Why are Ministers and public officials in Sierra Leone averse to disclosure of assets to the public they serve? What have they got to hide?
It is a cause for wonderment that they manage to get away with it without as much as a murmur, either from the local press or from those members of civil society who know that they should. Yet nearly every citizen today complains about the naked corruption of officialdom.
On many occasions, in discussing corruption in government and the body politic of Sierra Leone, one has argued for disclosure of assets by ministers and senior civil servants. We have proposed this most recently as a realistic way of beginning to curb the incidence of corruption, by which we mean the diversion of public money and resources to one's own personal/ private use and benefit. Many high office holders in the country do not yet seem able to see a difference between their own personal resources (if they have any at all!) and those of the State that they have been appointed to serve.
The best time when that should be done is, for example, when ushering in a new dispensation such as at the moment when new ministers were being appointed. President Kabbah had ample time and notice to initiate and encourage this new process for the sake of injecting a modicum of financial probity, transparency and personal accountability in public life. He would also have set standards for government housekeeping. He did not. But why, oh why?
The point must nonetheless continue to be pressed on him. It is not late for that to happen. We again call on him to invite all of his recent cabinet appointees (and re-appointees), and top civil servants, to declare what assets they have brought with them into office.
And, it must not stop there.
The corollary expectation is that whenever they leave office they will tell us what they are taking with them, with allowance made for emoluments and salaries that they would have earned during their tenure.
This means that the Government must publish a list of all such salaried ministers, senior civil servants and heads of parastatals. Then the public can at least begin to appreciate where, if at all, any blame lies for the scandalous pilfering of public money that has become a way of life for a large number of these officials, which in turn has regularly led to huge deficits in our national accounts.
In this respect, one has not been convinced by the selective prosecution for corruption, of the former minister of agriculture, Dr Harry Will. The evidence so far is steadily pointing to a witch hunt against him, which was most probably politically inspired. His trial has failed to convince the public that the government is even handed, or that it did not have a hand in the decision to prosecute him. How did some ministers in the present government come by the resources they now control? It was certainly not through their diligence or by putting in a fair day's work. Why are they also not in the dock?
Disclosure of assets is one possible way that can help us monitor and identify those who keep on fleecing the country at will. That's probably why our governments are never keen on the idea. But we must continue to press them for it.
Let President Kabbah, Jonah, Sankoh, Lamin, Koroma (Johnny Paul), Adams, the two (or is it three?) Spencers, Wurie, Khadi Sesay, Gbujamah, Berewa, Koroma (Momodu), Harding (Mr SLPP) and all the other ministers and deputy ministers make a start. Then the rest, including seconded and externally recruited civil servants will follow.