Mombasa, Kenya-Corruption: Cambodia is riddled with it, while in Africa, Kenya has
long been regarded as one of the continent's most afflicted nations. Potential investors
regularly cite corruption as a key reason for staying out of Cambodia, a fundamental
reason for the collapse of foreign direct investment.
As regular readers of the Post will know, the government in Phnom Penh has taken
practically no action to combat graft, not least because so many influential people-from
politicians to military to businessmen-make so much money from it. One of the few
to make any noise on the subject is the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, whose
staged marches through the capital regularly feature placards calling on donors to
tackle the problem.
Prime Minister Hun Sen promised donors more than a year ago that an anti-corruption
law would be passed by the middle of 2003. That did not happen, marking yet another
deadline missed on Cambodia's increasingly mirage-like road to good governance.
It remains to be seen just what the donors and multilaterals will say (and more importantly
do) about yet another missed government promise at the next donor meeting scheduled
for later this year.
Kenya, though, is different and offers some encouraging lessons about what can be
achieved when the political will to act is present. The country saw a change of government
at the end of 2002 when President Mwai Kibaki was elected pledging a raft of reforms,
not least combating corruption.
For years Kenya has appeared near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption
perceptions index of nations. (Cambodia is not included in the survey because of
insufficient data, the organisation says.) In 2002, Kenya was ranked 96th (out of
102 countries), tied with Indonesia, and below such basket cases as Haiti, Ivory
Coast and Moldova.
In the latest report, published on October 7, Kenya again ranks equally with Indonesia,
now 122nd out of 133 countries.
However Transparency International's Peter Eigen in London, issuing the 2003 report,
singled out President Kibaki as needing special support.
"To turn Kenya into a country where corruption is not the order of the day requires
sustained commitment at both the national and international level, both in terms
of financial resources and practical support," Eigen said.
The incumbent and fantastically corrupt KANU party, which had ruled (or misruled)
Kenya for more than three decades, was thrown into opposition. With expectations
high, Kibaki was able to make giant strides.
Less than one year into his rule, he has undertaken three key steps towards fighting
graft. The first was to pass a law requiring all civil servants to declare their
wealth, and that of their spouses and dependents, as well as its source, by October
From the president himself down to the lowest-ranking police officers and teachers,
all those in the employ of the public sector were compelled to comply. Those who
did not were told that they would be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains, but
would lose their jobs. (The information provided on the forms is confidential, and
will be held by the Anti-Corruption Commission and the police.)
Second, he initiated a commission of inquiry into a scandal involving the theft of
millions of dollars in World Bank loans from the early 1990s. The Goldenberg Inquiry,
as it is known after the company concerned, is currently hearing damning evidence,
in public, in the capital Nairobi.
And Kibaki's government has launched a clean-up of the judiciary. An investigation
by a senior judge showed that around half of the country's judges are corrupt, from
low-level clerks and magistrates all the way to the bewigged justices at the Appeal
The report was released in two parts earlier this month. The first part was made
public, while the second, which names those judges considered corrupt, was not. The
first volume makes interesting reading: those wanting to bribe a malleable Appeal
Court judge will need to pay around $200,000; magistrates come much cheaper at only
Among the other findings: a murderer or rapist can beat the charge by paying as little
as $250; and many of the judges expect to get a cut of up to one-third of any award
The recently appointed chief justice (his predecessor was sacked earlier this year
after-surprise, surprise-allegations of corruption) promised that "sooner or
later" the judiciary would be clean. He warned all those named in the second
report that if they did not resign voluntarily, they would face a tribunal.
Corruption, Kibaki says, is a problem Kenya can ill afford to tolerate. He was quoted
in a recent issue of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper as saying his country can provide
for its people, as long as the battle against graft is won.
"For the few months I have been head of government, I have known that we have
more than enough resources to do all we intend, if only we can stop corruption,"
He said corruption is the major obstacle to development, and warned all his ministers
who were not committed to fighting corruption that they should resign.
"From tomorrow and the day after, this fight will have started, and if you are
not serious about it, you'd better leave before then," he said on September
Leading by example, Kibaki himself handed in his wealth declaration three days ahead
of the deadline.
So what do Kenyans think of this? Almost all of those to whom I spoke were encouraged.
They believe Kibaki is sincere in his pledge, and is delivering on his promise. One
or two remain to be convinced-they are thoroughly disillusioned by politicians of
But Kibaki's efforts mark a bold start.
Cambodia is capable of taking these same steps. The government in Phnom Penh knows
as well as the donors and the multilaterals that without a clean judiciary and a
properly funded civil service, Cambodia will continue to struggle. But that will
require battling powerful vested interests. Ultimately, as Kenya has shown, political
will remains the most important ingredient.
* Robert Carmichael was the managing editor of the Post from August 2001 to August
2003. He is now traveling in eastern and southern Africa.