February 18, 2005
Once again Canada has found cause to wag its diplomatic finger at Africa, this time shaking a despairing head over Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his government’s failure to stamp out corruption.
Foreign donors threatened to halt aid to Kenya earlier this month unless President Kibaki took action to crack down on abuses of the public trust. The sharp increase in domestic and international pressure on the president follows the resignation of his top advisor on corruption and renewed charges of high-level graft by Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay.
Joining in the diplomatic fray this week was Canada’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Jim Wall, who expressed doubts Kibaki’s administration could even muster the necessary political will to fight sleaze.
Speaking to a media workshop on investigative journalism this week in Nairobi, Wall said:
“Yes, the fight against corruption is more than one individual. Yes, institutions and systems are important, and yes, they take time to create and mobilize. But what is most important, and what is apparently lacking, is political will, the fire in the belly necessary to ferret out and to expose the crooks, to put them on the defensive, to ask the hard questions.”
What Wall fails to acknowledge, however, is his own government’s lack of political will to punish Canadian corporations that engage in Third World bribery.
It is no surprise that “Kenya’s government isn’t getting serious about stopping corruption when the Canadian government won’t get serious about stopping the companies that offer the bribes in the first place,” said Patricia Adams, the executive director of Canadian foreign-aid watchdog Probe International, in response to Wall’s comments.
Ms. Adams is referring to the Canadian engineering company Acres International, the first international firm convicted of bribery in the now famous and ongoing Lesotho corruption trials involving a $12-billion Highlands water project in southern Africa. In 2002, Acres was convicted in the Lesotho High Court of bribing a local official to win a lucrative contract on the massive aid-financed, dam-building scheme. Acres appealed the court’s verdict, lost, and in a landmark decision in 2004 became the first major multinational to be blacklisted from World Bank contracts.
Despite this, the Canadian government decided it wasn’t important to send a clear message to Acres and other Canadian corporations that bribery doesn’t pay and announced it would continue awarding public contracts to Acres through federal agencies, such as the Canadian International Development Agency and Export Development Canada.
It seems Lesotho’s call to western governments to stop publicly condemning bribes while privately winking at them fell on deaf ears but it did puncture the popular perception of corruption as a particularly “African” problem. “It takes two to tango,” said Lesotho’s Minister of Natural Resources, Monyane Moleleki, following the Acres’ conviction. The case showed “the rest of the world Lesotho had to be taken seriously by its friends in the First World,” he said, and that it can “do business with integrity and decency.”
Meanwhile, it was a year ago this month that Canada was drubbed in the world’s press for a government scandal of its own.
Worldwide news agencies were quick to savour Canada’s fall from grace as a do-gooder nation when the country’s auditor general produced a bombshell report condemning the ruling Liberal government for the misuse of at least CDN$100 million in public funds.
The UK’s Financial Times couldn’t resist shaming Canada further, pointing out that the country’s government officials, so fond of “lecturing their counterparts from poorer countries” at international summits on “the debilitating effects of corruption,” now had a corruption scandal to call their very own.
Canada has since returned to the international lecture circuit, it would seem.