Call Corruption by its Name
By Raila Odinga,
I am honoured to join fellow citizens at this great conference. It is my hope that when the history of our war on corruption is written, this gathering will feature prominently as the point from which we turned tables on the crime.
I am not here to prescribe what should be done. I am here to share my thoughts and experiences.
My thoughts are not in any way superior to the others that have but shared here.
I wasn’t here yesterday, and others may have said some of what I will say here but that should be an indication of the universality of our experiences.
Over the years, one thing that has intrigued me is our attitude as citizens towards this whole issue of corruption.
I am talking about the sympathetic and apologetic attitude we have developed for corruption and its architects and how we go out of our way to give the corrupt and their activities good sounding names by refusing to call them by their real names.
Most African societies have no word for corruption. In our mother tongues, people who take what is not theirs are called thieves. Occasionally we refer to such people as “wakora”, crooks, conmen but they are generally and simply understood to be thieves and called as such.That is what we call a person who tricks you of your land, who takes your cow, uses flowery language to get money from you, who charges more than the real cost or who hides part of the proceeds for personal gain. No matter which Kenyan society you ask, such a person is called a thief. And people are warned against such characters.
As children, our parents warned us against being seen with so and so, against marrying in such a family because they are thieves. They are bad people. They were rejects in society.
Over time, there has been a systematic laundering of this crime, its perpetrators and its proceeds.We launder them in church, at social events like weddings, at harambees and during times of tragedies sometimes caused by the crimes of the very same people.
We view those who steal from us as achievers and as real men and women struggling with life. Those who steal from us and who then give back partly out of guilt and partly to buy our admiration and silence are seen to be generous or development conscious even when we know they are not.
We welcome them to social and religious events with open arms and cheers and roll out the red carpet for them but frown at the chicken thief and look for tyres to lynch them.
Why have we changed and made stealing something whose nature and dimensions are difficult to understand and whose real name we refuse to pronounce? How has this impacted our war on this crime?
Still on the issue of attitude, there is some sympathy and reverence we have developed for corrupt people; the thieves. We kind of feel sorry for the big shot who has been taken to court for stealing billions using the pen or through electronic bank transfers while we feel nothing for the ragged man accused of stealing a cow or a chicken.
The ordinary citizen looks sorry, the police officer looks sorry and even the judges look sorry. We have contributed to this problem as a society. We need to end it as a society before we even before we bring in the government.
And the issue of attitude features strongly on our idea about the government. We seem to believe that the government is some alien being or institution that grows money on trees and that whoever steals government money has not stolen from us because government money is nobody’s money.
In fact such a person is seen as a hero who has conquered some enemy. Yet the truth is that the government has no money of its own. It only has our taxes.
For every money stolen from the government, the government will most likely raise more taxes or cut down on services it provides to us.
Then there are our institutions, the courts of law, the anti-corruption agencies, the police, etc. There is every indication that the thieves do not sleep as they look for ways to steal.
They use the stolen money to hire the most crooked lawyers or buy judges and other officers in the chain. We are witnessing very clear cases of collusion in our courts, with investigators and prosecutors.
Consequently, we are witnessing a trend where suspects rush to court to stop DCI and DPP from arresting and charging them with corruption. And the courts are granting such suspects their wishes.
This is curious and disturbing. Am not sure whether a chicken thief out there can go to court and get such a favourable ruling.
If suspects feel that they should not be arrested and be taken to court and the judges agree with them, what are we supposed to do with those suspects?
When a man who has stolen money meant for drugs in a local hospital asks judges to stop his arrest and the judges agree with him, what are the mothers whose children died for lack of drugs supposed to do?
I am equally not sure we can tame graft when we allow those charged with it to be out on bail and return to their work stations, cleanse or interfere with records then return to court a year later. What kind of thief with his or her senses intact would return to office and safely guard documents and contacts they know will be used against them?
I am not sure that we are keen to get to the bottom of the problem or we are just going through motions.
How about the issue of innocence and guilt? Who is on trial in our courts or rather who should be on trial? Is it the prosecutor or the suspect? The trend here is that it is the DPP and his team that are on trial.
When a man who earns Ksh50, 000 a month, has no other known business but owns a fleet of top of the range cars, houses, land, etc. is charged with corruption, should we insist that the DPP should prove the man is clean or should the burden be on the suspect to prove innocence? Should such a person be allowed back in office on bail?
Finally, there is the issue of time. How long should one corruption case take to start and to be dispensed with? Is it a year, a decade or a generation? Societies that have stemmed the tide against corruption are those that have insisted on dispensing SWIFT AND SEVERE PUNISHEMENT, some kind of SHOCK AND AWE. Such societies understand that the corrupt who go unpunished or who take too long to be punished become heroes of sorts and continue to undermine the values of the society and pillars of the State.
It is my hope that our experiences as shared here will lead us to a permanent solution and not another conference on how to deal with thieves in suits. God bless you.
RAILA ODINGA, EGH, AT THE MULTI-SECTORAL NATIONAL ANTI-CORRUPTION CONFERENCE; BOMAS OF KENYA