Setting new boundaries in life is a hard business, far harder than maintaining existing ones, which makes it a monumental undertaking rebuilding Kenya and its public administration as a country and system that are not corrupt.
For in Kenya, bribes are normal. And from that place, our hope has become systems with in-built checks and balances. Yet the checks we have built remain inadequate.
Our principal tool has been to create procurement processes that involve more people in decisions and financial control. Yet all this has done is to widen the set of beneficiaries.
Indeed, I have sat with one procurement officer while he explained to me the process of “sharing appreciation” across multiple levels and functions in his hospital. The only personnel not getting extra cash were the medical staff.
And here lies the hardest issue of all from today’s starting point: as things stand, almost every individual at every level of public administration has been touched and tainted by corruption.
I do not say everyone. I believe there is a possibility that there are some few who have simply said ‘No’ for a lifetime and survived in our system. But the chances are not high.
For, just imagine, if you will, being the one police officer in a traffic unit that spends its days collecting bribes, and you are refusing to take, accept, witness, or participate in bribe taking. Your job future, I would assume, would be close to zero.
The same goes if you are an immigration officer, or a county procurement officer, or a business permit issuer, or whoever, who doesn’t accept ‘appreciation’ funds. Your colleagues, one can probably surmise, will do almost anything to get rid of you. You are a threat, and actually a huge one, to their whole livelihood, not just their extra income stream.
Indeed, put any individual of absolute probity into an organisation where stealing is normal and systemic, and they will be ejected in a classic ‘Mohammad-and-the-mountain’ clash. Either they must become corrupt, or they are a ‘risk’, in that they may expose the corruption and take all their colleagues down, or all their colleagues must cease being corrupt. Frankly, they are dangerous.
However, just maybe, there have been some heroes and some quiet revolutions we don’t know about, and one honest police person managed to clean up a whole traffic team (for sure, if so, write to me, and let me tell your story).
But for all the honest starters who have understood they become a part of the corruption or potentially even risk their lives, I think it’s safe to assume nearly all of them end up a part of it.
Then, the second flaw, of course, with the procurement committee, or general widening of financial responsibility, is that the pipeline of inwards information can be narrow, and manipulated.
That procurement officer told me how he worked with bidders to ensure the right one put in the right information to win. So even a committee of probity would end up choosing the briber.
So how do you break that ‘normal’?
Well, we stop moaning about corruption. We do not throw stones about it. We stop thinking the government is made up of magicians, and somehow some leader exists somewhere who can stop the tides of moon and sea. And we simply refuse to be a part of it, first one of us, then 10 of us, then 100, then a thousand, a hundred thousand, and a million.
If employees from bidders won’t cooperate in any ‘appreciation’, if drivers won’t pay the police, if we all check out the terms and conditions, ensure we satisfy them, and fill out the forms, no more, no less, corruption will die.
Because every corrupt official and ‘rent-seeker’ depends on our willingness to ‘pay the rent’. Yet they cannot force us. No ‘rent’, no appreciation’ is equal to no corruption.
The facts: we are the answer. We need to stop cheating.