books.
New applications are capable of tracing products such as medicines from production to the consumer. The problem has always been the lack of an effective enforcement mechanisms.
Just like Tanzania Food and Drug Administration (TFDA), Kenya needs an all-encompassing legislation with an effective regulatory framework to curb the increasing counterfeiting of food and drugs.
The new consumer legislation does not have effective enforcement mechanisms.
If some magical force were to land in Kenya and ask ‘‘If you have never been involved in any corrupt practice that is either minor or significant would you please jump into the Indian Ocean as for the clean shall float’’, from the little I know of Kenyans, there will virtually be nobody who will attempt jumping.
This is why we must all admit that virtually all of us are corrupt. And this is out of many years of socialisation that some people cannot even differentiate what is and what is not corruption.
In addition to known anti-corruption concepts, Africa must develop its own ways of dealing with it through reformation of cultural practices that encourage the vice.
The special treatment with which Africans treat the rich may in itself be the motivation to the young to seek wealth illicitly. Even in religious functions, wealthy people with dubious backgrounds are given comfortable front row seats.
We must change the development paradigm in building of schools, religious institutions and other social projects in order to stop corruption. It is time we borrowed from banks to deal with such projects then pay in installments rather than accepting hefty illicit contributions.
As Criss Jami, an American poet, stated: “Seemingly minor yet persistent things penetrate the mind over time making it difficult to ever realize the impact; hence, though quite unfortunate, the most dangerous forms of corruption are those that are subtle and below the radar.”
The writer is asenior lecturer, University of Nairobi, and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.