The wisdom of Wall

Lisa Peryman, Odious Debts Online

April 2, 2005

At a signing ceremony this week authorizing $12.5 million Canadian dollars in aid to Kenya, the Canadian government warned Kenya that foreign donors were losing interest due to allegations of massive corruption.

Jim Wall, Canada’s High Commissioner to Kenya, told the Kenyan government that Canada was unlikely to pledge any new funds at an annual donors’ meeting in April because corruption appeared to be worsening in the east African country despite President Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 election promise to crack down on graft.

“The sad reality is that allegations of grand corruption involving senior levels of government are holding back donors like Canada from deepening their assistance to Kenya,” Mr. Wall told reporters, adding he was keen to hear the Kenyan government make a case in its defence.

Attempting to rise to that challenge, Mr. Kibaki’s government announced yesterday it would prove its “corruption-free record” at a donors’ Consultative Group (CG) meeting for Kenya this month, where it expects to be grilled by the international lending community. According to Kenya’s Finance Minister, David Mwiraria, his country has nothing to hide and an investigation of 20 corruption allegations made earlier this year by British high commissioner Edward Clay is already completed.

After decades of sleaze under ex-president Daniel Arap Moi, change looked promising when the Kibaki administration took office, striking a reassuring chord with the resurrection of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission and a public inquiry into the disappearance of around US$3-billion from Kenya’s central bank during the Moi years, known as the Goldenberg scandal – named after Goldenberg International, a gold and jewellery company, alleged to have defrauded the state and taxpayers through the diversion of public funds from fictitious gold and diamond exports. Moi and some of his ministers appear to have been major beneficiaries of the scheme.

The blight of corruption, however, continues to dog Kibaki and has prompted observers to note that if anything the problem is perceived as even more entrenched now.

Canadian envoy Jim Wall, one of President Kibaki’s more outspoken critics, made headlines earlier this year when he denounced the Kenyan government for lacking “the fire in the belly” necessary to curb the crookedness within its ranks.

What Wall failed to acknowledge then as now, is his own government’s lack of political will to punish perpetrators of corruption in Canada. An example par excellence involves the Canadian engineering company Acres International, which continued to be eligible for government contracts despite a World Bank blacklisting following its conviction for bribery in a southern African water project.

When donor nations call on African governments to crack down on corruption, they should reward effort by holding wrongdoers to account at their end. Rewarding convicted bribers or overlooking their crimes sends the message African politicians are damned if they don’t and damned if they do when it comes to fighting graft.

The release of the final report from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa last month at least acknowledged western complicity in African corruption and the need for governments, banks and companies in developed nations to clean up their act.

“Western banks must be obliged by law to inform on suspicious accounts,” the report said. “Those who give bribes should be tackled too: foreign companies involved in oil, minerals and other extractive industries must make their payments much more open to public scrutiny. Firms who bribe should be refused export credits.”

In other words, developed countries need to demonstrate the political will to end sleaze. To quote Mr. Wall:

“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 . . . 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.”

It would seem Mr. Wall’s observation concerning Kenya is applicable elsewhere.

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Odious Debts

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