Friday, July 18, 2008



July 18, 2008
The Standard Editorial

About a year before the “radical surgery” of early 2003, a panel of Commonwealth judicial experts prepared a report describing Kenya’s Judiciary, the weakest branch of Government, as “among the most incompetent and inefficient in Africa”.

As a December 2002 report from New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch contended, “judges commonly accepted bribes and many were subject to political influence.”

The aggressive surgery led by the then newly created Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, sparked an outcry over the “denial of due process” for the accused.

Indeed, it saw innocent judges caught in the net having to choose between early retirement and exoneration.

Ultimately, though, this bold sweep was seen as having succeeded in pushing out corrupt judges and magistrates. So much so that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which runs a global programme against graft, was soon talking of “a silent revolution against corruption”.

The reform’s fatal flaw was that, by cleaning up too recklessly at the top, it led to a smaller workforce, a huge backlog of cases and thus congestion in remand prisons, at once creating many new avenues for graft at lower levels of the judiciary.

Despite the optimism of UNODC and others, therefore, the Judiciary has often remained on most bribery perception indices. It is missing from Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2008, released on Thursday, but featured last year.

Other institutions and sectors that have been subject to innovative reforms, however, feature prominently.

This highlights the danger, pointed out by TI Chairman Dr Richard Leakey, that “various interventions in institutional reform... still leave (or create new) room for corrupt practices”.

Widespread corruption is still a serious problem throughout the public service, particularly in the security sector.

The Barometer shows that the police force is still seen as the most corrupt institution for the seventh year running, a perception repeatedly found in TI’s Bribery Index.


A staggering 93 per cent of respondents who interacted with the police were reportedly asked for bribes.

This is despite continuing reforms in the security sector, beginning with an overhaul of the force’s top officers in March 2004, and culminating in the implementation of salary increases for all levels this week.

Finding a way to ensure these reforms pay off and do not ignore or create avenues for graft is a challenge Government must grapple with if we are to ever hear of the “silent revolution” again.

The level of corruption reported in both private and public institutions also significantly increased compared to last year. However, absent this year were the Teachers Service Commission, Transport Licensing Board, lawyers, Attorney General’s office, Prisons, Posta and insurance companies. It would do a lot of good for Government to interrogate these findings with an eye to finding out why.

It is ironic the corruption perceptions are reported by a public only too willing to bribe to avoid bureaucratic delay. Close to half of respondents said they paid bribes to speed up access to services, compared to less than one in three last year.

Respondents also said they paid bribes to obtain licences or permits, to avoid fines or other punitive measures, to facilitate contracts or commercial transactions and to obtain employment. These confessions point to areas of weakness to be addressed through public service delivery initiatives.

Finally, as taxpayers fulminate about TI’s finding, it would do them well to consider the effect of a supply side to this problem. As long as we believe bribes are required of us, say in dealing with the police, we contribute to the perpetuation of the corruption problem and make perception reality.