Curbing white-collar corruption is what we need

ONLY A handful of critics will argue against Rwanda’s current steady drive to eliminate corruption from all aspects of society. Indeed, Rwanda is often seen as one of a few countries in Africa to have successfully implemented a framework to combat the vice, an effort that has led to the country posting negligible levels of corruption year in year out.

ONLY A handful of critics will argue against Rwanda’s current steady drive to eliminate corruption from all aspects of society. Indeed, Rwanda is often seen as one of a few countries in Africa to have successfully implemented a framework to combat the vice, an effort that has led to the country posting negligible levels of corruption year in year out.

As a matter of fact, many observers have gone on to credit Rwanda’s stringent legislation as well as political commitment as the two main forces behind this success.  

In like manner, as part of its name-and-shame campaign, the Office of the Ombudsman recently published a list of people who were convicted of corruption in the last three quarters of 2013.

The majority of the convicts on the list are by and large small-time criminals involved in petty acts of corruption and they include farmers, drivers, prisoners, and police officers whose cases state that they gave bribes amounting from as little as Rwf5,000 upwards to RWF 2 million. This is commendable and without a doubt the right action. 

On close scrutiny, however, when I look at the current and previous lists, I cannot help but ask; why is it that every year the list does not feature high-profile white-collar officials from the public sphere and senior management of business who are likely to engage in grand corruption?

Surely, the form of corruption they are involved in has more detrimental effects than petty corruption. Grand corruption does not only delay development projects, it also leads to state budgets being distorted, foreign investment becomes stymied, and public trust deteriorate.  

I am led to believe that grand corruption often takes place when public or private officials seek to gain privately at the expense of the state. Incidentally, we have all read and heard of cases of misappropriation of funds by certain government institutions that have, for example, failed to deliver on their targets and cannot account for missing funds.

When such mismanagement happens, do the authorities responsible for tracking what happened simply sweep the dirt under the rag and hope that things will improve in the next state budget, or are the culprits simply too clever for the current crop of investigators?

There are a combination of factors as to why the current system is only able to identify petty corruption and not cases that resonate grand corruption.

Firstly, one can argue that there is a lack of proper financial management techniques within public and private institutions required to identify the misappropriation of funds. This limitation allows those at the top level to swindle the system and avoid detection.

Such cases are very likely to take place in areas that involve the procurement of public goods and services where senior officials are vulnerable to improper influence over the decision making process in return for undue advantage. 

Secondly, in order to successfully identify grand corruption cases, there is a need for an equally strong and superior policing and prosecution systems. Although I am in no doubt that Rwanda is heading in the right direction with this initiative, it is quite clear that more needs to be done on this front, and soon.

Law enforcement agencies need to be given superior training whereby they do not rely entirely on the public to report corruption incidents on the most obvious occurrences. We know that grand corruption requires significant resources and a lot of planning to succeed and to ensure that they remain untraceable.

Therefore, the state must respond with counter measures to take the fight to the culprits rather than wait in the wings for the easy prey. 

Thirdly, we need to demand more from the media and civil organisations to uncover suspicious cases that may involve grand corruption. In many developed countries, media outlets are considered public watchdogs with a responsibility to investigate and report on instances that raise concern.

This involves follow ups, and often, hard-pressed interviews. It is no wonder that where media and civil society are reluctant to report sensitive stories involving grand corruption, corrupt politicians and officials have less to fear.

In the meantime, however, what can authorities do to curb white-collar corruption – a practice that I am convinced exists in Rwanda much as it does in the United States, the United Kingdom, and even the saint-plated Sweden?

In the short-term, I would call for investigators to assertively investigate cases of illicit enrichment – whereby officials cannot openly explain their wealth in relation to the income they lawfully earn. There is a high correlation between such wealth and embezzlement, concealment of property, misappropriation of public funds, and false accounting. 

I am not oblivious to the existing wealth-declaration programme of the Ombudsman’s Office; however, I cannot help but wonder year after year, as to what happens to those officials whose numbers do not add up? Which list do they appear on, and why isn’t this public knowledge?

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Service Policy.

Twitter: @Jsabex

 

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