Mister Samuel Kaninda is a South African trained Governance specialist from the Democratic Republic of Congo working at Transparency International’s Secretariat in Berlin as the African Regional Advisor. In Nigeria recently to observe the process of constituting a TI national chapter, he spoke to Intervention:
I want to start at the global level before we come down to Nigeria. There is still a definitional stalemate regarding the concept of corruption. The world still hasn’t arrived at a consensus about what constitutes corruption. What is the thinking at Transparency International, (TI) now on that?
The one TI uses now is to define corruption as abuse of entrusted power for private gain. So, once you look at it from that perspective, it moves away from the idea that corruption is confined to purely financial transactions. Our definition is cognisant of the fact that corruption is not exclusive to the public sector. It could even then be inclusive of the private sector. So, you could be a manager in a private organisation who uses, let’s say, sexual extortion, to allow certain groups of citizens, especially the opposite sex, to access advantages in the case of, say, recruitment or tendering. It took into account the point that corruption goes beyond the immediate picture that comes to the mind when you talk about corruption which is bribery. Corruption is more than that because it also speaks to phenomena such as cronyism, nepotism and extortion or abuse of position for private gain. That’s how we define it. Some groups agree with this definition but I know there is still controversy because different groups have different ways of defining it. I was in Rwanda recently. There, the debate on the concept is centered on a distinction between embezzlement of public funds and corruption. So, corruption there maybe takes the form of certain unethical behaviour that they define as corruption. In TI, embezzlement is just a form of corruption because you had access to those funds that are supposed to go to, say, some clinics or to buy some equipment but you diverted it. As a movement, that is how we define corruption in TI. It is just to draw your attention to the fact that, in our definition, you find nuances here and there.
When you look through the literature, there is this aspect that keeps coming up that whichever definition one takes, there is something that makes it a portrait of Africa as where corruption takes place. You talked about entrusted power. What about power that is not entrusted? So, critics say that the corruption perception becomes the cultural views of the players in big business and the global institutions they control.
I would say we are quite aware of this issue and what TI has tried to do to make sure this picture is a complete picture is by lifting the lid on what we call the givers of bribes and those are usually multinational companies. And also the focus on this phenomenon of illicit financial flows from Africa which conservative estimates put at $50b annually, most of which finds its way to the West and the global North at large. So, it shows that there are also weaknesses in their systems in terms of making a distinction between clean money and money that are proceeds of looting or economic crimes. So, from where we are sitting, our discourse on that has been clear; that corruption is not a problem only in Africa or the global South but it is also a problem in all those jurisdictions that we refer to as Safe Havens. So, when we come to countries in the global North such as Switzerland and all those that allow people who want to enjoy deposits of corruption away from the public sight, or the fact that many of the multinationals that might be promoting and perpetrating corruption are coming from the North, these are issues that need to be addressed. We are also conscious of the fact that some of our tools such as the Corruption Perception Index, (CPI) do not address that side of corruption. But we have added tools such as the Bribe Payers Index which moves from the demand side of corruption to show the supply side where multinationals, big companies originating from the global North where countries performing well on the CPI are deviating from the global norms So, may be the challenges in Africa is that corruption still affects us at the level of basic services. It is that visible in the way citizens interact with state officials, with the police or departments where identity documents are issued and where people encounter that kind of corruption. On the other hand, the kind of corruption that occurs in the developed world is more sophisticated, taking place away from the public eye and some of which I will not be afraid to say underline some of the global conflicts that we have because there is feeling on the side of some of the countries in the global South that the global North is good at exporting corruption while maintaining a sense or of sanity in their own countries. This is where the growing discontent and disgruntlement lie. May be to summarise myself, I need to say our point of view is Africa is not the only site where corruption happens but it is maybe where it is most visible and it is still affecting people at the level of development.
What is the type of relationship that TI maintains with formal or public anti-corruption institutions around Africa such as the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission or Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Some scholars who studied these two concluded that the one in Kenya was marginalised while the one in Nigeria was instrumentalised.
That’s part of what our approach and methodology are. It is to work with partners in government, in the private sector, in civil society. So, in this specific case, we also engage with anti-corruption agencies and what we are saying is there is no point in having an anti-corruption agency if such an institution does not enjoy independence in terms of decision making. So, if they need, let’s say, the approval of the Office of the President or another office before prosecuting some people who are considered to be well connected or very influential, then there is already a challenge because the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the EU Convention and I am sure the ECOWAS Protocol provide that those institutions should be independent and free from any political interference and also they should be endowed with the necessary resources to be able to carry out their mandate. It is true that anti-corruption agencies on the continent in general have been marginalised and, in some cases, they have limitations in terms of their mandate. Some of these agencies can only report cases and bring them before institutions that can investigate. In the case of the EFCC, they can investigate and they can also prosecute. That points in a good direction but in many of the other countries, you have the challenge in that sense. If you go to Cote d Ivoire, for example, the High Authority for Good Governance is answerable to the Office of the President. You go to Niger Republic, Nigeria’s next door nieghbour, you have the same issue. To some extent, you have that in Benin Republic. That is also an issue we have been advocating for. That is to say that there is need for such institutions to be well resourced and to be free from political interference so that there will be no fear or favour in the way in which they conduct their business beyond the restraining framework of the constitution of the country and the rule of law. So, we do engage them and, in the case of West Africa, there is even this supra structure at ECOWAS’s level in the form of an anti-corruption agency where TI sits in the Advisory Board. But, because we are a non-state actor, we are limited in how we can exert influence on that. The best we can do is to keep raising our voice, making these recommendations and keep working with these agencies to support them.
Supposing there had been nothing such as TI. What do you think would have been the state of corruption in Nigeria by now, for instance?
Well, eeehm, TI was formed in 1993 and came to Nigeria in 1994. We cannot say that every progress that has been made is due to TI. One needs to acknowledge that there have been many individuals and groups that have been committed to this cause, many of them we have worked with, including the likes of what has become CISLAC. So, I must say that even before the advent of TI into the picture, there were already people who felt that corruption challenges in Nigeria could not be left unattended. Mind you, at the time, the country was not exactly under a democratic dispensation but under military rule. It speaks then to TI coming to support existing groundswell of anti-corruption consciousness and commitment.
Specifically, what is your sense or measure of TI impact in Nigeria by now?
I think there is the African proverb which says one finger alone cannot clean the face. You need all fingers to do that. That’s the advantage we come with. We help diverse people to coalesce and use the strength of the tools we work with and which enables them to tackle the corruption issue frontally. Of course, this is with the understanding that the local context is always considered in the use of those approaches and tools.
So, what is the thinking in Berlin now about corruption in Nigeria in the last two years?
Our general feeling or sentiment is that firstly, there has been a shift in terms of political commitment at the highest office in the land. That office now acknowledges that corruption is an issue. Before, there was a dismissive attitude to that or dismissive attitude to the feeling that corruption is a problem. The current administration is vocal and asset recovery is on top of its agenda. That is part of what we need – expressed commitment and political will but, of course, there will be need also to have a clear plan because the president alone cannot do it. In the governance set up in Nigeria, you need to make sure you address it comprehensively to have a strategy that clearly locates the roles between the different levels of actors. The magnitude of the challenge of corruption in Nigeria would have required emblematic cases of sanctions because we know there is still that sense that impunity has not been dealt with completely and that’s where there is need for change but we acknowledge a number of actions and improvements, one of it being the advisory committee on anti-corruption that the president has set up. That, along with transparency in procurement in sectors that were not the case before and such other good signs are there but which are not sufficient. There are lots more to turn the tide against corruption in Nigeria. TI is appreciative of the fact that everything may not be achievable in one presidential term but there is need to make sure the foundation is laid for a sustainable fight against corruption.