Citizen participation critical in fight against corruption
Samuel Kimeu and Derick Ngaira
As we continue waiting for President Uhuru Kenyatta to fulfil his promise of commenting on the recent massive cache of leaked documents dubbed “Pandora Papers,” showing how his family and other leaders have secretly accumulated personal fortunes behind offshore corporate veils, it is key noting that the exposee rejuvenated the conversation on the fight against corruption in Kenya.
Even though the journalists did not provide evidence on whether the billions of dollars are proceeds of crime or corruption, in the court of public opinion, debate rages about sources of the billions of money stashed abroad and the motivation for offshore accounts in the first place.
The clarion call against corruption is not alien in Kenya. Therefore, in this article we interrogate the role of citizen participation in relation to the fight against corruption.
The term “citizen participation’’ has gained traction over the past one decade since the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
The constitution envisages members of the public co-governing with leaders in making substantive decisions.
A legal requirement buttressed by international treaties like the 2001 Aarhus Convention on Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Information.
The discourse of public participation has been all about allowing members of the public to take part in decision making processes.
Arguably, citizens’ voices have been operationalised in democratic process in different ways.
This includes through voting during elections, budget making processes, giving suggestions on how government policies can be improved, among others.
Public participation with reference to the anti-corruption campaign involves approaches and methodologies that may be distinct from citizen engagement in other democratic processes like aforementioned.
This is so because the government may not be lenient to citizens to access space and information in relation to fighting corruption.
Corruption goes against the tenets of a democratic society, as it violates the principle of democratic inclusion by excluding those who do not take part in the vice.
It is in this regard that citizen’s role in the fight against corruption can best be understood from a social accountability perspective.
Citizens should play a critical role by vehemently opposing corruption, keeping in check those in office, demanding for effective countermeasures, and being at the forefront in putting to limelight corruption related activities.
Leveraging the advent of technology, citizens’ ability to document and report cases of corruption to the media or independent anti-corruption watchdogs has been enhanced and made much easier than before.
In addition, refusing to take or give bribes would be yet a stronger sign of resistance.
Taking part and supporting sensitization campaigns and training programmes to cultivate a culture of zero tolerance for kickbacks and upholding integrity would go a long way in changing attitudes, not only in the current generation but also future descendants.
As a country, we risk normalizing corruption due to citizen apathy brought about by high levels of corruption, poor governance, and lack of trust in public institutions.
On the other hand, those who continue to take advantage of a weak accountability environment to amass illicit wealth will continue to do so, and in turn use what they acquire to evade accountability.
Citizens can play a role in supporting and defending accountability institutions against assault.
This means citizens need to stop being bystanders or observers in the accountability space, and to take their role in governance seriously.
Therefore, there is a need to invest in innovative approaches to report corruption activities, increase awareness on corruption consequences like inequalities, and justice seen to be served to those found guilty.
Equally useful are social sanctions that disapprove of dishonest and corrupt practices. — Kimeu is the Executive Director while Ngaira is the Communications Assistant, Africa’s Voices Foundation