By Luke Mulunda
Corruption, which is simply reaping – or better ripping off – where you haven’t sown, has become a way of life.
Like it or not, corruption actually drives Kenya’s economy. Without greasing people’s palms, life would be extremely hard. Most PSVs would stall, files at Lands ministry would move at a slower than snail’s speed, our cells and jails would get full and government activities would literally come to a standstill.
The current report by the auditor-general is the latest evidence of how, thanks to corruption, billions can be pumped into the economy to produce more goods, finance startups, fuel conspicuous consumption and, eventually, create more jobs.
Efforts to fight corruption are clearly headed nowhere. Even as public servants are named and bundled into courts, others are still perpetuating the vice in their offices, on the streets and even at home.
When President Kenyatta talked tough against corruption, and went ahead to suspend ministers and PSs as well as parastatal heads, the country got a sense of renewal that, finally, this cancer could be tackled in the high places. Three months later, we are back to ground zero. Report after report details corruption not just in government, but also in private sector and, worryingly, among the NGO sector that is supposed to be the public watchdog.
The message here is that we can’t win the war on corruption by simply naming people and taking them to court. First, investigations are often shoddy. Look at the list the president released; most of the suspects have been let off the hook due to lack of evidence. Second, prosecution is painfully slow and, yes, still corrupt. Justice remains a highest bidder commodity and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga recently feigned surprise that highly paid citizens like judges still take bribes!
Where prosecution has been successful, punishment has been a slap on the wrist. That has encouraged more people to get into the corruption industry, knowing too well that if caught, which is less likely anyway, they will either still corrupt the investigative or justice system.
This is the point where we need to think of the unthinkable. What if we accept corruption as an alternative of making a living and getting things done? We can get a better name for it and rebrand it from kitu kidogo, chai, ugali or mbuzi ya wazee.
Otherwise to kill it, we must begin the war from the bottom, targeting the ordinary Kenyan through awareness and cultural change. This is easier said than done. It’s the people outside the private sector or public system who fuel corruption. If we can’t fix them, we should just join them.
So we have been using Uganda sugar all along?
Now that the government has clarified that no deal was signed in Kampala to allow Kenya to import sugar from Uganda, it is important to put the issue of sugar importation in perspective. To understand how sugar comes to Kenya, including illegal imports that have messed the market, you have to begin by appreciating Kenya’s bilateral and multi-lateral trade agreements.
If it is understood that Uganda is a partner state of the East African Community, then it will be easy to appreciate that indeed, its commodities, including sugar, have free access to the Kenyan market under the EAC protocol. This access, though, has safeguards key among them being products must be manufactured in the country of origin to check on re-exports.
In fact, we have been consuming Uganda-made sugar for close to 15 years now. Under COMESA, Uganda has a sugar export quota to Kenya and can still use that provision to sell the commodity to us. Those protesting against the alleged deal have legitimate concerns because if a new deal is signed outside these two treaties then there would be a serious problem.
Kenya must import sugar because of its annual deficit estimated at 200,000 metric tonnes. There are no rules on where it should get the imports to bridge the deficit. Yet, all said, it makes sense to start with your neighbour before exploring other options outside there.
Guess that is what President Uhuru Kenyatta meant when he wondered so emotively why we should import sugar from Brazil when we can get it right across the Mt Elgon. We have been importing from Brazil, at time from Europe and other African countries like Zambia, Swaziland, Madagascar and Egypt.
The sugar industry is suffering because of illegal sugar imports that have flooded the market. Mumias is on its knees because its sugar can’t find enough buyers in the local market due to its high cost, which is a factor of the cost of production, currently over $500 per tonne in Kenya.
If we fix these two, the industry will thrive.