Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ann NjeriA week ago I attended the Human Security Forum at Caux Switzerland and one of the topics discussed was Inclusive Economics. Talking about economics and human security, it was inevitable to talk about among others, corruption and the need for value based economics. Corruption has become institutionalized in so many ways and places, making it sophisticated and legitimate.

I was particularly inspired by Josef Winter from Germany, Chief Compliance Officer for Siemens. He shared openly how his company was severely damaged by corruption deals and the high cost they had to pay for it. Siemens, one of the world's biggest companies, ended up paying $1.6 billion in fines in 2008 - the largest such fine in modern corporate history. In order to totally clear its name, it had to part with up to $2.6 billion.

For Josef, ‘Corruption is a topic we must talk about!’. He shared from his past experiences attending big conferences that ‘...nobody talks about corruption even though it is a big problem in the world’. Statistics show that globally, 39 percent of companies engage in bribery to get business and in Africa, 67 percent. In Kenya for example, a recent study by auditors Ernest & Young showed that 76 percent of Kenyan companies have to engage in corrupt deals for them to win and retain business; Nigeria follows with 72 percent and South Africa comes third with 64 percent. This is a huge threat to human security. Corruption is the one monster problem that drags down many countries. Its effects are devastating – especially in Africa.

But is it really possible to stay clean in a very corrupt business world? Well, it sounds like the impossible but Josef was very categorical that clean business is possible and it is the only way to attain inclusive economics and human security! ‘Clean business is profitable and valuable’, he said. ‘No bribes, better business. Let’s have the best solution for the best price- you will be successful in the long run’, he added.

Joseph said that the cost they had to pay was a big lesson for them and they now focus on clean business. ‘Who wants to work for a corrupt company?’ he quizzed rhetorically. And my silent answer was ‘nobody’. ‘We now give rules that are inspired by values. If your business is not clean, we let you go!’ he noted with confidence. One of the panellists, Sarosh Ghandy, a former Managing Director of Telco Construction Equipment, supported this statement, adding that you don’t have to lose your values to be competitive. ‘You can hold your values and integrity and remain competitive.’

As an African, I have seen and experienced the distressing effects of corruption. It totally blocks development and sadly nurtures poverty, illiteracy, bad public health, ethnic based conflicts and war, amongst other things. Greed and selfishness have overtaken many people’s lives and these have killed the spirit of humanity. The rich continue to be richer at the expense of the poor who continue to be poorer. There has been so much suffering in very many people’s lives and many of them continue to live miserable and hopeless lives. This should be made a thing of the past by all possible means. In my opinion, we have more wealth than we need in this world and no one should suffer because of lack of basic necessities.

I am an active and passionate peace activist and for me ‘clean business means a clean life, which in turn adds up to a peaceful and satisfying life!’ Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that fighting corruption is an easy job. No, it is in fact a difficult and dangerous one. Corruption will always fight back. I bet we all know of people at local, national and even international levels who have suffered for their part in exposing corruption. And so I know that fighting corruption is a huge sacrifice requiring courage from within.

The bottom line is that we must talk about corruption more and more, and be inspired by the spirit to fight and stop it.

Ann Njeri is a lady with a big heart for people and a huge passion for Kenya - her home and Africa – her beloved continent. She is a peace and social activist and believes in the welfare of every human being. Ann dreams and envisions a Kenya, an Africa and a world where everyone has a chance to live a dignified life that embraces humanity. She has been working with Initiatives of Change in Kenya on peace - with a bias on Women and young people - as well as being the webmaster for the IofC Africa website.She holds a diploma in Information Technology, a Higher Diploma in Counselling Psychology and currently pursuing a degree in Bachelors of Development Studies at Mt Kenya University.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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