With ‘legalised corruption’, fight against sleaze is going nowhere


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The civil society group AfriCOG released a report titled “State Capture”, in which it reflected on the so-called war on corruption.

It used a lot of space resurrecting the ghosts of Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing and Eurobond — three mega scandals orchestrated by state operatives working in cahoots with foreigners.

However, the report doesn’t get us anywhere for, in the end, it pushes an illusion and a forgery that the now-famous “Handshake” may just be what would end corruption. It’s naive for AfriCOG to ask Kenyans to stake their hope on what many already know is a lost cause.

The drafters of this report kept closely to the Western construct of what constitutes corruption. In language and reasoning, it’s heavily donor-centric. Tackling corruption will, ultimately, require indigenous strategies and understanding.

There is nothing unusual about much of our corruption, especially bribery, which is inherently linked to the youngness of our institutions, market failure and information asymmetry. Nations seeking Western-style democracy along with capitalism have had to deal with corruption, bribery and, at worst, state capture. Capitalism, or private ownership and control of factors of production, is alien to us.

When we began dismantling our economic system of state production and distribution in the 1990s, powerful individuals exploited gaps in the legal and regulatory frameworks and fraudulently took over public assets. This morally repulsive acquisition was, after all, “legal”.

Current and future laws are likely to preserve the transactions, though akin to the 1960s privatisation of some communal and state lands.

Taking the simplest definition of corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain, AfriCOG failed to contextualise state capture in Kenya.

It missed the elephant in the room — “legalised corruption”, the use of laws to protect and support flagrant misappropriation of public resources. Here, ‘Wanjiku’ is utterly powerless for the very Constitution is against her.

Circa 2011, an article appeared in the international domain ranking the world’s highest-paid politicians. Kenya’s Prime Minister was at number three, behind the leaders of Hong Kong and Singapore. It was reported that Raila Odinga was being compensated more than then-US President Barack Obama and all European leaders.

Many wondered how an aid-dependent country, a budding democracy, could pay its premier more than the leader of ‘the free world’.

President Kenyatta is among the highest-paid in the developing world. He earns way more than any president in South America — a region of vastly superior economies.

He gets nearly double what the presidents of regional and global economic powerhouses, Brazil and Mexico, earn.

The salaries that our MPs and governors pocket is what many countries pay presidents.

Colombia, an economically superior nation of 49 million people like us, has fewer MPs, who earn far less than ours.

Despite no meaningful roles, our deputy governors earn more than the president of China, the prime ministers of India and Ethiopia or even Tanzania’s President John Magufuli.

Despite the excesses, our MPs have increased and backdated their allowances once again. This would, ultimately, be supported by the Executive and the Judiciary, citing constitutional independence.

There are those agitating for the recovery of molasses plant in Kisumu, Kabarak High School and the public land on which Weston Hotel stands — all monuments of theft. Well, that is unlikely to happen.

But every five years, each MP would have “stolen” our taxes through the so-called remuneration, equivalent to three to five Kabaraks. Collectively, this legalised corruption is much bigger than all the three mega scandals everybody keeps talking about.

Exorbitant salaries, strenuously rejected by then-President Daniel arap Moi, have only accelerated wilful plunder of national wealth by a handful. They owe Moi an apology for their experiment has failed.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected]; @kenchesoli