The Burkinabe parliament has returned 127 touchscreen tablets to China following public outcry over legislators potentially breaking a law that prohibits public servants from accepting gifts that cost more than $56. All 127 members of parliament were each given a $107,300 Huawei tablet from in November as gifts, according to Africa News.
“We are the result of a popular insurrection. Public opinion has stood up against these tablets, so the President, with all the deputies, decided to follow, to listen, and from there, to return the tablets to the government,” the majority leader in Burkina Faso’s National Assembly, Maxime Kone, said.
Gifts or Bribes?
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Burkinabe’s parliament initially defended the receipt of the “gifts,” saying the tablets were considered an institutional support that no law or regulatory provision forbids.
However, a group of activists, led by the anti-corruption movement REN-LAC, held mass protests on the streets of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, accusing legislators of contravening the law.
The group argues that the tablets were kickbacks for a recent contract worth $8,073,000, which was awarded to Huawei to construct a fiber optic link between Ouagadougou and the country’s border with Ghana.
Corrupt Business Practices
It is not the first time that Chinese firms have been accused of engaging in corrupt business practices in Africa. Last year, a Chinese construction company was implicated in a huge corruption scandal related to the renovation of Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya.
Kenyan businessman Herbert Ojwang revealed how certain Kenyan officials received Samsung tablets and $2,000 each as gifts from the Chinese company.
Ojwang also implicated Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto in the saga, saying he was part of the extortionist scheme.
In another case, two senior managers of a Chinese company charged with the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya were arrested by anti-corruption detectives last year for allegedly offering bribes to Kenyan officials.
The two were accused of offering money to officers manning a toll station so they’d be allowed to pass with overloaded trucks.
In a study done by the Ethics Institute of South Africa in 2015, 61 percent of respondents agreed that Chinese firms engage in bribery and other illegal activities in their countries.
While some African officials engage in graft by demanding kickbacks and facilitating payments, studies show that most Chinese companies are more than willing to meet those demands.
Experts say the best way to end this trend is by enforcing existing domestic laws and regulations across Africa. The private sector also needs to implement existing codes of conduct in order to improve the business environment on the continent.