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It’s Not Your Money: Breaking The Cycle Of Corruption

It’s Not Your Money: Breaking The Cycle Of Corruption Thumbnail Image


The words “it’s not your money” have resounded in my heart throughout my working life over the last 40 years.

However, over the same 40 years, it seems that these words have become less and less of a conviction to many others. Systemic corruption has taken root, and its impact can be felt everywhere. When what is rightfully yours has to be paid for, when what is not rightfully yours is simply taken, and when opportunities for growth are blocked: it leads to a lack of work ethic, widespread inequality and poverty, generational bitterness, and even war.

Very frightening indeed. And I ask myself, what can we as Christian businesspeople do about it? Wherever we are positioned in life, how can we break the cycle of corruption?

Their money or your life

But let me get back to when and where I actually said those words, out loud, in defiance of a life-threatening situation.

At the time, I was the general manager at a highly successful, market-leading financial institution in Kenya. Unfortunately, the owner of the company had become a political target, and an order was issued that all his businesses had to be closed down immediately, and all funds frozen. (He and his whole family had to flee the country.) Suddenly, we found our office building surrounded and all exits blocked by armed personnel. I was ordered by the gunmen to open our safe and give them the cash, but I stood firm: “No, it’s not your money.” The funds held elsewhere were under the authority of others, but that which I had authority over I was not going to release.

Note that this was a secular organisation, but a few of us were Christian and we had started intensive prayer networks during this fearful time. I believe that through this prayer covering, I was emboldened by God’s power to stand against the threats. The staff knew that I was a Christian, and they stood with me against the continued harassment. Then God, who never leaves us nor forsakes us, intervened through an unexpected telephone call from a top security official who told the gunmen to leave.

Although the company closed down soon after, the testimony of what God did that day stayed with all of us and gave us courage during a very difficult time. In a corrupt environment where we often feel helpless, there is power in living out our faith.

Corruption starts (and stops) with you and me

The word ‘corruption’ is overused, and often applied only to certain people or certain sectors. Yet it starts (and stops) with you and me. Let me give a few examples from our local community.

Recently I heard the story of two young boys having a conversation at school, the one telling the other that he thinks his father is corrupt because he has bought a new car and he does not think they could afford it. Children see and learn.

In another incident, a father was driving with his little girl and was stopped by a policeman. The girl immediately started telling him that her father is an honest person and his car is in good order so he should not ask for anything. She had seen and learnt what many policemen do when they stop cars.

A while ago, a certain item was in short supply in the country. The government had issued regulation to limit the quantity people could buy, but I only became aware of this when the cashier offered to split the goods into separate sales so that I could buy more than was legally allowed. The supermarket wasn’t busy, so I took the time to explain why what was being offered to me was an act of corruption. That corruption starts with each one of us: it’s not about others, it’s about me.

The costs of getting a quality education are already very high in Kenya. Unfortunately, simply getting your children into a new school can sometimes require a bribe. The very act of trying to secure a child’s future, sets corruption as a foundation in that child’s life.

There are many sad stories of desperate people taking out large loans in order to ‘buy’ a job. Then they find that their salary is not sufficient for their family to survive, and to pay back the loan with its extremely high interest. So they too start taking bribes. The cycle continues, and more and more people are affected.

We have the authority

As a financial management specialist, I was often sent on assignments to examine the financial systems and annual statements of various organisations. In one case, I decided to attend a meeting just to see how the funds were being utilised. To my shock, I realised that work was being charged for that had not been done, and that the leadership didn’t think there was anything wrong with this. I wrote in my report that the system itself was good, but that the leadership had no will to do what is right.

Even among boards, where the collective responsibility of oversight is the reason for their existence, corruption has become widespread. For example, one board meeting I attended could not continue (even though board members had flown in from various countries) because one new member insisted on discussing what their daily allowance would be. It is important to understand that using the resource of time for personal gain is corruption. That coming up with inflated budgets to meet personal needs is corruption. That diverting funds from their intended purpose is corruption. That having board meetings or attending conferences in expensive hotels simply to suit personal preferences is corruption. Sometimes corruption is subtle, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it involves small amounts, sometimes a lot. The point is still: It’s not your money.

In these and many other such incidences, I foiled the misuse of funds through accountability across the countries by engaging with transparency in all communications and keeping all the relevant people in the loop. Accountability and transparency are powerful tools against corruption.

Another powerful tool is prayer. I used to pray before board meetings to be on the alert if called to authorise anything unlawful. As the chair of a committee where the stories of fraud and theft were rife, I would start the meeting in prayer, mentioning each of us by name and acknowledging the privilege we had of managing money and assets for the benefit of others. Within the few hours we had we would cover the agenda and the Lord would reveal us issues that had not been highlighted before. I did not fear as I knew God is the one who brought me there. We have the authority in the heavenly realms.

We cannot remain silent

May the Holy Spirit make us so uncomfortable in every instance we encounter corruption that we will oppose it in word and deed. Don’t get caught up in conversations discussing this vice with others and end up getting discouraged. God is sovereign.

Let us always remember our role as His stewards: we must be and remain faithful always to Him and consequently to others. We will give an account to Him. Again, corruption doesn’t start with others, it starts (and stops) with us. The change we want to see must begin in each one of us, being and doing that which honours Him. We are the salt and the light of the earth, with consequences (Matthew 5:13–16). We will reap what we sow, and God cannot be mocked (Galatians 6:7–9).

The healing of our communities starts with us. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV). The Lord is calling us to be His gatekeepers against this vice. We must take action, from our homes to our schools, to our churches to our companies: wherever we are positioned. Doing nothing is complying with corruption. We have to do our part in “turning from our wicked ways” by not remaining silent.

Our colleagues also live and work in this corrupt environment. They see these ‘juicy’ stories on social media, and it is easy for consciences to become seared: to start thinking that ‘this is just how life is’. Maybe consider having a regular meeting where one person shares a corrupt situation they encountered recently, and then together discuss its impact, ending with suggestions to redeem the situation. Verses such as the following could be a great conversation starter. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been” trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (Luke 16:10-12 NIV).

Let’s pray and ask God how to intentionally address this vice in our everyday activities and how to influence others. We do our part and God does His. May we not be found to abdicate our God-given authority. The Lord does not change His word to fit our circumstances. The answer always remains the same: “No, it’s not your money!”

Valentine Gitoho has over 40 years’ financial management and consulting experience in businesses and non-profit organisations in Africa and Asia, including at Price Waterhouse, the World Bank, and the World Council of Churches. She has been serving on various boards for 25 years, and has a passion for promoting accountability and sustainability in organisations. She is Founder and Director of the LEEDS Foundation, LEEDS Consulting and the African Council for Accreditation and Accountability (AfCAA). Valentine is married to James, and they live in Nairobi, Kenya. They have two adult children who are happily married, and three grandchildren.

Contributor Valentine Gitoho

Valentine Gitoho

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