Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-KENYA: First Urban Bribery Index Paints Gloomy Picture

Katy Salmon

NAIROBI, Jan 21 2002 (IPS) - The launch of Transparency International’s (TI) first Kenya Urban Bribery Index was opened by popular local musician Eric Wainaina singing ‘Nchi ya kitu kidogo’.

Kitu kidogo, which means ‘something small’ in the Kiswahili language, is what people usually ask for when soliciting bribes.

Not surprisingly, the police were found to be the worst offenders. Six out of 10 urban residents said they have to bribe the police to avoid being mistreated or denied service. Local councils, immigration authorities, the judiciary and prisons also feature prominently.

Ordinary Kenyans spend a huge amount of money on bribes – over 100 U.S. dollars a month, almost a third of their income. Businesses spend three percent of turnover on bribes. On average, people pay 16 bribes a month, 10 of which are to the police.

Officials of the Ministry of Public Works demand the biggest bribes, averaging 500 U.S. dollars per bribe. This money often goes to secure major construction contracts. Officials of embassies and international organisations come a close second, followed by immigration officials who charge around 160 U.S. dollars for their services.

David Ndii, research advisor for Transparency International, says the system of corruption is institutionalised. Junior officials who take bribes usually pass some of the money on to more senior members of staff.

For example, the police pay their superiors for assigning them to particularly lucrative routes.

“There is a connection in terms of extraction of bribes between the bribes collected on the street by the ordinary policeman and the proceeds accruing to the big people up there,” says Ndii.

“There are interesting anecdotes you will hear about institutions like the police force where there is actually a market for routes where you can collect more bribes, an internal market in the police force. Where people buy from their superiors particular sort of routes to operate and you have quotas about how much you deliver,” he says.

Observers say it is not surprising that the police take so many bribes because they are only paid around 50 U.S. dollars a month. Neither the police spokesperson nor the Police Commissioner were available for comment.

One important conclusion of TI’s survey is that anti-corruption efforts in Kenya need to focus more on ordinary people. Until now, the emphasis has been on prosecuting the so-called big fish – senior government figures involved in the theft of public funds.

But the survey proves that day to day petty bribery is an even greater problem.

“The proceeds from what we characterise as petty corruption — kitu kidogo — is many times bigger than the proceeds of grand theft of public funds,” says Ndii.

“This research begins to suggest that the way you are going to be able to fight corruption systematically in Kenya is, one, focusing on institutional reform. Secondly, there is a compelling case for collective action on the part of civil society. And I think this is a civic imperative,” he says.

Last week, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi appointed a team of British experts to advise the government how to fight corruption. Most well-known of these is Graham Stockwell, a former commander of the London Metropolitan Police and ex-director of anti- corruption authorities in Hong Kong and Botswana.

Opposition figures have been quick to dismiss the move as a ploy to hoodwink donors into releasing frozen funds.

In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stopped lending to Kenya because of the government’s perceived lack of commitment to fighting graft. The government is now desperately short of cash with a gaping balance of payments deficit and elections due later this year.

Musikari Kombo, an opposition member of parliament and chair of the Kenyan chapter of the African Parliamentary Network Against Corruption, believes the international experts will not be able to come up with anything new.

“Information which is needed for us as Kenyans to formulate an anti-corruption strategy is already available in this country and the government has got it,” says Kombo.

“It has it from the report that the parliamentary committee that I chaired against corruption produced. It got it from the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA), which for a long time formulated a strategy and involved a number of stakeholders. What is lacking as far as I’m concerned is the political will to act,” he says.

KACA was declared unconstitutional in 2000 and shut down. An attempt to revive it in Parliament last year was defeated.

Kiraitu Murungi, the shadow Attorney General in the Democratic Party, agrees that the Kenyan government is not serious about tackling corruption. He says this is because corruption stems from the heart of government.

“This team is not going to change anything and we think it is just going to be a waste of public resources and time. Because corruption lies at the root of the Kenyan government and the only way to effectively fight corruption in this country is to change the regime.

“There is no political will to fight corruption in this country because the key corrupt elements are in control of the government. It’s like asking them to commit suicide,” he concludes.

Last year, TI rated Kenya the fifth most corrupt country in the world. According to the Kenya Urban Bribery Index, which was launched in Nairobi on Jan 18, most Kenyans believe corruption is on the increase.

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