In his opening remarks at the East African Heads of State Summit, held last June, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, called on his colleagues in the region; to work towards the removal of ‘corruption costs’ as a way of reducing the cost of doing business in the region.
President Kagame, who chairs the five member, EAC gave an example of an export truck from Kigali to Mombasa, that passes through 47 roadblocks; “While each type of roadblock was a potential occasion for bribes, weighbridges proved to be most devastating, accounting for eighty four percent of the total bribe value.”
The costly borders fall into three categories - namely, police check points, border gates and weighbridges, said the President.
President Kagame hit the nail right on the head in outlining through this example, how the EAC region is losing much revenue due to corruption in the form of bribes in the importation and exportation of goods, amongst the EAC partners.
For the five countries; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, to achieve forthright economic ties, the biggest challenge lies in stemming corruption. Corruption is a worm eating at the heart of these countries.
There is wide acceptance that corruption, in all its forms is the major setback for the regions developmental plans.
In 2007, a survey done by a leading market research and media monitoring company, Kenyan based Steadman group, revealed that the east African region loses $57730 to corruption for every 100 transactions in tax revenue at various customs points.
“Uganda had an aggregated loss of $48,384 per 100 transactions followed by Kenya $5,439 and Tanzania $3 867,” disclosed the report.
The question of corruption which the various summits ponder even resulted in Tanzania’s warning in 2007, against the fast tracking of a political federation, citing ethnicity problems and corruption.
President Museveni of Uganda the then Chairman of the EAC belittled the reasons.
“The questions are easy to answer and cannot form an obstacle at all,” Museveni said.
With the subsequent resolution by the regional leaders that it was paramount to achieve a common market and a monetary union by 2012 before the fast tracking is given much weight.
Individual countries face chronic corruption deepening income inequality and deepening poverty levels at the grassroots.
Take recent press reports of a $2.8m spending spree by Ugandan diplomats reveals how deep corruption has eaten into that system.
The report published in an east African paper read; “The report shows that the country’s foreign missions incurred a total of Ushs5 billion ($2.8 billion) in excess expenditure that was neither approved nor authorized by parliament.
Moreover this is not the first time that the foreign missions are over shooting their budgets.”
Quoted in the same story was the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Nandala Mafabi who echoed the protocol of a sleeping law.
“When someone spends money but doesn’t have authority to spend it, we treat it as a loss and the person who brought about the loss is held responsible.”
But what he didn’t react to was why there had been a repeated act of overshooting the proposed budget without immediate intervention and action against those responsible.
This raises suspicion on the credibility of the public accountant himself.
Why should unscrupulous people be trusted to continue holding public offices, taxpayers’ money wasting?
The same fact file read; “It is estimated the average urban Kenyan pays 16 bribes per month. Most of these bribes are fairly small but large ones are also taken.”
Making corruption part of Kenya’s life. The global corruption watch dog, Transparency International’s, Corruption Perceptions Index, 2007 report, ranked Kenya at 150 out of 179 a drop of 8 points from 182 in 2006.
Statistics that do not bode well for Kenya’s anti-corruption drive made worse by the recent political turmoil involving key Government officials – the Grand Agency sale scandal.
Finance Minister Amos Kimunya who was directly implicated had much top government protection, it is only because the fire of public outrage refused to die down that he was forced to resign.
The National, an American tabloid also read; “The Grand Regency is seen as a symbol of Kenya’s corruption-era politics.
The government recovered the hotel this year from Kamlesh Pattni, a Kenyan businessman at the centre of the Goldenberg scandal of the 1990s, in which the government compensated him with millions of dollars in a fake gold export scheme.”
Mwalimu Mati, a Kenyan watchdog on corruption called it, “a political earth quake.”
Tanzania was right. When the borders are opened, without an aggressive stance on corruption by the EAC, corruption will be a cancer that will spread slowing down the regions development efforts.
So, to be sure that the developments of the EAC, will not be meddled with by the rampant corruption tendencies, a stringent mechanism to battle corruption is urgent.
The mechanism should layout systematic measures to stamp out corruption with measures in place against those who violate these.