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Fighting Corruption Through Informal Pay-offs
The realization of a corrupt free society has become the most difficult and an expensive policy venture in sub-Sahara African countries today. Policy makers and institutions have been rendered incapable when it comes to the fight against corruption. And fifty years down the road, corruption has still remained one of the most outstanding impediments to economic and political developments in sub-Sahara Africa. The extent to which corrupt acts prevail in sub-Saharan Africa versus the low efforts to reduce it, is alarming and hurts the economy as well as the trust of service seekers in public institutions.
In Kenya, corruption has been in the center of political debates for over two decades. But the road to see a corrupt free Kenya has been tedious and dangerous, and the fight is neither on nor dead. We are hanging in between the decision to fight corruption and the political will to institutionalize anti-corruption policies. Although a few efforts have been witnessed, corruption in Kenya has sickly become part of our everyday life. Corrupt public and private sector officials cannot just think of another way of delivering services as bribery has become like a daily medical prescription that without which no service can be delivered.
Weakest links in anti-corruption approaches
Unfortunately, in as much as it has assisted in operationalizing and defining corruption, the weakest link in anti-corruption efforts lies with its legally bias approach. That is, acts of corruption take place in the most covert manner and it is almost impossible to mobilize evidence that can be valid to prosecute the actors. Thus, the legal protocol needed to prosecute corrupt public officials becomes the undoing of our Anti-Corruption Agencies particularly in the case of reducing rampant petty corruption in the public sector. Whereas, this legal approach is effective in the fight against large scale corruption where procurement flaws can possibly be traced, it poses a challenge towards reducing unrecorded incidences of petty corruption. In addition, public institutions are not working as they are supposed to. So, in as much as, policies against corruption can be good, there are high possibilities that they will be handled by wrong implementers. In other words, the current design of anti-corruption agencies, the approach and policy implementation render anti-corruption efforts unsuccessful in most instances.
Scholars have argued that petty corruption affects the common citizens more directly than large scale corruption. So even though countries such as Rwanda are said to have seen a little improvement in the fight against corruption, the vice still remains a threat to sustainable and equitable economic and political development. There are also evidences that corruption is still an inherent factor in economic development even though the correlation between the vice and economic development has proved elusive over the years. We, therefore, need specificity in our quest to curb corruption. Efforts should uniquely focus on specific corruption sites where petty corruption is more prevalent. In other words, we must set a target point within the scale of low to grand cases of corruption, and formulate measures that befit each level.
If corruption is very prevalent at the lower levels, then we should come up with specific measures to address this form of corruption as per its level. This is because the nature of corruption is shaped by specific contextual factors. And to avoid the legally laden and generalized anti-corruption measures as well as give attention to details of various nature of corruption, the fight should be contextualized either departmentally or culturally. Because for a long time now, the vagueness in the definition of corruption, and inadequate knowledge on its nature have created confusion on what corruption entails when it comes to its practice.
In most of the sub-Sahara African countries, petty corruption tends to be more prevalent than large scale corruption. This means that a common citizen is further impoverished by prevailing corruption in the public institutions.
Studies such as; Corruption and Local Governance in Kenya: Public officials versus service-seekers. Investigating low scale corruption in the rural public sector or The Anatomy of Corruption in Kenya: Legal, Political and Socio-Economic Perspectives traces the differentiation between grand and petty corruption in Kenya to weak public institutions. Monitoring mechanisms that can stall occurrences of corruption in the public sector are also either non-existent or disappointingly ineffective. That means, a common citizen is likely to witness an act of corruption every week if not daily. For example, it is very ‘normal’ to see police officers extorting matatu operatives when travelling from Kisumu to Southern Nyanza towns, or see public officials soliciting bribes at the ministry of lands to have a document quickly processed. Put differently, with our weak and inefficient public institutions, services take long to be delivered and thus one must give a payoff to quicken service delivery system. This is an act that experts have referred to as grease the wheels theory of corruption and of which is a reality in most sub-Sahara African countries.
Legalizing greasing the wheels pay-offs
With the realization that greasing the wheels concept is here to stay as long as our institutions are still organized and work as they do, we need to waste no resources trying to redesign the institutions to fight corruption. In line with the view of Professor Susan Rose Ackerman, the government will be saved lots of funds in trying to establish supervisory or monitoring mechanisms if it just legalizes illegal payments made by service seekers to have quick services. This is by taking into consideration the cultural and economic aspects of such pay-offs. In other words, if the government is concerned with prevalent corruption in its institutions, it should just categorize service delivery system. A service-seeker will have to pay more if s/he wants a service delivered within a day or hours. As seen in some European countries, the quicker one calls for the service delivery, the more they will have to pay. But, to protect service seekers from further exploitation, service categorization prices should be put public, and published for consumption by service-seekers in the department or public office in question. Otherwise, the payment may be further inflated by corrupt public officials since they tend to change the nature of corruption depending on the mechanism in place.
Pitfalls and other measures
The categorization of services basing on delivery time will however mean that only those capable of paying for such services will be served at the detriment of those with very low income. Again, it is likely to further deepen inequality in countries such as Kenya or Uganda where such payoffs are quite prevalent. Furthermore, service categorization is likely to have service seekers charged for free services that are supposed to be delivered on spot.
Nonetheless, categorization of services may enable the government to reduce prevalence of illegal payoffs as well as mobilize extra revenue for running its programs and make these services cheaper. The only question is; will public officials who build fortune from these illegal payoffs implement such efforts? Public officials hold the key to either successfulness or failure of government policies and initiatives. And are, therefore, likely to frustrate initiatives they feel threaten their corrupt interests. However, legislation of quick services should not be treated as the means to an end of reducing petty corruption in the public sector. It should be done temporarily or as part of institutional reforms to curb corruption. Thus, to be on a safe side, the government should be able to address issues that go beyond inefficient service delivery or excessive bureaucracy in service delivery at the same time as legalizing illegal pay-offs.
For instance, apart from decongesting the bureaucratic set up, the government should also look into the wage factor, and the extent to which it may frustrate or allow implementation of quick service legislation. Studies indicate that low wages correlate to cases of petty corruption in the public sector. No wonder, the emergence of grease the wheels concept – as a low paid and hungry public official is unlikely to overcome temptations of illegal payoffs from corrupt service-seekers.
The government can also ensure that it has an established and effective e-governance mechanism. E-governance will reduce direct contacts between corrupt service seekers and public officials as well as reduce inconveniencies of the bureaucracy that gives advantage to corrupt actors. Some scholars have suggested that e-governance can be very effective when it comes to reducing petty corruption in government offices. This is because; services such as application for a driving license or renewal of a passport can be made easier when done online. However, the government will need to create an effective and digitalized registration database of its citizens to avoid imposition when it comes to online service delivery. Therefore, through Communications Commission of Kenya, the government will need to ensure that a larger population has a cheap access to internet for e-governance to be effective.
At the same time, anti-corruption agency can also operate a corruption free customer care and toll free hotline services whereby those who report valid cases of corruption are rewarded, and their identities protected. Such services may assist in the legitimization processes of anti-corruption initiatives that tend to be the undoing of anti-corruption efforts in sub-Sahara Africa. And since acts of corruption partly thrives on ignorance, such services should be intensively publicized, especially, the awarding part because consumers are naturally attracted to free things.
Finally, it should be soberly noted that the fight against corruption is largely dependent on the government’s political will. But, for governments that have low feedback mechanism from the public like Kenya’s, the will to fight corruption is low and anti-corruption policies are simply given lip service approaches. Furthermore, the government’s legitimacy is not rooted on the extent to which it deliver services to the public but rather on its election to power. Hence, in such a scenario anti-corruption struggles can hardly be effective in a country like Kenya until that time that the government will genuinely own the fight against corruption.
By Gedion Onyango
Research Fellow: Centre for Research and Technology Development (RESTECH), Maseno University, Kisumu.
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