UK Drives Corruption Battle a Notch Higher

Published on 20th December 2009

Rob Macaire (Back row rt) in a photo session

Photo Courtesy

Corruption isn’t unique to Kenya.   There is not a country in the world that can claim to be corruption-free.And as it’s a global problem, we need to work together to fight it. Kenyans, and countries who are friends of Kenya, know that the set of issues around impunity and corruption threatens the very future of this country. This is not about being moralistic or over-dramatic.  It is a hard, sober analysis of governance issues as they affect Kenya.


You know that high levels of corruption undermine the fundamental trust between government and the people. You know that it is inseparable from Kenya’s wider reform agenda, and from impunity in other areas such as the Post Election Violence.  You know that corruption in law enforcement and judiciary allows criminality to thrive, especially organised crime: drugs, arms traders, militia. And you know that corruption is not, as some like to pretend, a victimless crime.


The victims of large scale plundering of the State by civil servants and politicians are ordinary Kenyans.  Wherever it occurs, corruption makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. We all say that corruption is a plague. Well it is exactly like that:  a systemic problem, that is easy to diagnose, but hard to treat, something that weakens societies and prevents development.  And yet something that with common effort, can be rolled back.


Let me give you some other examples [ of what the UK is actually doing, rather than just saying, to help fight corruption in Kenya] including some areas that are often misunderstood.


First, visa bans. This is what everyone asks us about.  A lot of wananchi and civil society say to us ‘why don’t you ban more people, ban their families, name and shame them’.   The truth is that we do have a large number of people, over 20, on the list facing exclusion from the UK for reasons of corruption.  They include senior civil servants, politicians, and powerful businessmen, and they come from across the political spectrum.  But this policy isn’t something we want to do, it isn’t something we relish.  We would far, far rather see people being credibly investigated and prosecuted.  But seeing that no-one senior has ever been successfully prosecuted for corruption in Kenya, as a last resort we act unilaterally. This is our contribution to showing that corrupt actions do have consequences, however much people think they can act with impunity.  And we look all the time to see if there are other names we should add to that list.


Second,  law enforcement cooperation. We’ve greatly increased our resources in the UK over recent years to investigate and prosecute overseas corruption.  But this can be a frustrating area.  Take a case like the so-called Anglo Leasing contracts.   The authorities in the UK, led by our Serious Fraud Office, investigated every lead as aggressively as they could.  Last year, that included simultaneous raids by hundreds of police officers at addresses in various parts of the UK.


The UK would dearly love to see the criminals responsible for those scams brought to justice.  But despite all that effort, the SFO announced that the investigation in the UK had to be closed down earlier this year, because it could go no further without being getting more evidence from the Kenyan end.   I have spoken to the Kenyan authorities on numerous occasions about Anglo Leasing, trying to encourage more vigorous action.  But the buck is passed back and forth between the KACC, the Attorney General, the courts and the police.  I now see the AG is even trying to blame the US for the lack of Kenyan prosecutions.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the political will to see results in that case is fundamentally lacking. But results are possible, as examples from other parts of the world show.  For example recently, after cooperation with the Ugandan authorities, the UK successfully prosecuted and convicted the director of a UK company for corrupt payments to a Ugandan official.


A third  thing that the UK can do, and has succeeded in doing with other countries but not yet with Kenya, is to freeze corruptly obtained assets that come to the UK, and ideally return them to the country concerned.  There are now specialist units working on this in the UK, as part of our effort to prevent the UK being used to launder or store illegally gained wealth.  We have started to have some success for example in working with the Nigerian authorities: in that case some £70m of assets were frozen, and of that about £20m have been returned to Nigeria.


Why can’t we do the same with Kenya?  Because we need the evidence on which to act, which can usually only come from the country concerned.  We have requested such information from the Kenyan end, to enable our authorities to get to work.  And I should say that it is fantastic news that at last, the Kenyan Anti Money Laundering law passed in Parliament – if properly implemented, this could make a significant impact and also allow greater cooperation with UK and other international partners.


We can and will help to fight corruption in Kenya.  We will stay the course.  We are optimistic that in the long run this challenge can be overcome.  But it will not be outsiders who win the battle.  It will be Kenyans. The UK and other countries can help.  But the battle is a Kenyan one. And all that sounds easy.  It’s not easy. 


What can ordinary people actually do? Well, I don’t think integrity can be introduced top down. Certainly, systems need to be put in place and made to work. It will take courageous judges, investigators and politicians to start to break down the wall of impunity. If you put people, whether they are policemen, politicians, or parastatal directors, in a situation where there is no penalty for corruption, and every incentive to steal or demand bribes, the system will carry on being flawed, even if the personalities change.  So Kenya needs laws, needs a new constitution, needs judicial and police reform.


But a very wise Kenyan whom I was talking to made a distinction between the hardware and the software of the country. The constitution, the laws and the institutions are the hardware.  But the software is the value system that underpins them.  And as all of us who use computers know, there is no point having the fancy hardware, if the software is faulty.And there is a lot of truth in that.  Because what this all comes down to, at its very root, is whether Kenya is a country that follows the rule of law. And the rule of law is different from just passing laws.  People need to believe in them and follow them.


When it comes to corruption, let’s be honest about the fact that there is an opportunity cost to integrity. Deciding to refuse to pay a bribe may cost you a job, trouble with the police, or just an inconvenient delay in getting a basic service from government.  But in the long term, refusing to pay that bribe, or reporting corruption when you see it, is doing the right thing.


I am not suggesting that a problem like corruption can be overcome by moral renewal.  I wish it could.   It will take penalties and incentives to change behaviour.  But there is one thing that people can do, across the board. Demand accountability. Hold people to account.  Your local officials, your police, your MP, companies you deal with – don’t put up with the old way of doing things.  Demand accountability, and demand transparency.   Don’t accept the unacceptable.


That would be my message to Kenyans.  You can’t change the world overnight.  But you can make a difference, and start the tide turning in the right direction. I wasn’t here in 2002, but from what I hear, the tide was starting to turn in the right direction at that point:  people refusing to let matatu drivers pay bribes to the police, even making citizens’ arrests and handing people over to the police – a real social movement.  Sadly people’s hopes for a new corruption-free dawn were not realised.  But I take hope from those stories.  Hope that Kenyans will look up to the future, and demand results from their leaders and those in responsibility.  Kenyans shouldn’t accept the unacceptable.  And neither should Kenya’s friends in the international community.


By Rob Macaire,

British High Commissioner to Kenya.

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