Tackling Corruption in Agricultural Projects

In January 2021, president Uhuru Kenyatta publicly announced that the government was losing approximately Ksh. 2 billion every day, leaving most citizens in utter disbelief, if not worried, of how deep this rabbit hole actually extends. As highlighted in my previous article, corruption is not exclusive to the government and its projects. It also extends to privately implemented projects, where it takes different forms and leads to varied undesired consequences on rural economies depending on scale. Funds lost through these opportunistic dealings could always be channeled and utilized effectively to bring rural communities closer to becoming more resilient and food secure. Corruption control and elimination is, therefore, integral to this country.

Recommendations on how to effectively tackle corruption in developing countries have always emphasized the need to strengthen accountability. However, it is necessary to question the feasibility of this solution in the Kenyan context where corruption is an endemic problem intricately intertwined within the deepest nerves of this largely opportunistic society. Take a quick read of citizen thoughts and opinions on social media whenever a corruption scandal erupts. You’ll not fail to see a section of Kenyans defend the perpetrators of these financial crimes, with insensitive and “funny” comments like “poverty is the enemy!” Others view them as their mentors, which is quite appalling. In my opinion, these people are either stupid or ignorant of the deleterious impacts of these acts on those who fall within the lower social echelons. Corruption, whether monetary or nonmonetary, breeds a cycle of endless poverty. Unfortunately, these corruption sympathizers are embedded deep in different governmental and nongovernmental offices and are always willing to facilitate the heists, as long as they stand to benefit, even if just a few coins.

The weaknesses displayed by institutions put in place to enforce accountability and fight the vice suggest that they are either compromised or severely crippled, resulting in any efforts to bring these criminals to justice mostly futile. Courts are either taking years to resolve cases involving public funds misappropriation or acquitting people accused of engaging in multibillion heists due to insufficient evidence, recent case examples being Arror and Kimwarer dams and Tritoin oil saga. Such outcomes deter accountability, breed hopelessness among masses who hope to recoup lost monies, and raise important questions like: Is prevention better than cure on matters of corruption? How effectively can we address corruption, protect smallholders who represent more than 70% of rural communities, and realize the success for projects initiated to speed up their adaptation to climate change, address poverty and improve food security?

Corruption is a commons dilemma (a social problem characterized by harm that results from decisions of individual group members acting in their own self-interests). While acting in self-interest may be rational and beneficial at individual level, it introduces undesired effects at the group level. Self-interest encourages individuals to take advantage of existing loopholes (and sometimes their power) to divert resources from a shared pool, thus impeding the ability to achieve high-quality results for recipients of these transformative initiatives. Solving this problem then requires preventing or deterring people from acting on these self-interests by targeting factors and situations that enable them to act on their whims and desires.

The econometric approach can be used to understand corruption and its effects, and therefore, remains a useful foundational element when exploring solutions to the vice. The approach can be applied to understand the transactions, costs, and general effects of corruption on production. From this perspective, corruption can be considered a form of market inefficiency, which can be fought by providing incentives, strengthening existing structures or introducing combative regulations.  I believe the most effective strategies to addressing corruption affecting the efficacy of agricultural projects are strengthening accountability and oversight mechanisms, developing and enforcing stringent laws (like severe punishments for complicit individuals), strengthening governance, and encouraging the involvement of donor organizations in oversight, monitoring and evaluation. These solutions are supported by transaction cost economics, which reiterates the essence of hierarchies in supervising, monitoring, detecting and deterring opportunism (a common driver of corruption).

Strengthening accountability and oversight mechanisms

Most project funds are lost through service providers/implementers. When he ascended to presidency, William Ruto issued a directive for different governmental units to stop organizing and hosting workshops/meetings/events in hired external venues and instead hold them within their respective offices, unless otherwise. At face value, this decision appears as a solution to reduce expenditures; however, closer examination presents it as a significant stroke against corrupt employees as most of these workshops/meetings/events are merely money siphoning avenues. This problem is widespread among service providers/implementers and often results in a significant chunk of the funds lost to logistics instead of benefiting farmers.

Agricultural projects should be independent of politicians and political involvements. It impossible to talk about politics without mentioning corruption in this country. These people’s characters are muddied with dubiousness and unhealthy affinity and appetite for selfish and corrupt behaviors. Politicians tend to make demands that derail project implementation. For example, they may demand for underserved “facilitation” payments or force project management teams to hire unqualified personnel into roles which are integral to project success. In this light, job applicants should be thoroughly assessed to ensure recruitment is anchored on merit only and not just their relationships with powerful individuals in the public and private sector. For example, hired personnel should be specialized in the respective value chains of a project. Such emphasis will ensure project team are not compromised to do political biddings, which end up crippling outcomes.

Scrutinizing organizations to be involved in project implementation would also weed out malicious and self-centered entities driven by gains to be realized.

Funding organizations also need to exploit emerging technologies. For example, mobile phone payments leave trails of financial transactions and would ease the process of tracking transfers, especially for projects where money is disbursed to beneficiaries directly. This technique will deter officials from falsifying transactions after they have redirected beneficiary funds to personal use and then claiming they have made all disbursements.

Another common channel through which projects funds get misappropriated is through massive inflation of payments/expenses, more so, input costs. The price of a 2kg packet of seeds can be inflated to twice of thrice the actual buying price. Sometimes, farmers end up receiving very low quality inputs due to unscrupulous procurement processes. Auditing, typically done by relying on receipts, is not helpful as it only allows the corrupt to get away with stealing without questions asked. A closely monitored and centralized procurement process would help reduce these inconsistencies to realize the full value of the allocated funds.

In addition, it is important for farmers to understand their rights including actions they can take against people suspected of engaging in corrupt dealings. Noteworthy, farmers can never fight misappropriation of funds individually. India’s recent national farmers’ strike has demonstrated that their efforts can have significant impacts if they choose to collaborate with other another.

Strengthening regulations and governance

Strengthening governance would mean ensuring individuals managing agricultural projects have a strong sense of integrity and have never been implicated in corruption. Hiring individuals with questionable backgrounds only communicates that such acts will be rewarded in the long run.  Strengthening governance also means sensitizing project participants about the detrimental effects of fund misappropriation to themselves and beneficiaries. Leaders should also be encouraged to take the fight against corruption seriously and to actively ensure involved entities are brought to justice. Further, corruption cases should be dealt with speedily and severely to discourage others from engaging in similar behavior. Enforcing laws to protect whistleblowers from people who might want to retaliate once reported or indicted can encourage public members to report unethical behaviors.

Implementing stringent monitoring procedures

Proper and strict monitoring and evaluation from donors is crucial. This means donors need to take a more hands-on approach in monitoring and evaluating projects. If they can dispense millions of dollars to finance projects, they can also budget and allocate resources to track and put pressure on implementers to use them effectively. Hiring independent monitoring institutions and professionals that cannot be compromised to oversee these processes should be a priority, otherwise, these efforts would be fruitless. In addition, project donors should exert pressure on implementing government and non-governmental institutions to fight corruption effectively.

Formative monitoring and evaluation would be more impactful to corruption than summative alternatives. Modern technologies like mobile phones and the internet that allow donors to reach out to beneficiaries directly should be used in tandem with formative monitoring. Organizing follow-ups after every major milestone have been achieved can help donors understand whether farmers/beneficiaries have received quality as well as the right amount of inputs as stipulated in the project plans. Mobile technologies (like text messaging and internet links) would improve the efficiency of these processes by allowing farmers to respond to simple questions regarding the received benefits. Gathered feedback will shed insight into whether reports by service providers/implementers are true.

Conclusion

Tackling corruption is a complicated process given that it has morphed into a cultural problem that is deeply meshed in the everyday professional activities in this country. It is seen as a get rich quick scheme that has limitedly been controlled given the incessant failures registered in efforts put in place to control it. A more aggressive approach involving strengthened accountability and governance systems together with the active involvement of project donors and other stakeholders has been argued as the most potent solutions.

 

References

Webster, C. (n. d). Corruption and the Smallholder: A Review of Current Literature and Research. https://ecommons.cornell.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/fea69363-504c-416c-9858-027cceb58a1c/content

Nkombo, N. (2018). Three Ways the African Union Can Fight Corruption in Agriculture, and Win. https://farmingfirst.org/2018/01/three-ways-the-african-union-can-fight-corruption-in-agriculture-and-win/

 

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