There are a lot of differences between Americans and Sierra Leoneans. For example, the sport we call football is much different than the sport you call football.
However, I believe there is one thing that we can all agree on: corruption is bad.
A few people might argue against that statement. That’s because they are corrupt. For the rest of us, corruption is seen as what it is, a hindrance to a free flowing democracy.
Every country in the world has rules and laws that everybody is expected to live by, especially government and elected officials. When you are singled out by your fellow citizens and chosen to represent them, it is a huge responsibility that I feel most people doesn’t take lightly.
Unfortunately, some do.
On Friday I attended the Anti-Corruption Commission’s Second Quarter Update, and heard the fervent Commissioner, Joseph Kamara, speak.
“When we fight corruption, we are passionate about it,” Kamara said.
His actions backed up his words. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) recently completed a tour of Sierra Leone where it talked to over 150 Chiefs to see how corruption has impacted them. With offices in Bo, Kenema and Kambia, the ACC is hoping to start getting a handle on the problem across the nation.
Kamara blamed corruption for electricity, water and education problems around the country. From what it sounds like, it even haunts him at night.
“I sleep and dream about corruption,” Kamara said. “All the books I’m reading are about corruption.”
That’s the dedication we need from all the leaders.
The ardent Commissioner talked with the media for at least an extra half an hour after his statement on Friday, calmly answering questions and recounting stories that underscore the need for the group he’s in charge of.
It was clear early on in the program what Kamara needs to be successful: the general public. He pleads with Sierra Leoneans that see something unlawful or unethical to report it. That’s essentially what the ACC is here for.
A culture of corruption will never cease if those that live in it don’t take a stand.
While America has its faults, that’s one thing we’re definitely good at: complaining. If we don’t like the way something is run, we don’t hesitate to express our opinions (sometimes too much so). That’s not to say we don’t have corruption in America. In fact, there’s probably a lot more than I’d like to admit (or even know about).
A common view in the United States is that every politician is “crooked and corrupt.” And they don’t help themselves out with this view. It seems like at least once a month a high-ranking government official is accused of embezzling money or having an affair or texting pictures of himself in his underwear to girls he met on the internet (it happens, I know it’s sad).
I don’t think we have anything like the Anti-Corruption Commission back home. We sure could use one. We do have ethics Oversight Committees for state and federal government, but there’s still a lot of wiggle room for politicians to get away with a lot.
Which they do. They do everywhere. Committees like the ACC probably aren’t going to stop corruption completely, but they can make a huge difference in the war. They can reduce the number of corrupt officials, and potentially scare other officials from engaging in corrupt behavior. For that reason we may never know the true impact of the ACC.
Nobody likes talking about this. I don’t really like talking about this. I’d rather talk about the awesome Africana shirt I got to wear during the meeting on Friday. But corruption is what’s been on my mind all day. It’s not a fun topic, but it’s one that should be discussed in order for a healthy democracy.
“It makes a lot of people uncomfortable,” Kamara said of corruption.
It’s true. On Friday I was uncomfortable, and not just because I was sitting in the same hard, plastic chair for two hours. It’s an unnerving (and downright scary) thought to think about corrupt officials, and how they seem to disregard the rules they expect all of us to follow with ease.
But stealing from a country and its citizens is still stealing. It’s against the law, and is even one of the Ten Commandments. In order for Salone to continue to grow as a country, the corruption needs to be reduced drastically.
For the first month I’ve been here that’s been a dominant theme in the newspapers I’ve read, and a well-discussed topic around the office and on the streets. People realize this can’t go on, and that changes need to be made. They’re aware it’s a huge problem.
And now they know it’s even keeping people, like Mr. Kamara, awake at night.