Last week, the Ombudsman released her yearly list of individuals who’ve fallen foul of anti-corruption laws. Unlike last year however, because I’m not currently in the country, I can’t peruse through the list of names.
The last time this list came out, I wrote an article complaining about how not only the names of the errant individuals were published but their parent’s names as well. I asked, “What had these poor people done, other than give birth to a person who decided to engage in immorality”? I thought that adding their names was unnecessary. I certainly hope that they haven’t done so this year.
Last time around I was amazed by not only how many people were names, but rather the nature of their crimes. The vast majority of offenders were what I call ‘petty offenders’. These poor people (yes, poor) were given long jail sentences for either asking for, and giving sums that I’d call pocket change. And, as many people complained, the lack of the ‘big fish’ on the list was disheartening.
I understand that corruption in whatever form should be fought; however, the small sums that are being handed over don’t impact that many lives. What impacts lives are shady deals, like the scandal over the sickly exotic cattle, that destitute many baturage. To my knowledge (which I admit isn’t that great) the people involved haven’t been arrested, reprimanded or given any punishment. In fact, a year or so, I remember reading a story in this paper about how some leaders hadn’t submitted their wealth declaration forms on time. Did they get any punishment? Not to my knowledge. Of course, maybe they were. However, any such censure was done behind closed doors. The errant officials were not named and shamed.
But lets pretend that only those small fish publicized are the only ones guilty of corruption. I find it hard to believe that these people handed, or received, those bribes knowing that they could potentially go to jail for up to six years for simply handing over Rwf10, 000. The potential reward for such a bribe was, by far, outweighed by the punishment meted for giving/ receiving such measly sums. I mean.
So the question is, did these people giving and receiving such small sums kamikaze-like, with little care for their creature comforts (I’ve heard that jail isn’t fun at all)? OR did they simply not know just how harsh our anti-corruption laws were? I’m leaning towards the latter. The fact of the matter is, while almost everyone knows that corruption is bad, they don’t know that the law doesn’t differentiate between Rwf 1000 and Rwf 100,000. They assume that a small amount will elicit a slap on the hand and not a long stint with our friendly prison warders.
The vast majority of bribes that have been sought from me haven’t gone above Rwf 10,000. And truth be told, I’ve been tempted to pay them. Not because I’m a criminal, but because the sum had the potential to make life easier for me. Especially when I was dealing with unpaid (or poorly paid) local government officials. And I guess that is the issue.
While decentralization has brought services closer to the people, it has turned some of these leaders into little tyrants. They are the people who sign each and every document you need to submit to bigger institutions. So, when you’re met with a sly request for ‘Fanta’ you have two choices, either pay up (and become a criminal) or refuse and die a slow bureaucratic death. And you can guess what the vast majority of people do. They hand over the cash. And if it is a sting operation, then they are arrested.
So, what is the way forward? First of all, people need to know what the law actually states. Don’t only tell them the ‘ruswa’ (bribery) is bad, but inform them of the sentences handed down for the offence. It’s all about educating them. Let them know that if they go down the corrupt path, it will end extremely badly. Secondly, lets figure out how to report corrupt leaders. Do we need CCTV cameras in the offices? Whatever the solutions, we must not rest on our laurels. Yes, Rwanda is known for its fight against corruption, but we can and must do better.