Day 1: Deliberating how to address corruption & human rights abuse versus inequality & dire poverty Print E-mail
Sunday January 21 2007

Forum should tackle effects of graft, rights on development

By NDUNGU Wainaina

World Social Forum convened in Kenya to offer a forum of celebrating peoples’ 'struggles,’ (gains or loses) and reflect on development, peace, human rights and democracy with aim of charting new direction and approaches. The forum comes to Kenya in a year when the country is headed to a very crucial event: General Election. It is one of those years democracy talk is instantly replaced by impunity and corruption in all its manifestations. Meanwhile, issues at core of discussion at the forum happen to be the same as those very close to the hearts of many a Kenyan.

How any state relates and treats issues of good governance, rule of law, human rights, human dignity, democracy and its institutions, people sovereignty among others determine where that state is in the radar of dignified community of nations. At the centre of the forum and in minds of Kenyans is whether the world is putting in place sufficient conditions and measures towards realisation of larger freedoms that ensure people live in dignity devoid of violence, oppression and injustice.

Of great interest to Kenyans is how the forum helps them connect human rights discourse, poverty and corruption. Human rights are entitlements and not privileges and that is why they are inalienable, inherent in an individual, universal, indivisible and interdependent. Evidence has shown that where levels of corruption are phenomenal, human rights violations are enormous for corruption thrives in restricted and closed environment.

The corrupt protect themselves from exposure, scrutiny and vote out of power and for this to happen tactics of manipulation, patronage, intimidation and subversion are honed and applied. Under such circumstances building real democratic institutions, fair and representative electoral systems and political culture that reflect and express people’s rights and human rights state are very remote. Never live under an illusion that multinational corporations and their parent countries are not part of corruption network. They are catalysts if not direct beneficiaries of corruption.

Under these conditions the victim is the whole society, public interest and the rule of law. The unfortunate thing is that instead of acting to prevent systemic corruption, states are misled into exclusively focusing on prosecuting those responsible. However, a new democratic state cannot exist without trying the past corruption. Trying those responsible is crucial in restoring accountability and rule of law but at the same time cutting the pervasive cycle of corruption is critical. Exercising fairness and just due process while prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility in decision-making and executing corruption acts give legitimacy and support to the fight against corruption. It is strategic to have prime culprits face the wheels of justice while the rest are subjected to thorough screening and dismissal in case of liability.

It is no longer an idle talk that corruption drains vital resources meant for socio-economic development. Corruption is at the heart of human rights violations, torture, weakening of democratic institutions, impunity and undermining the rule of law. It undercuts public confidence in governance institutions and governments leading to conflicts and worse of all it propagates inequality disenfranchising the largest section of the society and denying it access to justice and human dignity. Corruption is anti-social justice and it is the hindrance to fairness in access to resources and means of production perpetuating abject poverty and social exclusion. When it is pervasive, corruption threatens security and nurture organized crime.

Corruption stunts development effectively trapping masses in abject poverty for money meant development is siphoned off and diverted to individual pockets. In most cases, corruption is a source of selectivity and discrimination negating a fundamental human rights principle of non-discrimination. Autocratic states which operate with minimum checks and balances are epitome of corruption, impunity, poverty and human rights violations. Consequently, action against corruption and human rights violation in such states cannot succeed through top-bottom approach but rather through bottom- up with a strong demand push from citizenry.

Whether it is the conventional or grand, corruption has corrosive effects. It depletes state resources and inhibits government ability to meet her obligations to the citizenry.

Since costs of corruption are not absorbed by conspirators, the net effect is that prices of goods and services are over-priced. Corruption is responsible for substandard and at times unnecessary goods and services redenderd to the state for decisions are distorted to fit the person willing to engage in corruption.

In situations like Kenya, where corruption is structural and pervasive, state anti-corruption measures are not sustained, investigation stall midway, corruption fights back with vigour and the will to fight the vice vanish. The interesting fact is that new regimes which win election on strong campaign against corruption, fail to effectively address corruption on two accounts: failure to stop ongoing corruption; and two, reluctance to admit and investigate corruption within its administration.

The perception that fight against corruption is selective and administration of justice is weak, create conditions for instigating politically motivated sabotage to the fight against it.

State employs anti-corruption policy comprising of legal and institutional mechanisms but in the same time enacting obstacles.

This action undermines the fight against corruption and raise concerns on the moral authority, credibility and effectiveness of the whole anti-corruption policy driven by state.

It further provide credence and legitimacy to those who committed the past corruption acts reason to present themselves as clean and victims of selective justice and discrimination while in actual fact there is necessity for their prosecution.

As the World Social Forum deliberate, the world and Kenyans in particularly will be begging for new ideas on how to address issues of corruption and human rights violations as the platform of redressing inequality and biting poverty.

Writer is Programme Officer, NCEC and Director, International Center for Policy and Conflict.