Corruption is the bane of our society. It is the cancer that almost seems like we have no cure for.
This week we received the much touted transition report which listed the alleged corrupt practices of former president Ernest Koroma’s government. It was a damning report which clearly illustrated the callous and contemptible manner with which those entrusted to manage our country’s affairs treated our trust in them.
Some of the more glaring allegations included:
· John Sesay and Ernest Koroma colluding to defraud the people of Sierra Leone by first purchasing the 30% government shares of Sierra Rutile through an offshore company that they are purported to have owned for a paltry $12.3M (USD) and they then turning around to sell those same shares for a mind numbing profit of $113M (USD)!
· Loans taken by government officials from the government owned SL Commercial bank and the Rokel bank (a 51% government owned bank) with most of the loans being defaulted and the banks having to write-off those loans “Bad Debt”.
· The infamous Logus Koroma’s daring purchase of 100 derelict buses from China for $12M (USD) when that same amount of money could have purchased 200 brand new buses.
· Customs officers defrauding our government by undervaluing imports and exports or completely waiving duties on imports by declaring them as “non-taxable water” or “non-taxable commodities”.
· The sharp rise of our external and domestic debt and the illegal sale of government homes by a former Works minister.
The report goes on and on; but, I won’t bother you with those details now.
As a patriot my concern is how flagrant corruption has become in our country; how loosely Sierra Leonean citizens consider working in government to be a shortcut to personal wealth. It behoves me to think that Sierra Leoneans do not stop to think about the devastating effects of corruption on the future of our children and the future of our country as a whole.
Let’s take a look at the effects of corruption on our country, but before I do, it’s best to first understand the definition of corruption.
Political corruption is the abuse of power by government leaders to extract and accumulate public owned wealth for private enrichment, and to also use politically corrupt means to maintain their hold on power. Corruption takes place at the highest levels of our political system.
There are two forms of corruption:
The first one includes both accumulation and extraction and is where government officials use and abuse their hold on power to extract financial gain from the private sector, from government revenues, and from the economy at large. This includes, extraction, embezzlement, rent-seeking, plunder and even kleptocracy (“rule by thieves”).
The second form includes the extraction of public funds (public money) for power preservation and power extension purposes. This usually takes the form of favoritism and patronage politics including politically motivated distribution of financial and material inducements, benefits, advantages, and spoils.
So, what are the effects of corruption on our society? How does it affect the average citizen or average household? How does it affect our collective future?
I personally believe that corruption is not only illegal, unethical and bad behaviour, but it is also unreligious, unprofessional, unpatriotic and inhumane. It involves soliciting for bribes, kickbacks or acting deliberately to delay service delivery in order for the recipient of the service to do something or offer gifts or kola to speed up the process. In some cases, involving women, it may end up where sexual favors are sought in order to award contracts or obtain a job or get promoted or obtain a high exam mark. The culture of acceptance of corruption in Sierra Leonean society has made almost every citizen more prone to corrupt activities.
The fundamental factors that engender corrupt practices in Sierra Leone include: a huge inequality in the distribution of wealth; political office representing the primary means of gaining wealth; the weakness of social and governmental enforcement mechanisms; and, the absence of a strong sense of national community. The lack of ethical standards throughout our various government ministries, parastatals and business organizations is also a serious drawback. The issue of ethics in public sector and in private life encompasses a broad range, including a stress on obedience to authority, on the necessity of logic in moral reasoning, and on the necessity of putting moral judgment into practice.
Other factors that motivate corruption in our country include a poor reward system, greed, peer pressure and extended family pressures including the need two sustain a polygamous household. The influence of extended family system and pressure to meet family obligations are more in less developed societies.
Our political regimes have become patronage machines in which political power is sought by “big men” for the sole purpose of acquiring resources—resources that are funneled either back to the networks of supporters who helped a particular leader come to power or else into the proverbial Swiss bank account. There is no concept of public good; politics has devolved instead into a zero-sum struggle to appropriate the state and whatever assets it can control.
All of our country’s problems derive from this destructive dynamic. Natural resources, whether diamonds or bauxite or timber, have quickly turned into a curse, because they greatly raise the stakes of the political struggle. Ethnicity and tribe, social constructs of often dubious historical provenance, have been exploited by political leaders in their quests for power. The advent of democracy has not changed the aims of politics but simply shifted the method of struggle. Only thus can we explain a phenomenon like ours, wherein successive governments have taken in billions in revenue for precious minerals over a generation and yet seen declining per capita income during that same period.
Corruption in Sierra Leone, especially over the previous 11 years has reached “cancerous” proportions and is having a negative impact on the country’s development process.
If we allow corruption to continue unimpeded, Sierra Leone will eventually fall towards the bottom of the world index wherein we will fail to attract direct foreign investment especially if the rising negative perception of corruption continues. Many of the people that we’ve entrusted with positions of responsibility within our government involve themselves in all manner of corrupt practices and expropriate the country’s limited wealth to themselves and to their cronies. This then forces those within the private sector to engage in rent-seeking activities rather than focus on competitive activities that could help to foster competition within our commercial markets and to also maximize profits. All of this culminates in a society engulfed in political patrimony, a perverse system that awards economic and political benefits to politicians and their followers.
Corruption affects the vulnerable disproportionately, due to their powerlessness to change the status quo and inability to pay bribes thereby creating inequalities that only end up violating their human rights. Corruption is hindering Sierra Leone’s economic development by redirecting funds for social services (health care, education, etc.), infrastructure and power generation into the pockets of unscrupulous politicians and other government officials.
In the GTT report, the Chief Minister recommended to the president that the suspicious cases of illegal transactions within our government should be reviewed through a commission of inquiry. This is good news for Sierra Leonean citizens who have been crying out for justice on these matters; however, if the government’s effort to curb corruption is to be taken seriously, there are three outcomes that need to be achieved:
· First, the investigations need to be thorough and the people brought to task have to be individuals who were at the most senior level of president Koroma’s government. If the commission of inquiry was to focus their investigations on low or mid-level public officials while ignoring the more senior officials who committed the more egregious crimes, the entire process would be an exercise in futility as Sierra Leoneans will quickly see through the façade. If the former president himself is found to have been involved in corrupt activities while he was leader, he should definitely be tried and charged if found guilty.
· Second, it is important for the president to note that our citizens are not asking for a name and shame commission. The government has to show serious effort on their part to tackle corruption by ensuring that those found guilty of misappropriating government funds are imprisoned for very long sentences.
· Third, after been found guilty, our government must go after these culprits to recover the swindled loot. I’ve had discussions with a top notch team in Europe whose job it is to investigate, recover and return the loot of these corrupt government officials. They have the connections, the technology and the means to do it within an amicable timeframe. Our government should use one of these crack teams to recover those much needed funds.
The lack of ethical standards in our society is a serious drawback. Ethical standards provide us with a broad range of standards, including a stress on obedience to authority, on the necessity of logic in moral reasoning, and on the necessity of putting moral judgment into practice.
· One of the first steps to ending corruption in our country is to setup an Office of Government Ethics. This office would establish the rules and standards by which public officials, including our parliamentarians, would have to adhere to. The office would be responsible for:
Ø Establishing thresholds on gifts and payments
Ø Daily conduct of government employees
Ø The use of government positions and resources
Ø Rules on financial conflicts of interest
Ø Post-government standards for all retired and former public officials
· The government should also establish a whistleblower program that would protect and compensate public officials who report corrupt activities. This program should compensate the whistleblowers up to 10% for all cases where looted money is recovered.
· The Anti-Corruption Commission in Sierra Leone should be truly independent. My suggestion is that the ACC Commissioner should be a 3-year elected position with elections conducted at a national level. Neither the president nor parliament should have the right to hire or fire the ACC Commissioner. The ACC Commissioner should also have full control over all hiring and firing of their staff.
· The government must intensify national sensitization campaigns to educate and enlighten Sierra Leoneans about the ill effects of corruption and encourage citizens to report any corrupt activities that they encounter.
· Improve salaries and service conditions of public servants such as civil servants, teachers, police, medical staff, army and local government workers.
· Decentralize most of the governmental services for development to trickle down to the grassroots because effective development is bottom-up and not top-down.
· The government must strengthen the auditor-general and accountant general’s staff by training more professional accountants and giving them their independence.
· Monitor closely the lifestyles of public servants and bank employees, using an effective monitoring scheme with access to banking institutions and surveillance powers.
· All public servants to declare their assets before and after leaving office. The important point here is that the details of their declared assets should be made public.
· Establish an ethics curriculum in all schools and colleges.
· Set up Ethics Committees, who will work closely with the office of Government Ethics, in all ministries and ask all ministries to publicize their social charters and ethical codes of conduct. These committees should serve as watchdogs and vigilantes or whistle-blowers.
· Enforce corporate governance in all public and private institutions by implementing the examples of the UK’s Combined Code or the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002, the Singapore Code, Australian Code or the King’s Code of South Africa.
· Strengthen and reform the law on corruption and pass parliamentary legislation for stiffer penalties for culprits.
· Encourage public servants to go for refresher courses organised by the Office of Government Ethics.
· Encourage Journalists to intensify investigative journalism to expose scams and scandals.
Corruption, my people, affects us all. It threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice; it destabilizes our society and endangers the rule of law. It undermines the institutions and values of our democracy.
Public money is for government services and projects. Taxes collected, bonds issued, income from government loans and other means of financing government expenditure are meant for social grants, education, hospitals, roads, power supply and water and to ensure the personal security of our citizens. Corruption and bad management practices eat into our nation’s wealth, channeling money away from such projects and the very people most dependent on government for support.
From the cumulative force of the above points, it is clear that corruption has a strong potential to steal the wealth of our nation and impoverish our people for generations. The more corrupt a country is the lower its economic growth rate.
We must never forget the ill-effects of corruption and we must always remain vigilant to eradicate it from our society.