While things certainly look bleak right now in the fight against corruption, all is not lost! We are not beyond redemption; at least, not yet! Scandal after scandal emerges, with new revelations on almost a weekly basis. Our capacity to conclusively deal with these scandals, is by all accounts, wanting.
I say all is not lost because other countries have been where we are, or worse, and through sheer determination and unity of purpose have been able to stem the tide of corruption. One such country is Georgia. When the Rose Revolution occurred in 2003, corruption, crime and dysfunctional public services plagued Georgia. Following a period of systematic reforms, by 2010 Transparency International ranked Georgia as among the most prolific corruption-fighting nations in the world! Knowing they had only a brief window to get quick results, the government famously sacked 16,000 traffic police officers overnight. The fight against corruption took place on many fronts simultaneously, with ideological purpose lending clarity and direction to government efforts. They adopted other countries’ practices with enthusiasm, such as Italian anti-Mafia legislation and German police training techniques. Keeping public opinion onside was a critical element of their success.
Another example, closer to our own context comes from South Africa. Formed in 2001, the Directorate of Special Operations (commonly known as the Scorpions), a unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa, was a multidisciplinary agency that investigated and prosecuted organised crime and corruption. The NPA structure included the National Prosecuting Services (NPS), the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), the Witness-Protection Programme, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and specialised units such as the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit. Owing much of its success to this unique ‘one-stop shop’ structure, by February 2004, the DSO had completed 653 cases, comprising 273 investigations and 380 prosecutions. Of the 380 prosecutions, 349 resulted in convictions, representing an average conviction rate of 93.1%. Impressive, by any standards, and a clear indication of the value of political will in anti-corruption strategy. Sadly, as political will waned, the Scorpions, especially, became a victim of their own success, and were ultimately disbanded. Corruption seems to have made a resurgence in that country since.
Here in Kenya we spend a lot of time and energy assigning blame and finger-pointing, in the name of fighting corruption; failing to appreciate the fact that exposing corrupt practices only represents a first critical step in a much longer process. Unfortunately, much of the finger-pointing takes on a political dimension, thereby diverting attention from the real issues at hand.
What we must realize is that the only way we can deal with corruption conclusively is to ensure prompt, thorough investigations, providing the necessary evidence for equally timely prosecutions. When we engage in the political theatre of fighting corruption, the pool of evidence is often compromised or contaminated.
Given the unsustainably high prevalence of corruption in our country, we cannot leave the responsibility of addressing graft to duty-bearers alone, while we the citizenry continue to bribe the police and pay kitu kidogo for public services. This will only result in a society consumed by corruption, a situation we are witnessing already.
Nothing short of concerted, collective action, which includes all stakeholders will suffice to address corruption in our midst. Given the intellectual capacity available to us in all sectors, including government, civil society, the private sector and beyond, I refuse to believe that if we put our heads together we will not be able to reverse the alarming incidences and prevalence of corruption.
The only meaningful way to reduce the levels of corruption is to improve the capacity of institutions in the justice chain so as to build solid, prosecutable cases that culminate in convictions and serve as deterrents to others. Greater coordination of institutions charged with anti-corruption responsibilities is critical, and in this regard, it is positive that steps in this direction have already been taken, with the establishment of the Multi Agency Taskforce.
We cannot hope to be successful in fighting graft if we employ the same old tactics that have failed us time and again. Innovation, coordination, and determination are required. With the requisite political will, and public support for drastic anti-corruption measures, there is no reason why we cannot see similar results to those that countries such as Georgia and South Africa have achieved in the past. We have a progressive constitution, and robust legal framework that amply set the stage for a renewed onslaught against corruption.