Ideas & Debate

Use data to step up fight against the graft menace

EACC does surveys that should help stem corruption. FILE PHOTO | NMG
EACC does surveys that should help stem corruption. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The past nine months have felt like a national “twilight zone” from which we refuse to emerge. The first quarter of 2018 is over in a flash of “stop-start” events highlighted this week by the goings-on at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) amid growing fears of a “recession” from democracy to dictatorship.

Let’s hope not, and return once again to the “handshake”. The communiqué refers to nine burning issues to which President Uhuru Kenyatta and “People’s President” Raila Odinga committed.

These issues remind us that institutional solutions may be necessary, but insufficient, preconditions for nation building. Ethnic antagonism and competition? Clearly the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) isn’t enough.

Divisive elections? Maybe we need more than the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Inclusivity? Look past NCIC, Public Service Commission (PSC) and County Public Service Boards. Corruption? It isn’t just about the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC), is it?

Don’t forget a national ethos that balances rights and responsibilities towards shared prosperity and sustainable devolution. As noted last week, culture change is at the core of this nation building effort.

Let’s look at the matter of corruption; but strictly in the way the public perceives and encounters it on a daily basis, rather than in its more deleterious grand corruption or state capture forms.

I read reports this week about a couple of governors unhappy with an EACC survey that rated corruption in their respective counties. This refers to EACC’s 2016 National Ethics and Corruption Survey, which was carried out in the latter part of that year, but more importantly, before the 2017 election.

A more recent report might be available, but it is the 2016 version currently in the public domain. This was a representative statistical survey of 6,000 households across Kenya’s 47 counties.

Essentially, the survey provides useful institutional and service-level findings for our leaders to reflect on; like the perception of almost five in ten respondents of the Ministry of Interior as the most prone to corruption among national government ministries.

Health, Devolution and Planning, Education, Transport and Infrastructure and Lands made up the rest of the top six. At the other end of the scale, ICT, Attorney-General and Mining were viewed as least corrupt.

At departmental level, the (general) National Police Service leads the way, rated worse than the Traffic Police, the National Government Administration (former provincial administration), public hospitals and the Department of Immigration and Registration of Persons. Counties were also rated.

Measuring respondents’ experience of bribe demands in the previous year, Murang’a led the way, followed by Trans Nzoia and Mandera counties. The least experience of bribe demands (not number of demands) happened in Lamu, Taita Taveta, Tana River and Kericho.

On the frequency of bribe demands received, the order was Meru (highest), Kajiado, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kiambu and Baringo. The frequency order of bribes paid was high in Kajiado followed by Nyeri, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kiambu and Busia.

On the average size of bribes paid, Busia was followed by Tharaka-Nithi, Nairobi, Lamu and Isiolo. Those in the reverse order (lowest average bribes) are Turkana. Kilifi, Bomet, Kisii and Kirinyaga.

Where are we going with this? Maybe it’s time our leaders moved away from a culture of denial to a culture of data, and put more effort into interrogating such survey findings.

Within counties, where does bribery and poor service reside? They are in Health, public works, education and child care, water, lands, general coordination and finance and planning.

Bribery accounts for eight out of ten corrupt acts experienced by all respondents. At national level, think about IDs, birth certificates, medical services, land registration, traffic offences, job searches and general justice system experiences (crime reporting, securing bail, case follow-up).

Other transactions that require bribes include building/construction permits, tenders and payments for “kesha” (overnight prayer vigils). Interestingly, Huduma Centres are an emerging locus for bribery. Again, here is data that might help to improve our understanding of the anti-corruption effort required.

Finally, perception is reality. In 2016, four out of five people thought corruption was getting worse. Four out of 10 had confidence in government’s ability to deal with it, while seven out of 10 believe the fight against it is ethnicised and political. Only one out of five corrupt experiences was reported by the public.

Why? In every group of ten people, eight feared reprisals, seven thought reporting is too complex or didn’t know where and how to report while, wait for it, six believed that corruption is a custom, and bribery is fine in today’s tough economic times! And then we wonder about grand corruption!

Pray what would these responses be today? It’s the culture, stupid!

Food for thought as we enjoy a welcome Easter break.