When we set leadership bar so low we should be easy when corruption comes with chokehold

Polling clerks await voters during a past election. FILE PHOTO |

What you need to know:

  • The sheer lack of honour among elected leaders is shocking because this does not have a clear precedent.
  • MPs are no longer watching on behalf of the voters.

Lack of integrity among elected leaders is one theme that has continuously dominated public discussions and the media since late last year.

Every day begins with a story of leaders doing something wrong. Leaders are involved in corruption. They are fist fighting and so on.

This behaviour is not confined to elected leaders. There are reports of pastors defiling children or stealing from their flock. There are stories about priests stealing from their churches or teachers stealing from schools. The act of leaders behaving badly has spread fast.

But the sheer lack of honour among elected leaders is shocking because this does not have a clear precedent. Apart from engaging in physical fighting, there are those cited in corruption scandals on a regular basis. MPs are receiving bribes.

From the Parliamentary Accounts Committee we now know that MPs take bribes, receive bribes or act as a conduit for bribes. MPs are no longer watching on behalf of the voters. They are concerned about the security of their pockets.

The root causes

Four things have led us this route. First is greed among the middle class. Some have been seeking elective posts to gain wealth. Those already wealthy seek elected posts to protect what they have acquired. People no longer care how they acquire their wealth.

Greed as a problem has origins in the days of President Moi in the early 1990s. Illiterate wealthy individuals, connected to government and politics, would pop up almost every day. This passed the message that education did not have a correlation with income.

The second reason for lack of integrity among current leaders revolves around how and why we elected leaders in the 2013 General Election. Kenyans have short political memories.

Their memory of political events fades fast; they forget to link the past and the present. Related to this is the fact that the International Criminal Court’s in Kenya became a major campaign theme in the 2013 elections. It overshadowed all other issues on basis of which leaders could be elected.

In some instances, those who sought to elect even their local representatives on the platform of Chapter Six on leadership and integrity were rebuked. Their actions were interpreted as an affront to the candidacy of the president and his deputy because of their cases at the ICC.

People without integrity were elected to public office

In the end we got poor results because people with a poor track record on integrity got elected into office at different levels by using the language of advancing community interests. As a result of this, some village quacks, fraudsters and swindlers got elected to county assemblies or even MPs because they could represent “community interests”. Cord and Jubilee have such leaders.

There are still others who acted as modern day Robin Hoods. They used funds from public sources or from illegitimate sources and got elected. There were voters who were not worried about the quality of leaders they were putting into office. They loudly said that “even if someone is a thief, he is our thief; he is our own”.

These are not difficult issues to correct. In the 2017 General Election people will have seen the sheer folly of having such people into office. This will correct itself from below.

They behave badly because the stakes are high

The third reason relating to lack of integrity is the high stakes involved in our winner- take-all politics. This form of politics does not lead to accountability to leaders. In fact, the stakes in electoral politics are usually high in the last three years of office. The stakes become high when it dawns on many that they may not be re-elected.

And if records on the turn-over of MPs is anything to go by, only 30 per cent of elected MPs will get back to the National Assembly. Seventy per cent will be voted out. Of the 70 per cent that will be voted out, only 5 per cent will be re-elected at another time, after spending five years outside. The remaining will never, ever again in their lifetime, see the inside of Parliament as elected leaders.

The number of MCAs who will not be elected back to the County Assembly will probably be higher than the number of MPs. Many voters are now clearer in their minds that the County Assembly is not a space for councillors. And people want higher calibre representatives.

Many leaders are behaving badly because they are not accountable to voters; they are elected to serve their own interests. Furthermore, some of them buy voters.

In a recent Afro-barometer survey by the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, more than half of Kenyans are convinced that leaders bribe their voters. If they bribe voters, it means they are not accountable to them; they will buy them again.

The law is not enforced

Fourthly, leaders behave badly because the law is poorly enforced. They get away with anything they do. Or the law will catch up with them when they leave office.  The government rarely enforces the law especially when the rich and the powerful are involved. The law usually affects the ordinary person, the weak, and those without influence. If you are rich and powerful, as our elected leaders are, you can circumvent the law without injury.

Interestingly, people know the law is applied unequally. They know that not everybody is equal before our laws. In the same survey, 75 per cent of Kenyans said that government officials who commit crime always go unpunished. The law does not have any consequence for the powerful.

Over half said that the law applies to the ordinary person; an ordinary person will always be punished for committing a crime. To them it is rare to let an ordinary person go unpunished for committing a crime.
Shaping the leaders

Clearly if the law were enforced to foster integrity, leaders would change their behaviour. The institutions to get the country out of this problem are themselves in deep trouble.

We do not expect Parliament to act on itself. The EACC has already shown that it is not cut from a different cloth from the previous ones. In fact, anti-corruption commissions rarely succeed in fighting corruption; they end up securing the pockets of the officials running them. Our history with our own commission bears this out.

Worse, we have a coalition government. Coalitions tend to cause inertia and to slow down action on leaders who behave badly. But here is a situation that begs intervention from the President as the top most leader. He must demonstrate a vicious assault on corruption and lack of integrity in general among leaders. He can only succeed by sacrificing those around him who lack integrity because the rot is so much that it can sink us as a nation.

Prof. Karuti Kanyinga teaches at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi, [email protected]

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