By: David Y. Kabia
What is corruption?
While many authors and institutions may have proffered definitions on corruption, it cannot be argued that all those definitions point at one thing-an act done willfully by one that abuses the right and livelihood of the other. The existence of corruption may be old as the existence of man because man has been abusing the rights of man and depriving same of opportunities deserved, yet those ills were clothed in cultural juvenism(prejudice and discrimination related to culture). To this end, James C. Scott in his book Comparative Political Corruption, is of the view that corruption “must be understood as a regular, repetitive and integral part of the operation of most political system”.
However, in 2003, the United Nations (UN) through the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes by Resolution 58/4 passed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which came into force in 2005. The late Kofi Anan, former United Nations Secretary General defined corruption as “an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish”. Transparency International has also held that “Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis”. Thelma A.Ekiyor in her book Promoting Restorative Justice in South Africa’s Correctional Services (2005) broadly defines corruption as the “unlawful use of official power or influence by an official of the government either to enrich himself or further his course and/or any other person at the expense of the public, in contravention of his oath of office and/or contrary to the conventions or laws that are in force”.
The aforementioned definitions show that corruption holds no positive bearing to human existence. But is corruption the problem of the poor alone? Corruption affects both poor and rich societies. However, it is believed to be endemic in poor societies as Steven J. Staats in his book, Corruption in Soviet Union Systems, Problems of Communism, underscores that, “Corruption is a social problem found in various degrees and forms in all but the most primitive societies”.
How important is Public Education on corruption?
Professor Heather Marquette, in a Paper presented to the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Joint Session Workshop on ‘The International Anti-Corruption Movement in April 2006 cited ‘education on corruption’ as one of tripartite models successfully used by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Corruption especially within the public space is committed by persons in public service who were once ordinary members of society. She argued that the relevance of education on corruption is more of a method to saving the next generation of a country’s population from being immersed in corruption than trying to ward off current holders of public offices.
Chapter II, Article 5 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption specifically deals with one question: how can corruption be prevented? This prevention in Article 5 takes many forms. However, public education is provided for at Article 5.2 which states that “Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption”.
It cannot be over- emphasized that every public servant has a family he/she would want to help or expect to be helped. These expectations are most times inconsiderate to whether the public servant has the power to providing such expected help or not. Marquette argues that public education on corruption can best help inculcate in the minds of relatives that public servants cannot act outside their provided means or power. It creates the understanding that jobs are not given on basis of bloodline and or friendship ties but based on competence; it helps change the perception in a country’s growing population that leaders are not the beginning and end to all things-they are subject to accountability procedures and processes; it empowers those in learning institutions that quick-fix grades either through bribery or sex could not build both a strong individual and national human capital; it forewarns the young of the exceedingly dire consequences of injustice; it also empowers a country’s young population of their right to demanding information on accountability and transparency on public issues especially on budgetary allocation, elections, women’s empowerment and more; it helps prepare the minds of the next generation of public servants that public property must not be misused or stolen; it creates a sense of fairness by instilling morality and integrity in the young that teachers must teach while children be left to be children; it instills a sense of nationalism in them by helping them put country above all else. In 2003, the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico held that, “education can play a decisive role in the fight against corruption and crime and the construction of a culture of legality”.
The public education method does not stop at the aforementioned to wit: teaching the young about the ills of corruption and how they ought to behave. It further extends to allowing them participate in the day-to-day operations of the governance and the drive to tackling corruption. Article 1 and 13 of Chapter II of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption calls for participation of citizens in the administration of the State and particularly in fighting corruption through transparency and accountability. Article 1 states: “Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability”.
It also captures the relevance of transparency of anti-corruption institutions in Article 13 by requiring State Parties allow persons and institutions outside the public sector to the right to know what methods are applied and how they are being applied. It states: “1. Each State Party shall take appropriate measures, within its means and in accordance with fundamental principles of its domestic law, to promote the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organizations and community-based organisations, in the prevention of and the fight against corruption and to raise public awareness regarding the existence, causes and gravity of and the threat posed by corruption. This participation should be strengthened by such measures as:
(a) Enhancing the transparency of and promoting the contribution of the public to decision-making processes;
(b) Ensuring that the public has effective access to information;
(c) Undertaking public information activities that contribute to non-tolerance of corruption, as well as public education programmes, including school and university curricula;
(d) Respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption. That freedom may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided for by law and are necessary:
(i) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(ii) For the protection of national security or order public or of public health or morals.
In sum and over the last three years, the Anti-Corruption Commission under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala have used public education as the winning tool in the fight against corruption by robustly engaging the public through the print media, meet the schools and colleges campaign, strengthening of schools integrity clubs, radio and television talk shows, to state but a few, in a bid to not only ward off current holders of public offices from corruption, but mostly to instill the needed integrity in the next generation of public servants to build a stronger internal fortress against the urges of corruption. The Commission also is in partnership through Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) signed with institutions both within Government and without to ensure that corruption is fought by all means necessary.
Therefore, while complacency may not be entertained at this juncture of the fight, it can equally conveniently be said that the Anti-Corruption Commission in the last four years, through the aforementioned and also with the amendment of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 in 2019 has made corruption very expensive and utterly a risky enterprise to engage in. The high grades on international scorecards on corruption and winning indexes therefore needs no explanation. As the Latins would put it: “Res Ipsa Loquito” “The facts speaks for themselves”.