Sunday, August 2, 2009

Corruption: Disease or Symptom?

We are always hearing about 'The Fight Against Corruption'. Every public sector office we go to these days is guaranteed to have at least two or three "Fight Corruption" or "Corruption is Evil" posters prominently displayed around the place. Any current affairs television talk show invariably talks about the subject. Wananchi complain that government is too corrupt, government retorts that corruption is a two way transaction and for every corrupt officer, there is a corrupt citizen willing to bribe to get ahead.

I appreciate that we should be talking about corruption and we should be working very hard to tackle corruption however I think that in most cases, corruption is just the last step in the chain of what afflicts us in this country. Corruption is in many ways a symptom of a couple of systemic problems which I believe if fixed would eliminate the majority of corruption.

1. Inefficiency
I once imported a certain car for sale. I followed all the procedures exactly as they are spelled out to get the car registered. Within a week of the car arriving in Nairobi, I had agreed the sale of the car on condition that I could show the prospective buyer the logbook of the car. The logbook took 5 weeks to arrive!! 5 weeks of chasing KRA, "kuja next week", "angalia Monday", "mwenye kusign akoinje" etc etc. Obviously I lost the sale. The prospective buyer got tired of waiting and bought another vehicle from somebody else that did have a logbook. It ended up taking me about 3 months to sell the vehicle. At a significantly lower price than I had agreed with the first buyer. Infact by the time the logbook arrived, car registrations had moved forward (from KBD to KBE) which further weakened my negotiating position.

For Kshs 2-3000, I could have had the logbook 'pushed' and had it within a week. My profit would have been higher and I would have been able to reinvest the funds to import another car. GoK would have collected more tax and I would have earned more for the period.

Inefficiency literally took money out of my pocket, food out of my stomach and funds away from the exchequer!

Given a choice between bribing and starving, the vast majority of human beings will pay a bribe everytime no matter how many "Corruption is Evil" posters are hanging about the place. Inefficiency is like a noose around the neck of any business that has to deal with GoK for its operations. It strangles the life out of businesses.

2. Secret/Complex/Convoluted Processes and Procedures, No accountability
Coupled with inefficiency, having overly, unnecessarily complex, convoluted and secret processes and procedures contributes greatly to allowing corruption to take place and thrive.

Suppose I knew the exact steps my logbook goes through before it is dispatched to me. Now, suppose I also knew which officer is in charge at every step of the way and knew how long each step is supposed to take. Suppose I was provided with the contacts of the officer whose duty it is to oversee the whole process..and his superior and their superior and so on right to the very top of the organisation. The knowledge would empower the public to know exactly how long the process will take and who to contact when things go wrong.

Currently any queries directed at public sector about items being processed yields vague explanations. I remember being told my new passport was ready, going over to Nyayo House and being told that whereas it was indeed ready "bado haijateremka".

In the absence of having systems and processes the public has maximum confidence in; and in light of the corruption problem we have, I believe that we need to radically simplify our processes and procedures AND publicize them.

Fighting corruption in isolation and trying to appeal to our sense of honour with emotional campaigns will not in itself get us any closer to eradicating the problem. We have to reform our systems and processes to ensure that wananchi understand the processes and are getting speedy and efficient service.

Let us carefully examine all our systems and processes, remove unnecessary steps, enable the public to access ALL relevant information about the process and I can all but guarantee there will be a significant fall in corruption.

Because officers have profited from corruption for so long, they are often going to be resistant to changes that enhance efficiency of the system (which would close their earning avenues). This means that the changes have to come from the top. It actually offends me when someone like MG Waweru (CG of KRA) says that 'the public is also at fault for corruption'. Technically it's true, but he needs to be looking at the systems and procedures in place at the organization he heads because his corrupt officer and I might be cogs in the wheel of corruption but the problem starts and ends with the system.

Corruption thrives in the dark, away from scrutiny and in complex, inefficient and convoluted systems. Once we eliminate its natural habitat, corruption will die.


  1. I think its a chicken and egg you've described. Corruption breeds ineffeciencies and secretive ways of doing things which in turn breed more corruption and so forth

  2. So how do we tackle corruption? Not in isolation. We have to get rid of the conditions that allow corruption to thrive.

    If you have a piece of land with long grass, there is a chance you'll find snakes on it. You can spend your time killing individual snakes or you can cut the grass. I think by focusing on corruption as though it is the problem in itself, we are being short sighted. We need to cut the grass....Eliminate the conditions in the system that allow corruption to exist.

    In addition to putting up "Corruption is Evil" posters, we have to create efficient systems that make sense..otherwise we are just wasting our time.

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