CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE: BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM
We once more acknowledge the concern of visitors who have pleaded with Focus on Sierra Leone to try even harder than before to bring to light as many of the shameful and embarrassing cases of corruption in Sierra Leone. One person, in particular, recently commented in an email to us to say:
"The fact is that as long as we have a culture of theft and dishonesty, which is ever present at the very top of government, it will always be complemented with a culture of violence. This is simply because if you take what is mine then you leave me with no other choice but to fight you and take back what rightly belongs to me. The civil war and the lack of high standards in public life in Sierra Leone are together the consequences of the thievery, dishonesty and abuse of power that have been rampant and unchecked for so many years, among Sierra Leone's politicians and civil servants."
Those who care very much about this issue have our assurances that Focus will not relent in its crusade against corruption.
But first, credit needs to be given when it is due. We cannot proceed without acknowledging the good work that the previously moribund but now irrepressibly active Anti Corruption Commission has been doing lately. In their most recent operation they netted some big fraudsters' syndicate at the Immigration Department. Speculation is rife that they will soon confront more massive scams at the Accountant General's Department. This is welcome news, though it is still too little too late in the day. Let's hope they remain steadfast in pursuit of these rogues.
There is one way to look at the problem of corruption in Sierra Leone; namely, as the number two challenge facing the country, only next to the war to which it is indirectly linked. If you consider the matter seriously, it is plain to see that corruption exists, as the discerning writer above put it, at the very apex of government. Therefore, even though it also occurs at the lower levels of public life, the place to tackle it at is at source - at the very top. This shifts the ultimate responsibly for addressing corruption from you, the ordinary person, to those - i.e. international donors - who are powerful and are dictating the course of events in the country. They are the paymasters. They control the purse strings. It is the resources that they have provided out of concern for the plight of our country and citizens, which are being misused by the mindless cheats whom the State places between these donors and us the intended beneficiaries.
In practice, development aid in nearly all cases does not get to the masses except through the agency and representation of those in government. Thus ordinary people can expose, name and condemn these offenders but only the providers of these resources can take effective action to stop their activities. It is the donor countries' historic lack of aggressive supervisory control over the grant, allocation, disbursement and application of these funds that is failing a country like Sierra Leone. When did donors - in this case the British government – last publicly put our government on enquiry for the rampant corruption in government? They somehow naively expect these people to police themselves. But how can you set a thief to catch a thief?
Do not get us wrong. Efforts like that by the Anti Corruption Commission help a great deal towards giving some reassurance that this cancer can be dealt with, provided that there is a political will for the commission to do its job without political interference. But even they will admit that they are only gnawing at the problem. The big fish will remain untouched. That is because they are in the seats of power and have no desire to disrupt their lifestyles.
As far as Focus is concerned therefore, if we are to succeed even with our moderate agenda to help in exposing fraud wherever it happens, then we shall need the input of every concerned Sierra Leonean. We must look out for these people, when they visit for example the UK. We must shadow them, and their relatives and friends whom they sometimes empower to carry out these activities on their behalf; we must watch their movements at the airports in Freetown when they are boarding and note their travel patterns; when they arrive we must follow them to their favourite haunts like (in London) Hatton Garden City, Petty Coat Lane, and the diamond merchant arcades in Antwerp. Information is vital to track down and exterminate these vermin from the machinery of government. Initially it will be difficult, which is why we must start from the very top and start naming and shaming those visible embodiments of the State who, by their disgraceful and heartless behaviour, are heaping so much poverty, deprivation and embarrassment upon the mass of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
On our part, any information that comes our way which we believe can be of assistance will be passed on to the relevant authorities here in the UK and anywhere else abroad.
If by this time there are still those like the numb head who angrily wrote to insult this editor for presenting "merely anecdotal evidence against these people who are only human and doing their best for the country", we can confidently remind them that there are honest and humane Sierra Leoneans who would be quite happy to work for their country without falling for the vice of corruption, greed and self aggrandisement.
In response to this uninformed irate writer we wrote recently with this bit of information, which we would like to also bring to the attention of readers. We wrote then to say:
"For your information, at their meeting held on 21-23 September, 1999 the Commonwealth Finance Ministers, commenting on the Framework for Commonwealth Principles on Promoting Good Governance and Combating Corruption, observed that:
"Good governance is not a luxury but a basic requirement for development. Corruption, which undermines development, is generally an outcome and a symptom of poor governance. It has reached global proportions and needs to be attacked directly and explicitly… The Commonwealth should firmly commit itself to the policy of "zero tolerance" of all types of corruption. This policy must permeate national political cultures, governance, legal systems and administration.
Where corruption is ingrained and pervasive, especially at the highest political levels, its eradication may require a sustained effort over a protracted period of time. However, the policy of "zero tolerance" should be adopted from the outset, demonstrating a serious commitment to pursue the fight against corruption. The Commonwealth should remain firm in its determination that the high standards and goals enunciated in the 1991 Harare Declaration are upheld and enhanced. Creating an environment, which is corruption free will require vigorous action at the national and international levels, and within the Commonwealth itself. These actions should encompass the prevention of corruption, the enforcement of laws against it and the mobilisation of public support for anti-corruption strategies."
These are not the words of Focus on Sierra Leone but of those who know most about these matters. We are merely the messengers. So please don't shoot us!"
Needless to say he has not written back since.
Focus on Sierra Leone is not the first and only medium to recognise the incidence and wicked effects of corruption, and the mindsets in governments who perpetrate it. Other people and media have, but to their eternal frustration nothing worthwhile has been done to address it.
One sometimes wonders whether the Commonwealth Organisation has itself eaten its own words. There is little visible proof that they have taken our frequent charge of endemic corruption in Sierra Leone seriously. At the moment, a senior partner in the Commonwealth i.e. Britain is running the show in our country. You would therefore expect for this matter to be dealt with robustly at root source, meaning at the very top. But, No! They have a seemingly very cosy relationship with the authorities in Sierra Leone, dripping praise on the leader and defiantly saying they will make sure he stays at the helm. The corruption continues with unabated aggression against the vital interest and survival of the Sierra Leone nation. Can the present high profile injection of British cash into Sierra Leone be said to have been predicated on the policy of "zero tolerance" which the Commonwealth’s own declaration says "should be adopted from the outset, demonstrating a serious commitment to pursue the fight against corruption"? And still they keep throwing more money at these scoundrels. It is nothing short of scandalous.
On the other hand it may well be that Sierra Leone government officials themselves are not, or have not been made, aware of the existence of the above declaration. If so, then it is presented here for their benefit also.
We have however not failed to observe that President Tejan Kabbah has a habit of appointing some of the most disreputable and corrupt people on the Sierra Leone political stage, into high political office. He gets away with these appointments, despite the charade of a so-called parliamentary appointments commission, which, on paper, examines and ratifies his nominations. What has this Commission ever done when someone they have cleared as fit to do the job in fact ends up cheating the nation, or was in fact already a known rogue? Has it ever had cause to reconsider or revisit its decisions, or to revise its procedures for ascertaining the probity of these candidates for high office?
Nothing is more ridiculous than this practice of, for example, Kabbah sacking a minister ostensibly because of "lengthy dossiers in [Kabbah’s] possession on their corrupt activities" as one source recently claimed, only then to send them away as ambassadors or high commissioners to Sierra Leone's topmost diplomatic representations abroad, where they continue with their nefarious activities. This signifies to us how seriously Kabbah takes his job and the issue of corruption. It shows nothing but contempt for the intelligence of Sierra Leoneans. Would any sensitive leader knowingly export the most disreputable rejects in his Cabinet and present them to the outside world as the public image of their country and as representing the national interest? It leaves one to wonder what kind of leadership Kabbah is giving to this nation.
But, as the biblical refrain goes, "by their fruits ye shall know them". Maybe this President is telling us something about himself ...and his friends. Think about it!