In 1842, Nikolai Gogol, a famous Russian playwright published The Government Inspector, a play which satirized human greed, stupidity and corruption.
Reflecting a ragged life during the then Imperial Russia, the play ridicules the conduct of corrupt officials of a small town headed by the mayor, who reacts with panic to the news that a government inspector travelling incognito, will soon be arriving to investigate them.
In a confused rush to cover up their misdeeds, the officials are interrupted by a rumour that a suspicious person has arrived from Saint Petersburg (the then Russian capital) and is staying at a local hotel, charging his bills to the crown government.
The mayor and his officials are certain that this stranger is indeed the dreaded government inspector. The entire town is thrown into disarray as haste moves are made to pamper him in an attempt to hide the truth. For quite some time, Khlestakov, (pronounce Lestakov), a merely impoverished young civil servant who lost all his money to gambling, enjoys the terrified deference he is accorded by the towns people, though he does not even realize that he has been mistaken for an important government official.
He is persuaded to leave his hotel and moves into the mayor's residence, where he shamelessly flirts with the mayor's wife and at one time with his daughter. However, after realizing that he can no longer continue with his charade, Khlestakov hastily flees the town on a horse, but this is after fooling the townspeople and winning lots of favours from their bewildered mayor. While the townspeople and officials continue arguing angrily over who is to blame over Khlestakov's deception, the postmaster brings a message from the real government inspector, who is demanding to see the mayor immediately. Gogol's play is a satire from the beginning to the end.
The hilarious characters, perfectly moulded to suit the occasion entertain the reader to the full. It is a masterpiece of creativity and charm. However, Gogol's intention is not to make you laugh and then forget. Through Khlestakov and the town's officials, we are shown the rot in a failed governing system because corruption has undermined commonsense. At the same time, there are warning signals which bring to light the fact that the evil of corruption is short-lived.
Sooner rather than later, someone will show up to demand accountability. But in a more subtle manner, depending on how one interprets the themes, the play also suggests that corruption is avoidable. One either learns a lesson from its previous bad consequences or rejects it outright as an evil not worth being associated with. Thus, though written over a century ago, the Government Inspector's main theme remains as relevant today as it was when a Crown government ruled Russia.
We rub shoulders with corrupt elements on a daily basis. We read reports on corruption in civil and political elections, private and public sectors, and at times we are so overwhelmed that we do not even know which service is supposed to be offered for free and which one must be paid for. Due to selfishness and greed, leaders have violated ethics and are enjoying the fruits of corruption.
Slowly but surely, corruption is penetrating the minds and souls and is no longer regarded as that 'ugly demon,' but a fact of life and everyone is playing a role. Who can deny that they are not corrupt? During one of the parliamentary sessions in Dodoma this year, a Member of Parliament caused a furore when he stood up on a point of order, saying he was the only MP who was not fraudulently elected.
However, his self-styled proclamation was short lived when the tide turned and he had to face the wrath of the Speaker. His parliamentary committee membership had to cease after allegations came into the fore that he was one of the legislators involved in a secret plot to oust newly elected Energy and Minerals Minister Prof Sospeter Muhongo and his Permanent Secretary Eliakim Maswi, for their firm stand against corruption.
The Speaker Ms Anne Makinda's intervention culminated in a probe committee, which however, is yet to give its findings, on who did what in that Bunge Committee. In May this year, President Jakaya Kikwete made a cabinet reshuffle and dropped some ministers after the Parliament reacted angrily to the Controller and Auditor- General (CAG)'s report that had exposed massive embezzlement of public funds.
For the first time in a recent past, MPs forgot their party differences and demanded accountability from people mentioned in the CAG report. Corruption had ravaged through district councils where most development funds are channelled. Kishapu District in Shinyanga Region for example, had featured prominently on the list of corrupt councils. This has prompted a reshuffle, retirement and sacking of some councillors by the Prime Minister.
Whether we like it or not, the corruption virus is replicating very fast, and unless the victims say enough is enough and demand accountability, chances are that our country will never be able to attain its many development goals. Theft, impunity, and abuse of office are crippling services in public offices and this goes without mentioning parastatals like TANESCO and DAWASCO.
Allegations are rife that some of the workers who have been entrusted with the daily running of TANESCO have had a field day and are reaping without sowing from illegal transactions worth billions. While this is going on, power theft is rampant among consumers. Metres are tampered with so that power does not pass through the billing system.
To make it worse, the well-todo, who include petrol stations, hotels and private schools, are among the wrongdoers. The people's perception on public property is that this is something you can safely grab and help yourself on, if you happen to be in a favourable position to do so.
That's why people fearlessly embezzle and steal public property in their misguided belief that after all, it does not belong to anybody. However, that satisfaction does not last long. When the taxpayers and those who abhor corruption are sick and tired of it, they will demand accountability, and that will be the real government inspector. Only time will tell.