CAMPAIGN FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE (CGG) UNDER FIRE
WE PRESENT below the text of a letter sent to us by a writer (who for obvious reasons has asked for their identity to be withheld for the time being). The letter was originally addressed to Transparency International (TI) in Sierra Leone. A copy was emailed to us on Friday, January 21.

We have taken the decision to publish the letter as a matter of supreme public interest. It raises an issue which concerns us at Focus on Sierra Leone in so far as our agenda principally includes the fight against official corruption and our crusade for probity, accountability and transparency in government, public bodies including parastatals, and the individuals who are charged with their operations.

Our comment follows later but first, here follows the complainant's letter sent to TI:
 

"Dear TI

I write to you with concern to register my dissatisfaction with TI’s representative in Sierra Leone.

I have over time come to have a lot of respect and admiration for TI and the work it is doing to promote Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance. To this end I decided to try and join the National Chapter of TI in Sierra Leone, The Campaign for Good Governance (CGG)

I visited the offices of CGG and indicated my interest in the organisation. However, due to the high political profile of the chairperson (Mrs Zainab Bangura), I sought to establish that the organisation was truly independent of government and had no financial links with government.

I was informed that the organisation had received funding from “International Sources”. Thus satisfied I asked how the money had been applied. I was vaguely told that such information was unavailable. I then protested that given the nature of the organisation and its public profile such information should be available.

Subsequently I then sought to obtain a copy of CGG’s financial records from the appropriate public records. To my shock and horror, there is no evidence of CGG having filed accounts over the last two to three years.

Given the mandate of CGG and its affiliation with an august body such as TI, it is unacceptable that proponents of transparency and accountability should be failing so badly in their own house keeping. How in heavens name will government officials and the public at large take CGG seriously in the face of such major discrepancy?

I urge you to investigate this matter fully and urgently for the good name of TI and in support of accountability and good governance.

I remain yours"

Commentary

PHYSICIAN, GO AND HEAL YOURSELF

AS THIS letter was originally addressed to TI, we expect that it has already taken the necessary steps to reply to the writer as well as address the issues that have been raised in it. If it has not done so by now, we insist that it does so and quickly. 

Our insistence should be understood simply from the position that TI is itself an organisation that preaches and stands for accountability in government, industry and society at large. It has no choice therefore but to respond, by virtue of the inherent nature of its functions, to the question raised in this letter.

By similar token, we hope that the writer would eventually let us have sight of TI's response as well as an account of any (including remedial) action that is taken, so that we can inform visitors and the public at large.

In the meantime, The Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) is invited to post any comment it may wish in response to the letter, or to our own expressed concern over the issues raised. It is only fair that its side of the matter is given the hearing that it deserves. We would therefore encourage the CGG to take the offer to respond when they can, unless they wish to ape the present Sierra Leone Government which continues to this day to ignore the serious questions about transparency and accountability that we have raised on this site and in our newsletter.

As we stated at the beginning, Focus' interest in this present affair is not a coincidence. It goes to the heart of the issue of democratic governance. We firmly hold that accountability should not only be preached in glossy booklets and by very well resourced so-called NGOs, but also be practised by those who have themselves been entrusted with the promotion of the ideal itself. To quote from the letter above "it is unacceptable that proponents of transparency and accountability should be failing so badly in their own house keeping".

It is not the first time that the CGG has been accused of being a political tool of the present government. This is partly, possibly largely, due – and here we entirely agree with the writer of this letter - to the high political profile of its Chair, who clearly has political ambitions. But that fact alone does not – and for our part we are by no means arguing or suggesting that it should – disqualify this or any other person from holding the position that they hold in CGG. However, it does mean that being the head of an important organisation like this, which goes around advertising itself as a watch dog or promotional agency for rectitude in the conduct of public affairs, their running of the CGG's affairs should be exemplary at all times and strictly beyond cavil.

Of course in the special circumstances of Sierra Leone, bearing in mind the state of uncertainty and chaos obtaining during the period to which the letter relates – e.g. the writer talks about the "last two or three years"  - there might be a reason why records may have been hard to keep. What with all the disruption of government, and of public life generally, etc., not forgetting the rebel invasion and the resulting mayhem left in its aftermath, with several offices destroyed!

But despite all of that, and for those very reasons, we beg to argue that it is in the nature of the CGG's existence that it, more than any other organisation, should be required to be even more diligent and alert at times like that, so as to ensure that at least minimum standards of probity are in place.

Assuming, say, its computers, typewriters and records (and premises) were destroyed, courtesy and probity both require at least that we, the Public, to whom it is accountable -otherwise it has no raison d'être - are told in this special instance:

  • how much, if any, money was received during the period in question;
  • possibly from whom; and,
  •  how much, if any, was spent (not necessarily down to the last penny) – but in general terms. 
People will understand the absence of a detailed breakdown in such circumstances. But if accountability should mean what it says, then it requires the CGG to put up a statement containing this basic information. It does not need an accountant for that purpose.

This point is made with the hindsight of previous experiences. Casting one's mind back, we have witnessed in Sierra Leone the burning down of public buildings simply because rogue officials wished to cover their tracks by destroying the evidence. The Law Courts suffered a fate like that some years ago. We are also told that the Treasury was burnt down on the orders of men and women who were already arraigned before the courts for corruption and wished to destroy the evidence of their misappropriations; then again it was alleged that rebels burnt parts of the Bank of Sierra Leone after removing the money from the vaults. Nearly every act of corruption that risked exposure has taken advantage of the prevailing state of lawlessness in the country to avoid detection, prosecution and accountability. The CGG should be seen to be above all such speculation. Reticence over questions of accountability will do great harm to its standing.

The ball is thus firmly back in the court of TI and its Sierra Leone Chapter – the Campaign for Good Governance. Charity, or rather accountability, starts at home! In the time-honoured biblical refrain, we say:  Physician, heal yourself!
 

Please send us your reactions, which we shall happily share with the complainant and, as courtesy demands, the other parties, namely TI and the CGG.

This page has been emailed to TI itself. For those who wish to take this or any other matter with them, this is where you can reach them: ti@transparencyintl.demon.co.uk