CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE 
(Part 2)
THE COMMENTARY on corruption published early this week highlighted some of the events that have been at the centre of the current cycle of revelations about corrupt tendencies under this and previous governments of Sierra Leone. 

There is evidence that many more incidents of this kind are in the pipeline. The danger of course is that they will become so rampant and numerous that they cease to shock the population which may then be tempted to accept them with resigned apathy.

There are, for example, fresh revelations that quite aside from the corruption that is taking place under the nose of central government, local government too appears to be equally enmeshed in, and infected with, the same virus and, apparently, in equally virulent form. Reports say that a Le 200 million scam of fraudulent practices, some going back for many years, by unscrupulous council members and Town Hall officials, has been unearthed at the Freetown City Council. 

One understands that some effort is being made to get this one investigated. The CID has been taking statements and their enquiries have already led to the suspension of some senior council members. One hopes that this will not be yet another of the many investigations that have ended by being strangled at birth.

But who will investigate the investigators?
The history of commissions of inquiry and police investigations of corruption cases has itself, paradoxically, been replete with corruption. In some instances witnesses are bribed to say nothing or to lie through their teeth. In others, the investigators have themselves compromised their positions by accepting bribes or 'back handers' to either be lenient or not give an unfavourable verdict against a particular person or group of people. It leaves one to ponder who would then investigate the investigators and commissioners?

Even in those cases where a final report has been made and endorsed by Government, or Parliament as the case may be, and appropriate sanctions have been recommended, the officials in question would by then have, not surprisingly, stretched their tentacles far enough into the system as to render the reports ineffectual and inapplicable to themselves. 

Often these culprits use the very same misappropriated resources, the subject of the original investigation, to bribe the implementers, i.e. government and police officials, to literally "kill" the report or dilute its application to a degree far below the gravity of the sanctions to which they would otherwise be subjected. Predictably, even in the rare case where the imposed fine has been paid it has never found its way into the Treasury because it has ended up in somebody's pocket.

All of this reinforces the fact that the entire system is rotten at the core. Thus the Sierra Leone Public views police investigations and commissions of enquiry with disarming cynicism. Their experience of previous commissions has taught them to believe that only direct action from and at the very top will make any significant difference!

The fact that these incidents are now coming to light is some encouragement but will in no way let the Government or President Kabbah off the hook. That these fraudulent practices have been allowed to go on unchallenged all these years  - in the case of the present government, the last three years whether or not you count the brief interregnum of the AFRC  - is a stigma on their tapestry of failure to offer transparency of government, and accountability, to the people of Sierra Leone.

Serious dangers ahead for the Government
The ironic truth is that there is a huge army of good, honest, very serious and dedicated public officials in Sierra Leone. The idea that everybody in the country is corrupt is not a view that one holds or has ever encouraged. But the scale of the corruption carried out by an equally large number of public officials at the heart of both central and local government, as well as among those who are engaged in the country's stunted industrial sector, overwhelms any attempt to hold these good people in defence of the system.

If the Government of Sierra Leone were serious about eradicating corruption at source it is these good people that it should try to identify, encourage and entrust with decision making. On the contrary, the government continues to treat renegade and recidivistic officials as if they are indispensable to the governance of the country. 

These rogues in turn have somehow got it into their arrogant heads that their departments, and the government itself, cannot function without them. The less-than-resolute attitude adopted by this and previous governments has only served as encouragement to them to continue milking the country's resources without inhibition or fear of reprimand. 

But the present government will ignore this state of affairs at their peril! 

They must not forget that, unlike their predecessors, they have an uphill task, what with having to deal with new additional factors like post war reconstruction; economic stagnation; a dispossessed and disaffected population; hundreds of thousands of abjectly poor and homeless citizens; thousands of psychologically traumatised people, many of them physically impaired and needing to be looked after for the rest of their lives; a huge army of refugees waiting to return home; an army of bellicose youths whose energy and resourcefulness (and childhood) have been misspent. To crown it all we do not have an economy or an  infrastructure to sustain it. Seen from this perspective, corruption ought really to be treated as public enemy number one!

The pandemic nature of corruption and the role that international bodies can play
What one is writing about here is the incidence of corruption as one sees it in Sierra Leone. But of course our situation and experiences are not at all unique. Similar accounts can be read about corruption in other countries especially in Africa.

In fact, the problem of corruption was raised by a number of participants during a Policy Forum discussion in Maastricht (Holland), in November 1995. The meeting was attended by, among others, several African Heads of State as well as by cabinet ministers from African countries, their development co-operation partners from Europe and North America, and representatives of their respective civil societies. They agreed unanimously that corruption was a serious threat to the development of African countries and that urgent action should be taken to address it. 

The rest of this commentary is inspired by the published accounts of their deliberation. Four major themes can be developed from them which are relevant and applicable to our situation in Sierra Leone. 

  • First, our civil war and its ramifications aside, we will need international action to buttress any domestic policies we shall adopt at home to combat dishonesty in public life. So, for example, when ministers steal money they cannot easily deposit it overseas. At present, much of the money gained as a result of these corrupt practices is kept safely locked away outside the country.
  • Second, some of the corrupt practices that have yet to be uncovered, and some of those we have referred to, have been committed with the active connivance of foreign officials. That is because in some, including several developed, countries bribery of foreign officials by companies is not seen as illegal and the proceeds are sometimes even treated as tax-deductible! Practices like these need to be outlawed or discouraged.
  • Third, international procurement is another prolific area where action is desperately needed. This occurs when local officials agree with suppliers for the price of goods (and services) to be inflated over and above the true cost. The difference is then scooped by an individual or shared with the supplier. In this respect, international procurement in donor-financed projects and contracts has been identified as the first target for action. Who knows, maybe the alleged case of corruption involving the minister of agriculture could have been prevented. International business transactions have long been recognised as fertile ground for corruption.
  • Fourth, it is puzzling that the World Bank and other international financing agencies have not routinely insisted, as a term of their loans and grants, on the inclusion of anti corruption, and if need be extraneous monitoring, clauses in contracts that they finance or grants that they have made. Beggars cannot be choosers, so the argument that the (begging) country's 'independence' (what?) and sovereignty (oh, yeah!) will be compromised are completely irrelevant. If say our government needs the money, it must be prepared to play by the rules of transparency imposed by donors.
Home-grown supportive measures that we, too, can take
On the part of our government, there are supportive measures, that they can take to thwart future attempts to fleece the Sierra Leone public. In addition to the direct action that was advised in part one of this article, in which we challenged the President to take direct action in some of the glaring cases, the following could conceivably form part of our armoury in the offensive against corrupt officialdom:
  • revision of national investment and procurement codes and legislation;
  • development of monitoring procedures;
  • strengthening of regulatory provisions;  and,
  • increasing sanctions for those found engaging in corrupt practices.
For all one knows, these measures may well be in place already but, as pointed out before, unless there is a strong political will and commitment to apply them to the letter, they will forever remain like paper tigers, unable to bite or hurt.

The consequences of unchecked corruption
One has committed this degree of attention to corruption, and will not let up, because there has been a significant increase in the incidence of corruption at the highest levels of government in recent times. The litany of high level corruption cases highlighted in the previous article and herein are, in part, due to an increasing awareness of the costs of corruption and, in part, due to the enormity of the impact that defrauding the country of even a few dollars can have on the lives of so many people. 

The fact of the matter is ordinary people, especially the poor, are the primary victims of corruption. How? Simply that corruption affects development profoundly. Because a country like Sierra Leone cannot bear its costs unlike, say, a developed country that has the capacity to withstand its effects, it is held hostage to fortune. Corruption affects our country's development by either preventing it or by slowing it down, thus drastically reducing the ability and the capacity of our government to reduce poverty.

By not tackling corruption at source  - in our case at the highest levels of government  - and by allowing it to become entrenched in the system as now, we are laying ourselves open to several dangers (again recognised at the November 1995 Maastricht meeting), such as:

  • encouraging the belief, among the citizens of the country, that it is the norm. This fact was evident under Siaka Stevens and later under Momoh when people openly claimed that "Oosigh you tie cow nar day ee go eat grass" (Translated "A cow will graze in the field in which it is enclosed".)
  • undermining social values because people find it easier and more lucrative to engage in corruption than to seek legitimate employment. In other words, unchecked corruption will breed a generation of idlers and layabouts; Sierra Leoneans need to make corruption a high risk occupation to be met with social disapproval, moral censure and rigorous legal prosecution. Both those who corrupt and those who are corrupted have to be punished severely, shamed in public if need be, to serve as an example to the rest.
  • eroding governmental legitimacy because it hampers the effective delivery of public goods and services. President Kabbah will agree that it is extremely frustrating for him that he cannot deliver his development plans to his electorate simply because of the malevolence of some of his officials.
  • limiting development (as already mentioned above) and economic growth because it:

  •  
    • reduces the amount of resources that are available for the public; thus leaving the rest of us to squabble, exploding into civil war, among ourselves over the residue!
    • drives away honest, foreign as well as local, private investors;
    • discourages people from saving, because they are not confident that they will get their monies back when they need it; and,
    • impedes the efficient use of government revenue and development assistance funds.
Need for anti-corruption agency
Finally it is imperative that at the highest national level, our government establishes a special anti-corruption agency. Oh, y.....es! But one can hear a distant cynical chuckle by someone that "Well, it has been tried before".  Oh, no! Certainly not the sort that one is thinking about. What has happened before is that the previous agencies that were set up were not vested  with sufficient independence, authority and resources to function efficiently? They were instead still subjected to interference by their creators the Government. 

Thus, for even this putative "sufficiently independent, authoritative and well researched" agency to succeed, organisations of civil society, the press and the business sector all have a crucial role to play. 

It is clear, at least from even from this long distance, knowing the anger and revulsion of many poor and hard pressed people in the country following the recent spate of revelations of massive corruption, that Public opinion will support such an agency if it created.

But will the political masters deliver it to them, I wonder? 

PostScript
If I may just take this liberty to digress and say that the advantage of being a long time political campaigner, as I have been, is that you get to know either personally or through their reputation virtually many, though by no means all, of the key players across the political spectrum of the country at any given time. It makes no difference therefore that one has not lived in the country for sometime. Perhaps that's one reason why one is able to look at these events with objectivity and, hopefully, without any self-interest. I, for one, feel no obligation either to the corrupt system in operation or the individuals who operate it. I bet there are thousands of my compatriots in a similar position and state of mind.

So when in this day and age I still hear names like S B Marrah, Maigore Kallon, Tarasid Tarawalie, A H Kabbiah, Teacher Lagawo, Samma Banya and others being mentioned, I feel as if time has not moved in Sierra Leone since when I was in sixth form at the St Edward's Secondary School in Freetown. These people have been around for the last 40 years and still feel they can do now those things that they failed to do for the country when they were young and energetic.

Having digressed so far, I cannot resist going a little further to say that during my own twenty-something years as an unsolicited and uncompromising watchdog of Sierra Leone Governments of every hue - all of them rotten to the core without exception - I have known or come into contact with many of these players. Of those who belong to my own age group and generation I knew many as ordinary students out here, sharing with some of them the membership of an array of organisations that we formed (it was hoped) for the future advancement of honest democratic governance in our country. But as soon they reached the shores of Sierra Leone and were given political or parastal office, they jettisoned their principles and became corrupt like their predecessors; many of them have been, and are still, in government and the civil service. Others I have known simply by their reputation for corruption. 

I have spent most of these years writing and exposing corruption in its various forms and by a variety of individuals notably during the presidency of the late Siaka Stevens, ex President Momoh, the NPRC and now President Kabbah. The sole exception has been the AFRC which did not have the luxury of time and space to develop or engage in any systemic corrupt practices as they had a war (of their own creation) on their minds, and hands, to fight from the moment they seized power. 

That corruption has approached the level of being systemic is due in no small measure to the policies of the late President Siaka Stevens and the APC who glorified it to the point of making it a way of life for self advancement. Needless to say, Stevens personally, and his APC administration collectively, are responsible for all the troubles that Sierra Leone has reaped ever since his demise and his Party's loss of power.

The famous Justice Cole Commission Report is a timely reminder about the extent of the corrupt tendency in Government since independence in April 1961. Time permitting, I will be reviewing this and reports of other commissions of enquiry into corrput practices by officials in Sierra Leone over the years since that time.

The country needs to turn over a new leaf. I am determined to continue arguing for this for as long as is necessary.

Ambrose Ganda
Editor