Fighting corruption: Law, ethics and morality
During a casual discussion with a few ‘elite’ acquaintances on the issues of corruption, Jack (not his real names) wondered, who the real victim of corruption is. Jack argued that the victim of corruption is so abstract identifying that the real and immediate consequences of graft is a murky and often times defined in illusionary terms. He further averred that until the victim is singled out then shall the fight against corruption be partly successful. Since he argued; money continue to exchange hands and goes back to the economy after the ‘deals’ ultimately benefiting all of us.
I took a trip down memory lane for a while about corruption generally in Rwanda, I recalled the people prosecuted for graft, previewed the list published by the ombudsman of convicted people, recalled government leaders—big fish— including ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals, charged or convicted for graft over the years.
More recently, Rwandan courts charged 121 with corruption and bribery in 2017, according to the Ombudsman report. Rwanda National Police (RNP) fired about 371 officers for corruption since 2015. 1024 civilians were also arrested in the same period while trying to bribe Police officers.
The Police have demonstrated plausible ethical standards to implement the zero-tolerance policy by establishing the Inspectorate of Services and Ethics within the force and shifting from manual to IT-led policing especially in hotspot services such as Traffic and Road Safety Department.
The 2017 Corruption Perception Index, released in February last year, ranked Rwanda as third least corrupt country in Africa and 48th globally, improving two places from 2016.
In many elite circles, there were misguided beliefs that there were ‘no victims’ of corruption. Yet, corruption has a lopsided impact on the livelihood of the poor.
The sad situation today is that despite its pernicious nature, corruption seems to have found a comfortable nest in the lives of some of our people, thereby giving a false and erroneous impression that Rwandans have generally accepted it as a way of life.
I thought the approach needs to be intrinsically built by transformation of the mind of citizens; it must come from within our ethical and exemplified conduct both privately and in business.
I reflected about the plethora of laws against corruption, and the work done by police, lawmakers, prosecution, ombudsman and non-state actors and concluded that conscientising the citizens is critical to the anti-graft war.
I find these views and those of others underlining the need to educate citizens that there is a direct link between grand corruption and their individual socio-economic misery.
I envisioned, yes, rightly! When Rwanda society with conscience, where most citizens frown criminal conduct and people are advised to dissociate themselves from criminal elements.
I told Jack that "even you got the ‘deal’ and enjoyed a lavish life and sent your children to top schools, corruption will soon come to terms with you."
Even the so-called ‘quiet corruption’ is damaging. This kind of corruption might not necessarily involve money changing hands, but entails factors such as absenteeism (at work by public officials) or the deliberate manipulating of rules for the benefit of front line service providers, such as teachers, doctors and other government officials”.
For example, a child (could be a child of a corrupt official) denied adequate education because teachers do not attended classes regularly; depriving children of the necessary skills needed to play a productive part in the economy once they reach adulthood.
Role of the citizenry
Although it’s not part of our cultural milieu, it's ubiquitous and aside from winning in the lottery, which is uncommon, corruption is an easier route to acquire financial benefit at the expense of others. Many observers say corruption should be a moral or ethical issues rather than legal.
For example, the acknowledgement that ‘only what belongs to you is enough’ can save our society from the snare that greed and corruption has lain.
It is not enough to have anti-corruption laws. More important is the need to get the generality of the popular masses mobilized to the crusade in order to make it a success; make fear of corruption a culture, like the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye once said.
“The silences of the masses need to be confronted. Without the cooperation and collaboration of the people, the anti-corruption bodies may end up little more than a paper tiger” said one member David Karemangingo, an anti-corruption activist.
Karemangingo argues that citizens must act as eyes and ears and not to hobnob with persons with questionable sources of wealth. “Without teaming up against corruption, the corrupt will triumph.”
“When, in a society, the shameless triumph, when the abuser is admired, if the people tolerate it, if everything becomes corrupt but the majority is quiet because their own is benefiting. When so many ‘ifs’ unite, perhaps it is time to appraisal our activities, re-examine those around us, and return to ourselves,” he reckoned.
For example, citizenry must be engaged and encouraged by civil society organizations to participate in public debates and the media against corrupt practices, while more anti-corruption clubs should be established and reinforced in schools and communities at village levels.
For sustainability, religious leaders, who wield huge influence on the people, must also be brought on board, observed one Josephine Amanda, an entrepreneur.
“By effecting adequate social sanctions against deeds of malfeasance, the anti-corruption crusade would win new committed converts among citizens,” says Amanda.
To Karemangingo, any strategy being deployed in the fight against all sorts of corruption must necessarily have incorporated in it aggressive education of the citizens on the direct evil-effects of corruption on their lives.
If, for example, Rwf20 billion have been embezzled, a citizen down in Cyato (Nyamasheke District) should be made to understand how many health centres, schools or even decent shelter for community members this money would have built.
Business ethics and staff morality
The Rwanda Bribery Index 2018 by Transparency International Rwanda (TI-RW) indicates that cases of corruption in the private sector “remain rampant”. This shows that corruption can be as ingrained into a company’s culture as to be considered ‘the way business is done around here’.
This can be the case especially for companies who use agents, ‘facilitation payments’ are seen as the norm for business acquisition where bribes are commonly used to win contracts.
Real or perceived pressure to meet business targets can render individuals incapable of putting ethical decision-making into effect. When management declares a zero-tolerance approach to bribery and corruption (as an ethical issues), then they must demonstrate that they will support staff if they lose contracts or business in the short-term as a result.
Though, ethics is often confused with legality; unethical behavior with illegal behavior. In broad overview, morality (generally within the realm of personal conscience, and is typically private), ethics, and the law are all part of a continuum of sometimes overlapping considerations.
Creating a culture of integrity and openness - where ethical dilemmas arising from doing business in corruption ‘hotspots’ are discussed can be one way of to mitigate against the risk of an ethical lapse.