It grinds me inside to know that our country seems to have been living in vain, making one step forward and three steps backwards. Even now things are difficult but this time round it seems there is some glimmer of hope due to the demonstrated forthrightness of the Presidency especially in fighting graft. Never in the 58-year odd history of our country have very solid practical efforts been made to bring corruption to its knees, like we have known with Ben Kaifala at the helm of affairs at the Anti-corruption Commission. What is almost a novelty is the strong political will that President Bio and his administration are providing. Formerly very little support was given from the top. Generally many Sierra Leoneans do recognize that corruption is a major bane in our country, but again, many are quick to blame it on various challenges and thereby somehow try to justify it. A couple of years ago corruption prevented the country from getting that juicy grant of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Patriotic citizens have every right to be terribly concerned about the unbridled corruption that has stagnated the country and threatens our very survival. When it comes to dealing with corruption, there are very divergent views that people have. There are a lot of our compatriots who think corruption is a way of life and should be left alone. No doubt controversy is part of our psyche as a nation. Our name Sierra Leone was born out of controversy. No wonder even Sierra Leoneans still have various ways of pronouncing the name Sierra Leone. Internationally we also suffer many mispronunciations. One sweet one is the Nigerians who call our country Sera Lone. Sometimes I wonder why we cannot simply make official the Krio version of Salone.
The Anti-Corruption Commission set up to fight graft in reality has an uphill task especially in the past when the courts dismissed cases that clearly could have held people culpable. Each ACC Chairman in the past performed at the level of political will exhibited by the respective Presidents and governments. ACC’s first shot in the arm was in 2014 when it recovered 2 million US Dollars of stolen money. What the average Sierra Leonean finds difficult to understand is how previously after the ACC’s Legal Team’s thorough preliminary investigations on the accused, the Courts found the process wanton and ended up dismissing charges. Formerly could it be the ACC Legal team deliberately did a shoddy job? Well thank God now they are all sharp and upfront. When we succeed with the ACC, like we are doing now everyone feels proud that Sierra Leone has one of the toughest Anti Corruption outfits. The current successes of the ACC, does not necessarily mean people have stopped being corrupt. So for me when the entire citizenry of our beloved country inculcate the patriotic habit of not involving in corrupt acts, then we would have done justice to the current ACC team’s successes. Indeed the real joy should be the extent of the reduction of corruption incidents. The current massive convictions and huge repayment definitely are deterrent measures. For several years since the ACC was set up one expects that the prosecution and conviction of people should have sent a clear message, but unfortunately this has not been the case. In fact top level State actors have only increased their loot. It is now clear that for over decades our state actors have been on a corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement spree and actually looting state funds. One issue that keeps coming up is where we should begin the fight against corruption, whether we should start with those in governance or ordinary people. Starting from the top as is now is mainly because it is at the top huge amounts of state funds are entrusted. However according to the ACC Act the amount involved does not really matter as corruption is corruption never mind the magnitude. We also need to understand that corruption is not just about money. Corruption constitutes so many other things like non-compliance with laws; the non-implementation of laws; undermining of authorities especially law enforcement apparati and general lawlessness and recklessness. Although you will agree with me that poverty may not be the excuse for corruption, it serves as a potent recipe. A poor man without integrity is easier to throw caution to the winds when it comes to morals. On the other hand a greedy rich man with no integrity is also highly prone to corruption as the current revelations show. Tell me why should someone, paid to serve his own nation turn round and use that money to exhibit a vulgar display of wealth building dozens of mansions and owning several jeeps and educating friends and family abroad at state expenses? Each time the issue of corruption comes up, I think of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, It looks like the Author actually also had Sierra Leone in mind. The squalid and outlandish putrefaction described in that novel, which makes you lose your appetite for a whole day seem to have visited us in Sierra Leone here. If a country is pronounced as corrupt, the first place they look at is governance. The reason is obvious especially as our constitution gives huge powers to those in charge and it is so difficult for them to escape providing the advantage which the ACC Act talks against. Whether you like it or not, it is very difficult not to bring politics in as one of the reasons for the malfunctioning of society. Take the case of general indiscipline and recklessness. Most times this is because of political patronage. Condoning lawlessness is a form of corruption. Many people get very emotional about their stance on corruption especially when contributing on phone-in radio programs. Some even out step some bounds to attempt to insult authorities. Well we must recognize the fact that democracy brings with it a lot of pains that we should be ready to bear, like the sting of the bee if we want the sweet honey. We are told that there are only two types of governments, a popular one and an unpopular one. Of course you will tell me that there can never be a successful meeting between the fowl and the cockroach. The ACC puts in place many strategies to get the citizens and MDAs to have enough education on corruption. All this is to highlight the immense challenges we are experiencing mainly because the knowledge deficit manifested by those put at the helm of affairs to improve our depraved existence. Over some years now, the adherence to democratic tenets has become the yardsticks to measure state’s performance. In this 21st century where donor dependence is still very much prevalent, states not adhering could well be seen as selling the very ropes to hang them. Or in other words states will shoot themselves in the foot by not complying. In country we are looking to certain structures to move forward in tandem good governance, human rights, democracy and development. I think as a state we should work out strategic measures to turn things around. As we think of this listen to Josh Ruxin when he says, “where corruption is ended, prosperity thrives, and in a prosperous land, people can afford their own family healthcare. That is when they are safe from things like Ebola. When they are safe, we are all safe- and only then.”
By Beny SAM.