“The World Bank is a massive funder of sleaze. This is largely due to close ties between rich world governments – represented on the World Bank Board of Governors – and translational corporations which make financial donations to these governments. In return, the corporations get investment opportunities, finance and legal protection. All of which helps explain how, according to the US Senate, an astounding $ 100 billion of World Bank loans have been ‘lost’ to corruption during the Bank’s 60-year history. If the Bank is serious about tackling corruption it must radically reform its own mechanisms.” Source: New Internationalist magazine, December 2006.
According to Vanessa Baird, one of the magazine’s rotating editors, “At times it seems we almost revel in the depths to which the powerful will descend in their abuse of power. The frisson of shock is then followed by the knowingness of cynicism, then the implications sink in”.
In its Corruption Perceptions Index, this is how Transparency International ranks the top ten sectors or institutions in the world most affected by corruption: political parties, closely followed by parliament, police, legal system/judiciary, business/private sector, tax revenue, customs, media, medical service and utilities. It looks so specific to Sierra Leone that I cannot agree more with the result of the survey.
Instances abound of how fragile the human resistance is to corrupt practices; from Canada and the Quebec sponsorship scandal, to the all-too-familiar “Cash for Peerages” sleaze in Britain, and the Enron hoo-ha in the United States.
But the difference in those instances, probably, is that action is forced upon those involved in the corrupt practice. Here, NAY! In those countries, the laws are so strong against the practice – malpractice I should say – that it reflects easily and noticeably. The police are so independent and conscientious that they can even invite a sitting prime minister to answer to questions. Here, the sycophantic bigotry of some of our judges, police and others has eaten up the need for our very existence, and weakened our moral fibre.
There is no gainsaying that the introduction of the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2000 was a watershed in the fight against graft in the country, blamed by our Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one of the main causes of our brutal civil war. Kleptocracy, a word coined in Mobutu’s Zaire because of the late former president’s corrupt proclivities, became the hallmark and an entrenched institution in Sierra Leone until we paid the price for it.
So, the launch this week of the Anti Corruption Strategy for 2008 – 2012, and the commitment made by the president cannot be anything less than a watershed. It was great, courageous and bold move by the president for requesting parliament to OK added new powers to the ACC which for many years was shouting to the deaf to give them powers to prosecute allegedly corrupt people. Anti corruption conventions are useless without prosecutions. This stance by the president is perhaps the best thing to happen to this country since the end of the war in 2002.
The president also guaranteed protection for whistleblowers. If this will be backed by a certificate of urgency by the president to have it enacted quickly, that will be as cool as the president himself.
So the all-too-familiar compromise that is almost bound to come about if a sitting cabinet minister, for example, were to be arrested on the grounds of corruption, should soon be a thing of the past. The fact that the Attorney General, a cabinet minister, is to give advice on whether or not a case should be charged to court, has always made a mockery of the true determination of a Government that shouts its uvula out in the name of fighting graft.
The ACC is also asking for “illicit enrichment” and “abuse of power” to be made a corruption offence. If any body is dealing with the people’s money and siphoning it into their personal account thinking they can go scot-free, they’d better think again. The old explanations that “my daughter/son in America sent it for me” or “my niece did so and so” belong to history. Whatever that relative of yours does for a living, will be investigated. Money transfer slips will be checked. Public officials who “collect” before performing their duties will be roped. Those who take kickbacks will be disgraced, and with that their families. So wives, parents and offspring, always demand for answers when the lifestyle at home takes a dramatic upsurge. When disgrace comes, you will all be affected by it.
What I think the ACC should do now is to make the proposed amendments public so that they will engender a national debate before they are passed. All too often ACTS, not BILLS, are what are debated, save when they have to do with foreign interests. Parliament should be monitored very closely while debating those proposed amendments so that they do not rock the boat. This is where comes in the progressive media and civic journalism.
So, the president’s move must be hailed by all and supported by all. This week he reiterated his pledge that he would declare his asset once Parliament amends the ACC Act 2000. But it does not end there. The late former Ugandan president, Idi Amin, cited corruption as one of his reasons for seizing power in 1971. The anti corruption institutions he set up, became persecutors of political opponents. The ACC has assured they will not be used for political witch-hunting. The well-respected head of the commission, Abdul Tejan Cole, has an approach that blends prosecution and prevention in a duet that surpasses Gilbert and Sullivan.
Another classic of how a committed president can have his arms tied behind his back except he be firm, is the case of how an anti-corruption activist in Indonesia, Munir Said Thalib was murdered with a fatal dose of arsenic in his drink on a flight. He was a known critic of the corrupt practices in the country’s armed forces. So President should rein in on anyone, no matter who, to set an example to others.
Having said that, I do not believe paying people huge salaries necessarily deters corruption. No! But it leaves no sympathy for them once they are caught. This is why nobody reasons with corrupt Kenyan ministers and parliamentarians who are among the highest paid in the world, but among the most corrupt on the face of the earth. The ridiculously low salaries of public officials must be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Even before the current hike in the cost of living, a take-home pay could barely take some workers home. Never mind. A stitch in time saves nine.
But international nongovernmental organisations who raise funds in the name of the people of Sierra Leone should also give a clearer account of how these funds are expended. They should be held to account for our money. After all they are teaching us how to be accountable.
“Tackling corruption has become an essential ingredient of elections manifestoes, a condition for those seeking to attract aid and investment, and a stated aim of NGOs and Governments alike…it is important to be aware of the power of morally-weighted words like ‘corruption’ and ‘terrorism’. Their use inspires fear and can justify measures that would normally be considered unconstitutional or even illegal”. Courtesy: Anna Winterbottom a former volunteer with Global Witness.
But before I go, let me swim in my happiness that Manchester United are the European Champions. By the way I understand that both President Koroma, an Arsenal fan, and former president Kabbah, a Manchester United supporter, were supporting the Red Devils on Wednesday. Take care! By Umaru Fofana