Ordinary citizens who will bear the greatest brunt of this new Agenda (Agenda for Austerity) have been unforgiving and continue to use social media to express the shocking betrayal of a government which was meant to deliver prosperity to their door-steps. Even well-known APC members and others who are not members but voted for APC in previous elections have been vociferous through audio messages and articles about their regrets, the intolerable hardship and a government on free-fall.
The most detailed and constructive criticism of the austerity measures came from the SLPP which described the Government’s measures as charade and presented a catalogue of reasons of how the Government wrecked the economy – massive public spending on high cost vehicles, huge presidential entourages overseas, repayment of dubious and unverified arrears to friendly contractors, poorly planned road projects with minimal economic benefits etc.
As a constructive opposition party, the SLPP also launched another scathing attack on the government in a Press Conference past Friday about procurement activities in public sector, sale of government quarters and removal of subsidy on petroleum products. It is the reinvigoration of a great political party which has always stood by ordinary people.
Just as the austerity measures bite, the recent World Justice Project Index Report which ranks Sierra Leone in the bottom 13 out of 113 countries on corruption also demonstrates why citizens’ faiths in government have eroded. From the WJP Index Report, the Corruption Factor considers three forms of corruption in the country: bribery, improper influence by public and private interests and misappropriation of public funds or other resources by government officials.
But the appalling ranking by WJP Index Report would not have come as a surprise because year after year reports by the Audit Service have catalogued the widespread fraud and corruption in various government ministries and institutions leading to the loss of billions of leones and millions of dollars.
Therefore, in the coming months leading to the national elections tackling corruption and theft especially in public sector, building a sustainable economy not ravaged by austerity and putting the welfare of citizens at the heart of governance will be crucial. Our country will need a new President with the right vision, experience and discipline to set a new work ethic and live by that standard himself.
So what is Maada Bio’s vision for a new work ethic of all Sierra Leoneans in which corruption and theft are not rewarded? Earlier this year, Retired Brig. Bio explained it to Sierra Eye Magazine in an exclusive interview when he said “I will focus the fight against corruption on FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE in the country.” Yes, the new work ethic is for all of us as Sierra Leoneans to tackle three serious issues which have blighted our country for many years – FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE.
With his experience in governance and leadership at the highest level, Bio explained his vision further in the interview: “FRAUD as an illegal act is extensively covered in our country’s anti-corruption laws and regulatory bodies, and I will make processes for monitoring, detecting, reporting, and prosecuting fraud transparent and predictable.
“I will also bring a sharp focus on WASTE and ABUSE. WASTE covers carelessly spending, mismanaging, or squandering resources provided to any institution to the detriment of the country. To this end, I will insist on transparent, effective and efficient systems and controls in every institution. ABUSE covers all intentional and deliberate misuse and diversion of resources and also the abuse of one’s position or authority.”
Nobody can argue the fact that we are in an austerity today largely because the resources which were meant to be used in improving the lives of our people and building a sustainable economy became the “political vehicle” for FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE. In some cases well-meaning Sierra Leoneans who have evidence of corrupt practices by those in authority or certain public institutions are scared to report or speak out because of political victimisation.
Therefore, two important elements which Retired Brig Bio will also provide leadership on in tackling FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE are: firstly, Bio will ensure that whistle-blowers (persons who inform on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity) are well protected and can report safely and without consequences; secondly, Bio will also insist on comprehensive fraud, waste, and abuse training and policies at all levels of governance.
For Retired Brig Bio, the success of this new work ethic will also mean that if institutions and regulatory frameworks in Sierra Leone are allowed to function as they should in a normal open democracy that would improve our country’s standing on corruption and transparency. Specifically, Bio stated: “The Audit Service Commission, the Public Accounts Committees of parliament, the Anti-Corruption Commission are three such institutions that must be given a free and open hand to function as they are structured to do and as President, I will ensure that they do.”
Bio also recognises the roles that both Civil Society and the Press must play for the country to succeed in tackling FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE so he also had a message for Civil society and the Press: “I will also engage civil society in persistent public information on the nature and consequences of fraud, waste, and abuse for the country and why the public must be involved in reporting any instance of such.
“To my mind, another important angle to all of this is a press that should have unfettered access to records so that it can exercise its right to ethically and correctly report such cases to the general public and guide government policy on possible lapses.”
While it is the responsibility of the present government and the new government in 2018 to show fiscal discipline and tackle corruption through concrete actions rather than slogans, it will also require all of us as citizens to play our parts in rebuilding the land that we all love.
And the optimism of Retired Brig. Bio for the country to succeed in tackling FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE is propelled by his belief in all Sierra Leoneans which he passionately described: “I believe that Sierra Leoneans are very good people who want to help transform their country from poverty and indiscipline to discipline and prosperity. It is a national duty for all of us and every Sierra Leonean must step up and do his/her part.”