By Johnstone Muthama
Does corruption matter anymore? Do words like transparency and accountability hold any meaning in our national discourse? These days, development seems to be all the rage.
The county and national governments appear to be racing to outdo each other in the commissioning of new and ever-bigger development projects. The Standard Gauge Railway, the Konza and Machakos cities, laptops for school kids, ambulances and police vehicles, just to name a few. These, we are told, will get us to the promised land of Vision 2030.
Development would indeed be welcome. We all know that the country needs better infrastructure; that the education system is failing our children and needs to be overhauled; that we need to invest more in the capacity of our security forces to deter and arrest criminals; and to provide quality, affordable and universal health care to our population. These are the things we all want.
However, successive kleptocracies have rent our national fabric and eaten away at our capacity to provide them. For half a century, the corruption of the regimes of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, and Mwai Kibaki caused us to wander aimlessly in the desert of poverty during which time; we were constantly offered ever more grandiose promises of “development.”
It is this corruption that is singularly responsible for the fact that our children learn under trees or have to cross crocodile-infested waters to get to school. It is corruption that has denied us efficient health service and effective security agencies.
It is corruption that has skewed our priorities, destroyed our infrastructure and created a society, to paraphrase the late JM Kariuki, a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars.
Corruption today continues to be Kenya’s enemy number one. Yet it is not an enemy we are always comfortable acknowledging. The disappointment of the last 50 years has left many desperate for any hint of progress.
It is this desperation that many in power, both at the national and county level, have been preying on. So they continue to offer ill-thought out and, often, questionably procured high visibility projects, which demonstrate little regard for either the law or the real interests of the people.
It is perhaps understandable that some are tempted to look the other way when confronted with evidence of rules being bent or broken. Some may reason that we are at least getting something for our money, no matter how much else is stolen or squandered away. But this is a dangerous attitude.
We cannot hope to build our country on the sands of questionable policies, irregular procurement, illegal payments and underhand deals. It is this state of affairs that has led to, in the words of some wags on Twitter, “ambulances for a county with no hospitals, and laptops for schools without electricity.”
The fact is corruption is a cancer on society. If diagnosed early and eliminated, then the country can develop and grow. However, if left unchecked, it will spread and eventually consume the nation.
The values espoused in the 2010 constitution are the rock on which we should build our country anew.
But what we have seen recently are signs of the return of grand corruption. At the national level, from the “Hustler Jet” to the Standard Gauge Railway, the Jubilee government has been beset by scandal.
It is less than transparent in its conception and tendering for its grandiose schemes, many of which appear designed to further enrich a few individuals at the expense of the nation. At the county level, a recently released report from the Auditor-General has also revealed many to be dens of corruption, with rampant misappropriation of public funds.
We must act quickly and decisively to excise this cancer from the new institutions created by the constitutions, before it metastasizes. We must all do our part to end the culture of impunity.
INVESTIGATE INSTANCES OF ILLEGALITY
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission should urgently investigate the instances of illegality in the acquisition on goods and services as well as in the awarding of contracts and the handling of public monies, at both the county and national level. All who are found culpable should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
County assemblies should also hold their executives to account.
In the Senate, we are studying the Auditor-General’s report and will be taking appropriate action in line with our constitutional duty. Within the CORD coalition, we are determined that the spectre of grand corruption will not be allowed to again haunt the country.
We will continue to reach out across the party lines to find like-minded partners and so strengthen the legislature to act as an effective check on Executive excesses. As the saying goes, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Finally, we must find ways to mobilise the great multitude of our people to stand against corruption. We will partner with the progressive elements within the media, civil society and the religious fraternity to strengthen governance and oversight mechanisms and to educate and sensitise citizens on the dangers of graft at every level.
So yes, corruption does matter. Accountability and transparency do matter. These are more than mere slogans but are the fundamental building blocks for lasting peace and prosperity in our land.
The author is Senator Machakos County and Minority Senate Chief Whip. This article first appeared on Daily Nation.