If I were to mention corruption, most people would picture a police officer receiving a bribe to let off a traffic offender. Others would picture an executive secretary of a sector somewhere in the countryside receiving a bribe to favour someone for one reason or another.
But while it is true that all of these cases are by all means corruption - mostly because there is abuse of entrusted power for private gain - there is a type of corruption that is greater than all of these cases combined, and yet is hardly detected or even reported.
It is grand corruption.
Grand corruption is not the kind of corruption committed spontaneously by a police officer who randomly stops a driver because of a broken headlight, nor is it the kind of corruption committed by a street hawker who would rather part with his day’s earnings than see his merchandise confiscated.
Grand corruption is committed through meticulous planning, particularly by those in higher offices.
Defined by Transparency International as the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, grand corruption is usually committed not by the desperate working-class but by the elites of society.
And because it involves those highly educated and able to circumvent the systems in place, it is the kind of corruption that causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society more than all other cases combined.
In Rwanda, only a handful if any would actually challenge the current solid drive to eliminate corruption from all facets of our society.
In fact, Rwanda’s successful framework has earned the country some praise, especially from fellow Africans who compare Rwanda to their corrupt-ridden nations.
Even Transparency International (TI) has often praised Rwanda’s efforts, notably through its index where Rwanda often ranks favourably. In Africa, TI’s recent index places Rwanda only behind Mauritius and Cape Verde.
But, while I personally acknowledge and appreciate the current and future efforts to fight corruption, there is something odd about what I see on the Corruption Convicts database of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The majority of the convicts on the list are by and large small-time criminals involved in petty acts of corruption.
They include farmers, drivers, motorcyclists, police officers, executive secretaries of sectors - mostly convicted of giving or receiving bribes anywhere between Rwf1,000 and Rwf2 million.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that corruption of any kind is unacceptable and must be dealt with accordingly.
However, when the corruption convicts database shows mostly petty crimes, one draws one of two conclusions: either Rwanda is nearly free from grand corruption, or we are still a long way from detecting grand corruption cases.
If it is the former, then we should pat ourselves on the back - it is a great achievement. However, if it is the latter, we should be concerned, and every one of us should be asking what they can do to help identify and fight grand corruption.
You see, it is my understanding that grand corruption often takes place when public or private officials seek to gain privately at the expense of the many. And many times, such cases of misappropriation of public funds involve sophisticated manoeuvres that are not obvious to everyone including investigators because they tend to involve financial techniques that can circumvent detection.
So, when we hear about cases of misappropriation of public funds by certain government institutions as often cited by the Auditor General’s annual reports, it becomes inevitable for the public to connect the dots and come to a conclusion that something isn’t right. The question then becomes: what exactly is going on?
Other times, cases of grand corruption take place in areas that involve the procurement of public goods and services, particularly when senior officials are vulnerable to improper influence over the decision-making process in return for undue advantage.
But while challenges to successfully detect and fight grand corruption cannot be overlooked, I am optimistic that we are capable of defeating grand corruption the same way petty corruption has been defeated.
For starters, law enforcement agencies should be given greater training to enable them to not only rely largely on the public to report corruption incidents on the most obvious occurrences, but to also detect, identify, and successfully prosecute white-collar culprits.
And finally, we need to demand more from the media and civil society organisations to uncover suspicious cases that involve grand corruption. The media can take a big step forward by investing in investigative journalism and by nurturing journalists who ask the toughest of questions.
In places where cases of grand corruption are uncovered, media outlets act as public watchdogs with a responsibility not to simply report but also to investigate and expose cases that appear suspicious. It is not enough to report that a particular institution couldn’t account for Rwf1 billion at the last Auditor General’s parliament appearance.
We expect journalists to ask: what’s the amount; who is responsible; how did they do it; and when was it done.
To conclude, corruption of any kind is completely unacceptable – and this includes a driver giving a Rwf1,000 bribe to a policeman. However, there is a far more detrimental kind of corruption that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and unfortunately it is less detectable.
Grand corruption does not only delay development projects, it also leads to state budgets being distorted, deepens poverty, and exacerbates inequality.
In the end, we all have a stake in ensuring that grand corruption is rooted out of our society just as much as petty corruption is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
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