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Enforcing code of ethics can help war on graft

Kenya’s definition of corruption is rather too narrow and that is perhaps why the scourge continues to haunt the country year in year out.

In the wake of Chase Bank’s debacle, bankers quickly met and signed a Code of Ethics for Business in Kenya.

In so doing, they effectively broadened the fight against corruption. The narrative about corruption will most likely change.

The bold move to adopt the private sector driven Bribery Bill 2016 by the Cabinet and sending it to Parliament will also bring unprecedented change.

The private sector players will have to think twice before attempting to bribe a public official. The public is largely apathetic to the fact that the private sector plays as much role in corruption as the public sector.

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When many ordinary citizens are asked to define corruption, they confidently say it is when the government steals money from the public.
Very few attribute the collapse of buildings in poor neighbourhoods to corruption.

Some sectors like banking are beginning to feel the guilt and slowly changing the narrative. A Press release issued last week by Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) chief executive officer Habil Olaka read: “As KBA, we are committing to establish specific ethical standards and requirements that our members must adhere to and that are tied to the ‘Code of Ethics for Business in Kenya’.”

It stated further that KBA members “recognise that there is a need to step up and ensure that we enhance banking practices and governance standards.”

He also noted that the association’s members have also unanimously agreed to try and hold each other accountable.

In addition, the bankers are developing a self-regulatory Framework and Standards for Member Banks, to be adopted in their Annual General Meeting to be held in June.

Fighting corruption anywhere is a collaborative exercise and professional organisations have the greatest responsibility to ensure that ethics in their professions are adhered to.

A teacher who is skipping classes to take care of personal business is as corrupt as a public servant stealing public resources, or a doctor who gives priority to his/her private clinic over public hospitals during official working hours.

Abdicating responsibility in Kenya is unethical yet this is a common practice in this country. Criminals in this country walk scot-free as long as they can fix someone to deflect attention from their criminal activity.

If a collective ethical conduct such as the one proposed by bankers fails to correct the blame game, then the country should result to technology to solve the problem.

There is an urgent need to advance Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) regarding where when and who is responsible for any task at any time.
If a school is last in examinations, there must be a record of teachers attached to the failures.

Similarly, when a building collapses, there must be a record of who designed it, approved it, and built it as well as who the owner is.

Instead of the county governor creating committees to deflect attention from real issues, let him act now and demolish all the remaining death traps in poor neighbourhoods.

There is not a single profession in the country whose members have not been accused of corruption in one way or another.

As the government attempts to mitigate against this scourge, there is deafening silence from professional organisations in making their membership accountable for their own transgressions.

The glaring collusion and protection of peers from punishment serves to confirm the extent of decay that most professional organisations have degenerated to.

Just like the bankers came out to propose a new ethical framework for its members, the architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants, teachers, auditors, investigators, amongst others, should reaffirm their commitments to ethical standards.

Without a concerted effort from professional organisations to fight corruption and punish their peers for the wrongs they do, nothing will deter further degeneration of the country into a failed state.

Corruption needs to be broadly defined to include both the giver and the taker since it takes two to tangle.

Austrian writer and journalist Karl Kraus said: ‘Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.’

When the morals of the entire country are endangered, no one will have the courage to be judged as an individual.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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