Third Eye

Debate on economy must include cure for corruption

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/PD/PSCU

Sheila Masinde       

As the 2022 election campaigns begin to heat up, the economy has dominated the debate, with presidential aspirants promising solutions to the many problems bedeviling the economy. 

One of the missing pieces in this conversation is how they intend to cure endemic corruption. 

Since independence, the decentralisation of government services has been a key approach to socio-economic development. 

The 2010 Constitution introduced two levels of government – national and county.

Proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative further positioned the strengthening of devolution as among the initiative’s key selling points, proposing an increase in allocation of funds to counties from 15 per cent to 35 per cent, with the aim of distributing the national cake to the bottom-tier of the economy. 

Yet, it is estimated that the government loses 30 per cent of the annual budget to corruption.

In fact, the theft of public resources is so endemic that in January, none other than President Uhuru Kenyatta himself insinuated that the country was losing up to Sh2 billion to graft daily. 

In the past 30 years, Kenya has been plagued by a long list of corruption scandals, many of which remain unresolved.

They include the Goldenberg Scandal, the Anglo-Leasing Scandal, the National Youth Service Scandal, the Arror and Kimwarer Dams Scandal, and the recent Kemsa Covid-19 Scandal.

The Kemsa scandal happened at time Kenya is indebted to the tune of Sh7.7 trillion as at the end of June 2021.

Kenya obtained a score of 31 out of 100, having scored 28 points in 2019, on the 2020 Global Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, the global anti-corruption movement.

Kenya’s score still falls below the Sub-Saharan average of 32 and global average of 43. A score below 50 indicates serious levels of public sector corruption.

Additionally, Kenya’s economic freedom score is 54.9 per cent, making its economy the 138th freest globally in the 2021 Index of Economic Freedom by Heritage Foundation.

Kenya is ranked 28th among 47 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and its overall score is below the regional and world averages and the country’s economy has been ranked mostly unfree since 1997, indicating the limitations in trade freedom and tax burden. 

So, whether ‘bottom-up’ ‘middle-out’ or ‘trickle-down’, Kenyans should be concerned as to why the economic approaches that have been deployed since independence have not achieved the intended objective of breaking the glass ceiling that impedes people at the bottom from scaling the economic ladder.

It seems the electorate have been tasking “hyenas to watch over the meat,!”, which explains the white elephant projects, fast rising number of tenderpreneurs, individuals unable to justify their wealth, and cases of ‘budgeted’ and ‘devolved’ corruption.

Every year, Kenyans lose billions of shillings through illicit financial flows (IFFs).

The losses amounted to an estimated Sh380 billion in 2020 alone according to Global Financial Integrity.

The economic blueprints should, therefore, not just be a treacherous ploy to hoodwink the electorate.

The proponents should demonstrate to Kenyans how they intend to expedite the tracking of IFFs, to make it difficult for public officials and other individuals to enrich themselves through corrupt acts, and similarly support the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets for the benefit of all Kenyans.

While crafting economic blueprints is a prudent step in shifting focus from the typical tribal-based politics, that we have been treated to over the years, to issue-based discourse, the conversation must be deepened and broadened to include solutions to tame the ballooning public debt, wastage in the public sector spending and wanton plunder of public resources.

Regardless of the proposed economic approaches, aspirants to high political office should explain how they intend to establish a robust public engagement and oversight framework as an integral part of the fiscal consolidation and debt restructuring to bolster efforts to deal with the public debt quagmire. 

A more balanced discussion on the future of Kenya’s economy should also consider entrenching a transparent and accountable system of tax collection, one that invests in human, financial and technological resources to strengthen revenue collection and open reporting of such information, and seal loopholes for tax evasion and related illegal actions.

Only then can the country ensure effective mobilisation of domestic resources to grow and support the economy.

If any of the proposed economic approaches is to reclaim our economy, especially amidst the impact of the pandemic, it must plug the gaps that enable corruption to thrive, particularly in the public sector. —The writer is the Executive Director, Transparency International Kenya

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