By Comrade Albert Nyakundi Amenya
According to the Corruption Perception Index 2013 by transparency international, Kenya is ranked the 4th most corrupt country globally. According to the report, 7 out of 10 members of the public seeking government services in 2013, bribed to get served.
That reminds me, last month while on a trip abroad; I shared seats with an American named Tim Howard. We had a sprawling and discursive discussion. Mr. Howard was on a six-nation African tour of South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Namibia and Angola. He works for an investment firm in New Jersey and was on feasibility studies across nations in Africa. But, no sooner had I introduced myself to him, than he asked me a question that rattled me:
â€œAll these stuff we hear and read about missing billions of shillings in Kenya, is it really true that these billions of shillings are missing and stolen just like that?â€ I looked lost and one could tell from my countenance, even though I was bankrupt of answers, that my expression gave me away as answering in the affirmative.
He quickly added, â€œIs your system that porous to permit such a huge sleaze?â€ As I felt the discussion becoming more embarrassing, I quickly sought for a way to outmatch his position by asking him if that was his first trip to Africa and in so doing changed the subject. He shrugged in disapproval and said yes. Nonetheless, even though I gained some momentary reprieve, all through the flight, I could not stop chewing over his questions.
The situation I faced in the flight is one which thousands of Kenyans face on a daily basis across the world so much so that even the most discredited despots like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would freely throw jabs at us over our abhorrent level of corruption. Our politicians often paint the world in hellish colours and then offer themselves or their damn program as a savior.
Agreed that ours is a porous polity easily manipulated for selfish motives, the real frustration is the laissez-faire attitude of the people who ordinarily should be concerned about the skyrocketing levels of corruption, outright stealing of public funds, unprecedented misuse of public funds and the embezzlement that is going on in our country.
As an intellectual, I believe that it does not take a soothsayer to tell us where we got it wrong. Sometime back in an OAU meeting, some African head of states shocked their nations and indeed the world when they declined to declare their wealth and further added salt to injury by declaring they didnâ€™t give a damnâ€™ about not declaring their wealth. That undertaking made nonsense of the fight against corruption and enthroned the crass impunity that is currently consuming every aspect of public life. As if that was not enough, recently while on a trip abroad, some African leaders dropped another clanger by saying that the issue of corruption was overblown in Africa. Overblown indeed!
At a time when billions of dollars are still missing from various sectors, our dear leaders are saying corruption is overblown. No wonder most African nations stink that much because of corruption. But maybe we need a lesson or two from the United States. Just recently, President Obama, in keeping with the American faith, declared his wealth to the American populace yet again. President Obamaâ€™s tax documents revealed that his income had declined in 2013 due to the low sales of his books. Interestingly, he paid a higher tax rate, the documents showed.
In 2013, President Obama made $482,099, down from $609,612, in 2012, the president still proceeded to pay an effective tax rate of 20.5% up from 18.5percent, his tax returns indicated. The anomaly (rise in tax) was as a result of the policy that Obama himself pushed to limit the tax preferences for the rich, one of the commendable reforms he embarked upon on becoming the President of the United States. According to reliable sources, Obamaâ€™s earnings have declined considerably from 2009.
In that year during his first term in office, he earned $5.7m, mostly from sales of his books The Audacity of Hope and the Dreams of my Father. Obamaâ€™s salary as United States President is $400,000. Together with the first lady Mitchell, the first family paid $99,168 in total federal taxes and $24,337 in taxes to their home state of Illinois in 2013.
Back home in Kenya, we carry on as if nothing matters. Leaders run public offices like fiefdoms. Everything about public office is shrouded in deceit, secrecy and absolute mystery like an esoteric. As attested to by African leaders, it is not mandatory for their part to declare anything (their assets) for or to anybody. If that is not enough sign of irresponsibility, then the word itself has to be rebased.
While it takes just a single click on the computer to learn the salaries of both President Obama and the members of congress, here in Kenya not even on demand will anyone tell you all the exact amounts earned by the President and the National Assembly members. The figures that you obtain are those of basic salary with allowances excluded. Surprisingly, at times allowances overrun basic salaries. Ours has become a country that continually gets the ugly side of leadership due to corrupt government officers â€“ not really from head to toe.
Kenya has become a state where nonchalance continues to cloud public activities. Just name them: from the Turkwel Hydroelectric Power Station embezzlement to the Goldenberg scandal, from the Anglo leasing saga to the Triton sleaze, from the Ksh.9b computer error, to the 100m Deputy President Jet scandal among others.
Winston Churchill once said â€œIf you are going through hell, keep going.â€ But alas! On this one, I wish to take a rare exception because I believe it does not take rocket science to fix things like this. It must be seen that the president of the republic is serious with the fight against corruption. His body language must manifest and radiate this. It is a simple case of leading by example, political leaders at every level in the chain of governance. Over the years, our national budget has become just an annual ritual.
After tabulations upon tabulations of fictitious figures, a supposed law becomes subject to selective implementation according to the whims and caprices of few who superintend over of our nationâ€™s resource. Now we have been told that we are the superpower of East and Central Africa, and whether we like it or not, we must swallow the entire story, even when it does not translate to the general well being of the common Mwananchi.
Its time our leaders â€“ both from the government and the opposition â€“ began to exhibit transparency, even if in minimal quantity, in the conduct of our countryâ€™s affair so that next time a Tim Howard poses such humiliating questions to me, I will put him in his rightful position by giving him the right answers.
To our dear intrepid president, the actions and in-actions of the irresponsible leaders we have had since independence have chained us with the shackles of poverty for too long, too long to bear, and can no longer continue to allow them to hold us down.
Mr. President, to pull a nation out of the woods can only be done by an altruistic leadership that is focused on serving and not on being served or using the instruments of power to serve family and political friends to the detriment of the common populace. And it is definitely not the I-donâ€™t-care attitude our leaders have adopted in ruling us since independence.
I believe that you are the right person to get us to the Promised Land. Ignore the unproductive voices of the critics and move the nation forward. You Excellency Sir, remember the promises you pledged to Kenyans during campaigns. Sir, if it were not for the same promises that endeared you to the people, – which I hope were not fallacious, – perhaps, youâ€™d not have been elected as President.