ODOTE: Less talk, more action in corruption fight

The last two weeks have seen high-level conversations on corruption, its manifestation and required interventions that led to three important events.

First was the statement by President Uhuru Kenyatta after a meeting with the private sector where he received a report from a public-private sector team.

Secondly was the presentation of a task force report chaired by the attorney-general with proposals to aid the fight against corruption. Lastly was the reorganisation of government and its implications in the fight against corruption.

On the place of law and tough talk as a strategy to fighting corruption, here is why I find the two inadequate as effective strategies.

First, Kenya has spent years discussing, enacting, repealing, amending and pointing out deficiencies in its laws on corruption. This, coupled with frequent leadership changes at the anti-graft agency, leaves one to ask whether the problem is loopholes in the law or their implementation.

We also have to go back to the Constitution-making process and recall the strong objection to making the anti-graft body a constitutional commission and the rejection of proposals to give it prosecutorial powers.

The AG’s task force made several legislative proposals. The committee chaired by Treasury secretary Henry Rotich also came up with a raft of proposals.

The private sector even proposed a new law. But we have to stop and ask whether the weakest link in our anti-corruption fight is the dearth or weakness of legislation.

Secondly, every time there is public outrage over corruption, we should ask ourselves whether it is followed by action. This does not stop with the leadership it extends to all of us.

This past week, and not for the first time, the President issued stern warnings. To interrogate the lack of tangible progress despite the warnings, we must ask if it’s plain disregard of the statements or lack of follow-up.

To answer these questions, one has to peruse the President’s speech last week. He spoke about the need to focus more on our value systems and build on this.

To successfully fight corruption we have to inculcate a culture of honesty and condemnation of corrupt activities irrespective of who is involved.

Citizens have to appreciate that corruption affects their quality of life. When one takes from the national cake and diverts it towards personal benefit, the public suffers.

Values cannot be achieved through criminal sanctions only. It takes more than the threat of jail and fines to develop an ethical society. It requires concerted action by all.

We have long accused leaders of encouraging corruption. The reality, though, is that leadership is a manifestation of ourselves.

As Chinua Achebe once said, “you need a fresh set of Kenyans to satisfactorily fight corruption.” But to get them requires work. We have to reboot our value system.

The education system has to play a role. But it cannot be about examining ethics in school. It must be about including ethics in majority of the subjects as well as co-curricular activities.

You often hear cases where the ages of teen footballers are altered to give them an unfair aantage over the competition. This is corruption. We have to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure practical action at multiple levels to inculcate a culture of hard work, honesty and probity.

This has to focus on what parents do at home and what happens in our religious and educational institutions. This is not to relegate the role of leadership to the back-burner.

I spent the past weekend in Arusha. Speaking to Tanzanians one hears mixed reactions about President John Magufuli’s efforts to battle corruption.

But there is unanimity that he is serious in his actions, and Tanzanians can see the practical measures he is taking, even those who do not agree with his approach.

It takes practical and decisive measures to propel a country into a new culture. It is a lesson for Kenya that what is required is not more talk and laws, but action and a focus on building an ethical foundation.

Dr Odote lectures at the University of Nairobi.