Technology is succeeding, not failing, in the fight against corruption

Monday November 07 2016

In explaining the idiom, “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Prof Cheng Lim Tan, a famous paediatrician, said the phrase is used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential.

As we attempt to fight corruption, I am afraid we might end up throwing out technology that is essential for eliminating graft.

The media have been advancing the rather strange narrative that technology is failing us in the fight against corruption, but this is far from the truth. 

In my view, and from experience, if the much-maligned Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) had not been in place, we could be in complete darkness as to what is happening in government. 

Since its inception more than 15 years ago, cartels have fought to get rid of this system. 

In my former life as permanent secretary in the then ministry of information and communications, we attempted to upgrade the system and shift it to the cloud to avoid manipulation, which can be stopped with regular systems audits, but that was resisted by all and sundry.


Those who speak loudest against corruption today, especially in Parliament, are vehemently opposed to IFMIS in private. Sometimes, they pretend they have no idea what it is. Even governors do not want to hear anything about IFMIS because it restricts wanton spending.

The country is at a crossroads because we’re just a difficult society in which he who speaketh loudest carries the day. We must either fight corruption or we perish. 

The methods being used to fight corruption right now will take us nowhere. Everybody is talking and blaming someone else but the truth is, we are not dealing with the real problem. 

Where else in the world does a legislature commence parallel investigations whilst the matter is in court? Is it a strategy to prejudice the process? What is the role of investigative agencies when Parliament usurps their powers? 

I am not a lawyer but I know that when a matter is in court, it cannot be discussed outside of court as doing so might influence the outcomes. 

In virtually all high-level corruption, some parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle are the instigators. Then they introduce theatrics in and outside of Parliament to divert the country’s attention elsewhere. 


Is it not time that we dealt with the root cause of the problem?

The corruption Kenya is facing should be a great opportunity to galvanise public anger and systemise everything: the entire justice system, from crime reporting at the police station through the offices of public prosecution, to the Judiciary. 

Everybody in Kenya knows that there is tampering of evidence and scapegoating throughout the justice system because it is easy to blame the final arbiter - the Judiciary. As we say in systems theory, if you put garbage in, you will certainly get garbage out.

Justice must be seen to be done at all times, which requires a higher level of transparency. For example, all finalised cases should be in the public domain, where independent audits can establish the fairness of the outcome.

That is in line with global open data initiatives and the recently enacted Freedom of Information Act. Indeed, the National Council for Law Reporting has a number of cases published. 

Several international institutions offered in the past to help develop a case law management system but in all these instances, invisible people ended up disrupting the process.

At one point we digitised the High Court but were not able to complete the entire process, which was meant to capture court proceedings on video transparently; such that an independent audit, fairly done, would help restore the credibility of the Judiciary.

The company registry was fully digitised but the culture of regularly digitising new registrations did not take root.

In the same spirit, Kenya should adopt open contracting as part of the commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, Kenya’s Open government action plan included open contracting.

In virtually all the corruption cases in the recent past, as the English would say, we seem to want "to close the barn door when the horse has bolted". Open contracting would change this and allow the public to scrutinise bidders before any commitments are made.


It’s in this transparency that we can begin to understand the legislative process.

A good example here is an affirmative law that is crafted poorly to benefit persons other than the disadvantaged groups. 

Could it be true that more than 400 members of Parliament, some of whom are trained lawyers, were not able to detect a flaw that can be open to abuse?

Corruption isn’t only actually stealing money but also the manipulation of the law. This is why we cannot continue to blame two institutions only - the Executive and the Judiciary - for the runaway corruption in Kenya.

The whole Kenyan edifice is rotten to the core – parliamentarians, lawyers, accountants, auditors, media, and even the average mwananchi is involved.

The Constitution must be urgently reviewed to fix the weaknesses that allow corruption to worsen. It bestowed too much power on certain constitutional offices.

For example, the office of a county assembly member is, by nature, a corruption conduit. MCAs themselves are, in many cases, tin-pot potentates of corruption.

In the next election, an office that used to be lowly rated, with the many occupants being almost illiterate, will attract some of the best-educated politicians.

Indeed, some senators have decided to run for this office because it corruptly brings financial windfalls to its holder.


It is not a secret that virtually the entire Senate will vie for guberntorial seats, not because they want to bring new ideas to their counties, but because there is money to steal, and they are not ashamed of the decision. 

Incumbent governors are competing on high-level real estate investments across Kenya, yet, interestingly, there are no mechanisms in the counties for relating current wealth to previous declarations of wealth by public servants, as required.

In essence, we condone corruption as long as we have someone else to blame. Any amendment to the Constitution must first deal with financial accountability at the county level.

If indeed parliamentarians are our servants, we must tame their greed. Besides bulldozing the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to corruptly raise their salaries, some parliamentary committees have become extortionist, especially in the vetting of senior public officials.

High-level manipulation goes on in favour of those whose past deeds may not be in line with what the public wants.

Remuneration, or its lack, also precipitates corruption. If we don’t pay public servants a living wage, then all efforts to fight corruption will fail. The amounts lost to corruption can pay our public servants living wages. 

The problem is how to re-engineer this puzzle. Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review will tell you that basic physiological needs start with food, shelter and clothing. Yet public sector salaries cannot deal with these basics.


If public servants are not corrupt, they're busy running some enterprise somewhere to plug the financial deficit, to afford good schools for their children and provide for their families.

Virtually all public servants cannot afford any mortgage beyond Sh2 million while meeting family obligations, yet there is no decent housing at that price. 

In some cases, allowances to public sector employees exceed their salaries, hence the insistence on choosing conference venues outside Nairobi to attract per diem. Yet we continue to bury our heads in the sand and dance around corruption.

Lastly, corruption in Kenya has been seasonal since the advent of multiparty democracy. It happens in the lead-up to elections, since many MPs have no confidence that they will be re-elected and some want both campaign and retirement money. 

It also happens immediately after the elections, perhaps when the election financiers want to recover their investments in the elections. 

Corruption is therefore closely tied to political activities, which is why having politicians investigate corruption is one big circus. We have a chance to deal with corruption comprehensively, but we must deal with the root causes and use technology to do so.   

Emerging technologies like Blockchain can comprehensively deal with problems at all government registries and virtually eliminate corruption. All we need is political will.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter @bantigito