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Fighting corruption: Tough war but with happy ending

IT is estimated that the world loses about a trillion US Dollars a year through corruption. The sad part of it is that it transfers this wealth from the powerless and the poor; to the powerful and the affluent– akin to the old adage “the rich getting richer; and the poor, poorer”.

Even more saddening is the fact that net O DA (official development assistance) spending in the recent past has never exceeded US Dollars 145 billion.

Meaning, we lose more through corruption than we gain in development aid. Corrupt money is about 7 times more than aid money. It’s a “minus zero-sum” game.

Incidentally, the affluent are the aid givers, while poor countries are the aid recipients. What an imbalanced equation! The socioeconomic consequences of corruption have been well researched and documented elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, the negative effects are huge and varied. A corrupt-ridden country loses its national wealth, increases the cost in providing goods and services to its people, slows down economic growth due to unhealthy competition in trading and production activities and is unable to finance much-needed development and social programs.

Additionally, corruption misallocates resources, whereby priority and needy projects are often compromised in favor of non-priority projects as they tend to generate higher personal gains to the perpetrators.

Socially, corruption is manifested in skewed income inequality, entrenched poverty, injustice, and increased marginalization of the voiceless. Nations are now ranked on how grave or trivial the corruption menace is.

Transparency International’s authoritative and flagship annual publication, “Corruption Perceptions Index”, ranks nations from the most corrupt to the least.

These publications are supplemented by “Global Corruption Barometers” , which ask and collate views from ordinary citizens around the globe on how corruption and bribes impinge their daily lives, and the extent to which their Governments remain committed to containing or eliminating it. Fighting corruption is an arduous and frustrating task.

The corrupt, usually highly connected and influential people; wouldn’t let one invade their territory, dismantle their networks, strangle their financial streams or constrict their lavish lifestyles.

War on corruption is thus never short of foes, from within and outside. It meets stiff resistance or even sabotage. For this reason, combating corruption should be spearheaded by the topmost leadership, which must not fear political fallout (e.g. reelection), loss of friends and supporters or backlash from benefactors.

Hence, to fight corruption effectively,one needs to be bold and fearless. O ne needs to be resolute, hard nosed, undeterred, unshaken. You need to wag a “sword”, not a “stick”. As the cliché goes, “Fortune favors the Bold”.

Close associates, family members and colleagues must be told, in direct and unambiguous terms, that any defrauding or fraudulent behavior would be subjected to same incarceration just like other offenders.

No one should be above the law. Where does one start? If one is to fight and eliminate corruption effectively, one needs to start at the top, not at the bottom. Singapore exemplifies this approach.

Why the top? Because that’s where all scams are facilitated and actualized. It’s the top brass that deliberately fuels graft and massively benefits from it. Corruption at the bottom is either involuntary (“forced” kickbacks for otherwise free public goods or services) or circumstantial (because of destitution, such as hunger and starvation).

This is not to condone criminality by the ordinary,but the fact remains that it’s the top that is the main culprit. O nce the top is clean, the bottom would be even cleaner.

So, what did Singapore do it to the point that there is now virtually zero corruption? According to some accounts, it all started in the 1960s when a senior Government Minister went on holiday abroad with his family at someone’s invitation. Upon his return to Singapore, he was arrested, charged and jailed.

A mere invitation with no actual bribe involved was enough to irk the country’s top leadership. The Government viewed such small favors as inducements to corruption, through which state officers could use their public offices for personal gain or discharge their duties dishonorably.

In this way, the Government sent a powerful and unequivocal message to the civil service that it weren’t going to tolerate any potentially unprincipled holder of public or political office.

By waging a ruthless war at the top, Singapore was able to nip corruption in the bud, before its ugly and cancerous head had spread and toxify society.

Going by the Singaporean storyline, how many of us, in our lifetime, be it in government or parastatal sector, have had our wives’ shopping paid by prominent local business people or by overseas “friends”?

And our children’s school fees? O ur holidays, cars and furnishings? O ur medical treatment abroad?How many times have we accepted luxury gifts, donations and the like from firms and wealthy individuals without the slightest hesitation?

Then comes the time to reciprocate! Does it surprise you then to hear of shoddy contracts or poorly structured and yet duly signed and therefore legally-binding Agreements that even a layman would raise eyebrows?

Or tenders offered not to the most competent, but the most connected and sometimes to unfamiliar local and overseas firms? Such acts end up costing a country a colossal fortune. Givers of luxury or expensive gifts have their own agenda.

The Singaporean official lost his prestigious job and jailed for accepting a holiday invitation. What would have happened to us and where would we have been if we were Singaporeans?

Other nations in South- East Asia Region such as Malaysia, South Korea, China and Japan, have instituted comparable measures to avert corruption.

No matter who you are, in business or politics, you may be indicted for graft, bribery or breach of trust if so suspected. You have heard of many such indictments before.

For example, it was reported that within the first 5 days of his re-election in May 2018, the Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir Mohamed (aged 92), brought back USD 50 billion of corrupt money.

He arrested 9 cabinet ministers along with 144 businessmen, 50 judges and 200 cops and prevented them from escaping. If our people think and even complain that President John Magufuli has been tough on corrupt officials and business people, please think again!

Other countries have gone bolder and harsher. Continuing acting tough he should! President John Magufuli’s stance on corruption is reminiscent of Singapore or that of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

We sexagenarians and above were witnesses to Mwalimu’s uncompromising assertiveness towards corruption. But for 30 years starting in 1985, the war on corruption lost momentum following the enactment of the Zanzibar Declaration (1991), which amended or reversed certain “tenets” deemed taboo for leaders and government officers under the Arusha Declaration.

The second “slip-up” was the loose interpretation of “takrima” (hospitality). And as time wore on, the dividing line between genuine “takrima”, graft and bribery became thinner, since no upper ceiling was set for what would have constituted a legally acceptable “takrima”. It’s reassuring to now see that the Head of State, President Magufuli, waging war on corruption seriously and persistently, akin to the founding father.

Obviously, a win on corruption would be good for us. All political leaders that successfully fought against corruption led their countries to prosperity. They put the interests of their people and countries above their own.

I believe President Magufuli is one. O r history will judge him as one. We now see resources which otherwise would have been embezzled being channeled into bold, pro-growth physical infrastructure, human development, urban renewal, revival of state-owned enterprises, etcetera.

These are praiseworthy developments that remained wanting for many years. I frown upon the deeply ingrained mindset of some of our people who are quick at faulting the Government in everything it does, no matter how noble.

Ridding corruption should be a national endeavor that requires everyone’s support–the ruling and the opposition, the elected and the electorate.

What is a better and more dependable way to addressing our development challenges than to prevent the pilferage of resources that are lost through corruption?

Eventually, we will lessen our excessive dependency on external sources whose latest conditionality’s pose an affront to our virtues, morality and sovereignty.

In order to capitalize on the progress made in combating corruption, the Government may as well initiate a comprehensive tax affordability program, with the objective of reducing tax rates across the board, thereby encouraging compliance and harnessing more tax revenue. Unaffordable tax rates are a recipe for evasion and corruption.

We see it! besides, the Government should continue with its policy of formalizing the informal sector, being a latent but potentially huge tax-revenue base.

* Abdallah Mohammed K iliaki once worked for Tanzania Rural Development B ank (now CRDB )),Coopers & L ybrand A ssociates (T) L td (Dar) and Islamic Development B ank (IsDB ) in Jeddah-S. A rabia. Contact: 06 83 09 6 000 / 06 5 2 9 9 8 6 7 5 or akiliaki5 2@ gmail.com

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Author: ABDALLAH MOHAMED

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