Endless story of the war against corruption in our society

EARLIER this week, I saw a clip aired by the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), reminding its audience about some of the most significant speeches which made by the Founding Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere on various subjects and different occasions, during his lifetime, not only  during  his leadership period, but also after retirement.

One of which was that which he made after his retirement, regarding the harsh legislation which was enacted by his government,  intended to discourage,  or even completely eliminate  corruption; in which he said the following  (my translation from the original Kiswahili):-  “You should not entertain the misconception that  there was no corruption during my Administration. There was corruption; but we enacted stringent legislation which, hopefully, would  discourage, or even completely  eliminate corruption from our society, because of  the severe  punishments that were imposed; which were  that  anyone found guilty of corruption by a competent court,  would be liable to imprisonment for a period of not less than two years, plus twenty four strokes of the cane, twelve to be administered upon entry into prion, and twelve more upon discharge;  so that he may go and show it to his wife”.

That particular clip is what moved me to make this matter the focus of my presentation today, mainly for the reason that corruption has persistently been “an enemy of the people” of this country; and, indeed, of practically all the other countries of the world.

The description of corruption as “an enemy of the people” is borrowed from yet another of Mwalimu Nyerere’s speeches, which he delivered in the colonial Legislative Council on 17th May 1960, when he was contributing to that year’s budget speech, in which the Minister of Finance, Sir Ernest Vasey, had referred to the  ‘war against the three enemies of poverty, ignorance and disease’.

Mwalimu Nyerere was, at that time, the Leader of the ‘Tanganyika Elected Members Organisation’ in the Legislative Council, when he said the following, among other things: – “I want to say that there is another enemy we must add on the list of these enemies of poverty, ignorance and disease.  That other enemy is corruption. I think corruption is a greater enemy to the welfare of the people during peacetime, than war is during wartime”.

The short clip ends there; but the original speech is much longer, for it also tells the story of Mwalimu  Nyerere’s utter  frustration and disappointment;  when, in his opinion, the High Court (which was hearing a bribery case), failed to deliver justice,  in view of its finding of ‘not guilty’  regarding only one of the accused persons, and jailing the other,  in circumstances which were totally perplexing; which were the following:- President Nyerere had, obviously, expected that the fact of arraigning a government Minister on  charges of corruption, and getting a conviction,  was going to be his ‘show case” demonstration  that he was indeed serious, and genuinely  determined, to eliminate corruption from all levels of our society;  which partly accounts for  his great frustration and disappointment when the accused Minister was so  acquitted.

Under the provisions of said anti-corruption law, both the giver and the receiver of bribery are held to have committed an offence; and that is precisely what happened also in this case.

A person who was a Member of Parliament, and also held the post of Minister in President Nyerere’s government, Chief Abdallah Fundikira,  was accused of having accepted a bribe.

Another law, namely, the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act; requires that whenever an MP is taken to court for any offence, the Speaker of the National Assembly must be informed of that fact.   It was some time in 1963, when Speaker Adam Sapi Mkwawa, was informed of Chief Fundikira’s arraignment for the offence of bribery.  I was the Clerk of the National Assembly at the material time, so the Speaker routinely informed me also of this matter; which thus made it part of my duties to follow closely the ensuing court proceedings of that case; which was being heard by the High Court of Tanganyika, presided over by a British Judge.

This court found the giver of the bribe “guilty of the offence” he had been charged with, but found the receiver of the bribe, Chief Fundikira, ”not guilty”  of that same offence,  and was, consequently,  acquitted. These were the ‘perplexing circumstances’ referred to above.

But on the other hand, this story carries an important lesson; which is that ‘combating corruption through the court process  is  an uphill task which cannot always guarantee success”; and this has indeed been the case even in our own jurisdiction, as manifested by the failure, so far, to eliminate corruption, particularly electoral corruption from our society.

It is a sad story, considering the fact that our legal regime recognises ‘corruption’ as a criminal offence; and the that certain special State Agencies have been created for the sole purpose of “combating and preventing corruption.  Yet all these measures appear to have had negligible impact in the war against corruption.  There is also the fact that corruption’s menacing presence is roundly condemned by practically everyone, as an unmitigated evil. But yet, this evil continues to flourish in our society.  One may be tempted to ask: Is there a way out of this dark tunnel?

During his ‘reign’ as President of the United Republic, the late President Benjamin Mkapa  appointed a special commission, the Warioba commission, “to investigate the level of corruption in the country, and recommend  such additional measures that would  produce greater impact in the war against that evil.  The word “corruption” carries several meanings.  Many people tend to define ‘corruption’ only as ‘bribery’, i.e. the giving or taking money, or something valuable, in exchange for some service, which should be given free of charge.  But, in fact, ‘corruption’   has a much wider meaning, and ‘bribery’ is only one aspect of it. For example,  in the public service, ‘corruption’ includes “all wrongful deviation from the basics which are laid down in the  governing  laws, plus the  rules and regulations associated therewith”.

The said Warioba commission’s report observed that “there has been a large increase  of people who demand bribes, as well as those who give such bribes. The nation has also witnessed an increase in the use of state power for personal gains among public servants. At the same time, incidents of deliberate breaches of the laws have also greatly increased”.

These observations help to illustrate the large extent to which ‘wrongful deviation from the basics public service norms and ethics’ has reached. These findings also  seems to indicate, that even the legal regime itself, together with its anti-corruption enforcement Agencies mentioned above, have  failed to accomplish their specified mission.

Corruption in the political field

It has been said in the relevant books of authority, that “corruption is a kind of virus which infects any political system, and makes it very  ill.  And if there is no resistance, the virus will eat the vitals of the system itself, and eventually destroy it.  . . .  But, like the human body, political systems are capable of developing their own immune systems, which are capable of fighting this virus, and preventing its growth.  In a democratic polity, a vigilant ‘public opinion’ is the most reliable built-in immune system, which can resist and restrict the onslaught of this virus in the country’s political system”.

This reminds me of the statement that is attributed to Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797), who is reported to have said the following: “For evil to triumph,  it is necessary only for the good man to do nothing about it”.  Thus, it would appear that the ultimate solution to the problem of corruption in all its aspects, is for every citizen to be that ‘good man’ who “refuses to do nothing” about corruption in our society  by actively participating in its prevention; thus effectively contributing to the formation of a “vigilant public opinion, which resists and restricts the onslaught of the corruption virus in the country’s political system”.

Then there is the aspect of ‘electoral corruption’, which is a major component of corruption in politics.   ‘Electoral corruption’ means the menacing corrupt practices that take place during elections. These perhaps are, or may be, the primary cause of the corrupt practices in which some of the elected leaders tend to engage themselves.

The problem of electoral corruption appears to be a worldwide one.  One Theodore H. White, an American writer and journalist, made a statement on 19th November, 1984, in which he lamented that “the flood of money gushing into politics (in his country), is polluting our democracy”.

Furthermore, there is a story told in a book titled “The politics of corruption”  by Shashi B. Sahai, (Gyan Publishing House New Delhi, 1995;  in which the author reveals that “one of the largest sources of electoral corruption in India, was the collection of funds for political parties, ostensibly for financing what is described as “party work”.  Whereas in fact, the line between the party chest and the personal pockets of party leaders, was totally obliterated.

The author explains further, that in an honest attempt to find a solution to this corruption problem, the Indian Parliament made an amendment to their Companies Act, which  made it illegal for companies to make donations  to political parties.  However, the ‘corruption  masters’ soon found a convenient loophole, which they now used to carry on merrily,  with their illegal activities.

In the words of the author himself:  “when companies were allowed to make donations to political parties,  they were obliged to disclose it to their shareholders; and their accounts would be statutorily audited. But once such open donations were banned by law, there was no limit to secret, unaccounted for donations,  being made to all and sundry who had access to the centres of power,  in exchange for a quid  pro quo. It became ‘free for all’ in terms of funds collection. No one knew from whom and for whom. Everyone in a position to do so, merrily went about doing that without any accountability”.

Yet another relevant story relating to ‘corruption in politics’, is in respect of the “cash-for-questions” scandal in the British House of Commons.

In 1994, two Tory MPs were alleged to have been “selling” questions in the House, at one thousand sterling pounds each.

A team of reporters from the  Sunday Times  newspaper, went out to try to prove these  allegation, and found that they were  indeed true.

Accordingly, the House held an emergency debate on the matter, and appropriate punishments were recommended to be taken against the offenders.

Electoral corruption in Tanzania.

However, the fact that this corruption problem is worldwide,  is no consolation at all to Tanzania, because the said virus has also invaded our electoral democracy system; as evidenced by the numerous election petitions (alleging the occurrence of corrupt actions), that are filed in the High Court after every general election; as well as in some of the bye-elections.

The success of many of these petitions could, perhaps, be regarded as some consolation that our court system is making a valuable  contribution  to  the war against electoral corruption. It all depends, of course, on the nature of the evidence that is produced in court; which must satisfy the High Court beyond any reasonable doubt.

piomsekwa@gmail.com   /   0754767576.  

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