We treat corruption as a social or moral evil, but largely as harmless. It is one of those peccadilloes which you can punish with what in international law, we used to call mobilization of shame. We have not looked at corruption as a threat to the country, its economy and the very foundations of it
We think it is alarmist to suggest that corruption is insidiously leading the country to the failed state status. It moves slowly, eating into the tissue of every state institution until they all break down. State institutions depend heavily on their professional management, so much that when that management is eaten away they cease to function.
The very fi rst casualty of rampant corruption is invariably the professional. Professionals by definition cannot function in a corrupt environment because rascals perform better in that environment.
For years, the President kept announcing that ours was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a GDP growth of over 6% per annum, rivaled only by China. Now, last month, in his State-of-the-Nation Speech, the President was saddened to report that it was hair salons, petrol stations and boda bodas that were increasing, which is different from growth.
I cannot blame the President; he was all along receiving figures on the economy, not from professionals, but from activists and political cadres. Professionals gave up long time ago. Many of the buildings, arcades or plazas we see mushrooming in towns are not designed by architects and engineers.
Developers work with KCCA officials to build without plans. Why retain an architect or an engineer if you can have your work approved by the city authorities with a simple bribe? You fi nd a high rise arcade with one toilet serving two fl oors for men and women.
We buy drugs not from pharmacies, but from grocery shops or from the street. Schools are owned and run by traders. The teachers in those schools do not teach, they coach students and finally buy examinations for their pupils to ‘pass highly’. Professional teachers are perennially underpaid and endlessly disgruntled.
It is not lawyers that handle conveyancing anymore. This work is now done by clerks, registrars and others called Bakayungirizi whose office sign posts read, ‘Land Blocker’. There is so much land fraud because professionals no longer do the work. True, some lawyers are actively involved in this scam, but their involvement is a consequence, not the cause. Much of the fraud is a consequence of the liberalization of corruption.
In non-failed states, it is the professionals that are paid the most because they are trained to run different aspects of the state. It is doctors who are adequately remunerated that run your healthcare system that is both affordable and efficient. A healthy population is obviously more productive. It is architects and engineers that will ensure that you have a good road system which makes it easy for goods and services to reach the people and the market.
It is the professional teacher that imparts relevant knowledge to the young population.
It is lawyers and judges that will ensure proper law and order.
It is, however, true that when the professional is edged out through corruption, he faces two hard choices, to go to waste or to jump into the dirty pool and glide along.
The latter is more often the only choice. It is in this context, that a friend recently put it to me in a rhetorical question, ‘’Abaana bo olibagamba nti tebaasoma kubanga wali okola mazima?’’ (If your children fail to go to school, will you tell them you were being honest?). This explains the regrettable corruption in the health sector, the judiciary, education and in all professions.
The writer is a senior lawyer in private practice
Corruption and the professional dilemma