The much vaunted and long awaited GTT report is out. In the meantime, we have seen a lot of political and social commentators take to the media, to express their views and rightly so. Some call it democracy and others settle for the right to free speech. Interestingly, free speech is not free, as it comes with some amount of responsibility to be honest. With the recommendation to pursue the alleged corruption as stated in the GTT report, there would be many who would think that this report is about those that were accused of wrong doing. Sadly, this is not the case. The GTT has in effect put Sierra Leone, its people, its electorate, and the nation as a whole in the dock.
It is one thing to accuse some people of wrong doing on a national scale. But it is an entirely different thing to test the public’s appetite to accept the wrong and desire to right those wrongs. That is where the integrity of the nation is at stake here. Like I have always maintained, an allegation is not a synonym for guilt. One is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Many would say that one of the most important things is whether those accused are ready and willing to prove their innocence in a court of law. But more importantly, is our country willing, and as a nation and people, honest enough, genuine enough and well-meaning enough, to prove or disprove these allegations? Is the sitting government bold enough, brave enough, truthful enough, and well-meaning enough to pursue justice, in the name of its people?
That is where the integrity of the sitting government comes in. And that is where the integrity of the nation and its people is at stake and is on trial here. The Bio government has promised a commission of enquiry to look into these allegations. However, there are some people who may not hold their breath for long; and who can blame them? If history is anything to go by, our country Sierra Leone is no stranger to commissions of enquiry. We had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2000-04; following the end of a decade long brutal war. There is no doubt, that this was a painful exercise for all. Nevertheless, that commission, among others was significantly responsible for the healing process of the nation; thanks to the willingness of Sierra Leoneans to face our demons and exorcise them.
But there have been other commissions of enquiries that had not yielded the desired dividends or outcomes in the past. In 1980, Victor Foh, along with several ministers in the Siaka Stevens government and a handful of state officials, were ‘investigated’ for the disappearance of more than $50 million dollars from state coffers. That investigation was reluctantly carried out, after the IMF threatened to impose huge financial penalties on the APC government. Interestingly, it marked a turning point in our history, as that era – the voucher gate scandal years, will also be remembered for the obscene opulence and decadence of those in power, and their gross mismanagement of state funds and public affairs. Sadly and regrettably, history shows that we have learnt to reward corrupt officials with better positions and rewards in our country. Just look around you.
So what is corruption? There is no doubt that corruption in our country has taken different coatings, which depend on the context, the perpetrators, the purpose and even the victims involved. The issue of corruption has largely depended on individual perceptions, which in itself is a sad state of affairs. Contextually, corruption has become a culturally accepted phenomenon. No one is saying that corruption is the sole domain of Sierra Leoneans. But let us admit it, we are corrupt. Corruption can be two- way traffic. If there are no givers, there will be no takers. That ordinary taxi driver that shakes the traffic police officers hand at East End police junction is as corrupt as the police man that smiles after the hand shake. That teacher that gives favourable marks to a student because he received talk time credit on his mobile phone from the student is corrupt. That shop keeper who inflates the cost of goods on the receipt or invoice, and later gives the difference to errand boy when paid is corrupt.
Corruption is a universal disease. The difference lies in the level of acceptability and the desire to fight and stamp it out. That is what makes corruption differs from one country to another. What many people will see as corruption in the West, others will see as “cold wata” in Africa. You can visit an office in Sierra Leone, get a civil servant to finalize your paperwork, and in appreciation grease the palm of the civil servant. This could be an unsolicited show of gratitude. Some will call it a tip, a bribe, or cold wata, but others will see it as abject corruption. Chinua Achebe once said that “he, who brings kola, brings life”. But is that the same as the kind of corruption we are witnessing today?
In places like the United States, Britain and other developed countries, corruption is also present at all levels. In these parts, you get people whose job is to promote the interests of private citizens, big conglomerates, and massive companies via politicians. We see how these vested interests “donate” to campaign funds of politicians during elections. In return for their financial support, policies, legislatures, and the lot are tailored to suit their paymasters. They conveniently call it “LOBBY, and there are people who describe their day jobs as “LOBBYISTS”. Dig it? So you see how corruption is everywhere, but christened differently? What you and I can see as overt corruption is seen as legal in other cases. The bottom line is, it is corruption; never mind the sematic gymnastics.
But there is a big difference here. In these parts, where corruption is believed to have taken place, there are laws and the will power of the people to tackle it. The judiciary have the powers, by virtue of the laws of the land to pursue these acts of criminality. Another major difference is this: NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. Donald trump may be the most powerful man on mother earth. But even his tenure in office is still dogged by allegations of corruption; thanks to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy was charged with corruption for illegal campaign financing and receiving Libyan public funds. He was taken into custody and questioned about allegations that part of his victorious 2007 campaign was illegally financed by Libya’s then-government. Remember that this was the man who whole heartedly supported the regime change in Libya, and you wonder why Gadhafi was summarily executed shortly after his capture? You wonder why he was not given his day in court, or the Libyans given the opportunity to question Gadhafi about the allegations of his crimes against humanity. Think again.
It would be preposterous to think that corruption is being monopolised by Sierra Leoneans. There are many heads and former heads of states, politicians and prominent people who have been indicted and jailed for corruption. Nawaz Sharif (Former Pakistan Prime Minister) was jailed in 1999-2000, Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia-1997-98), Luiz Inaciao Lula de Silva (Brazil- 2018-present), and South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion. Jeffery Archer and Jonathan Aitkin were British politicians who served prison sentences for corruption. Jonathan Aitkin was jailed just for allowing aides of the Saudi royal family to pay his £1,000 hotel bill during a stay at the Paris Ritz in September 1993. Jacob Zuma’s son Dudzane Zuma was charged with corruption. The list is endless. Corruption has not been eradicated in those countries. But what these show is the law and the will power of the people to tackle it.
Sometimes, the people that do wrong tell a different version of the story and play victim. One thing is always common with these allegations and indictments. The “victims” more often than not cry foul and say that these are politically motivated. There is no doubt that some of these can be genuinely politically motivated. We know how some politicians use these kinds of indictments to politically decapitate their opponents. Robert Mugabe was Professor Emeritus in the dark arts of nullifying his political opponents, using trumped up charges. But what many people believe should happen is to allow for the law to take its cause. If President Bio and his government have the evidence to prove any wrong doing, any unlawful acquisition of wealth or evidence to prove that public funds; which were meant for Ebola victims, for schools, sanitation, and electricity and for the general good of the country were siphoned into private use, then they should produce these in a court of law. If those accused know and believe that they are innocent, then they should be given their day in court to prove it. SIMPLE.
As sierra Leoneans, we should bury every ounce of political, tribal, religious or regional bias and so called loyalties. What is going on today may not be palatable to everybody’s taste. But as well-meaning citizens, we should have a national desire to eradicate, if not tackle the disease of corruption. As a nation, we should not allow the few to take advantage of these so called loyalties or to be used as political shields in times of the desire for justice. Sierra Leoneans should not allow to be seen as stupid; for you can never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
There is a lot at stake here. Our young democracy is at stake. Our hard earned peace is at stake. Our country’s stability is at stake. Our identity is at stake. But above all, it is our country’s integrity is at stake. Are we ready to accept that corruption is rife in our country, but that we do not have the will, the desire, the appetite and the national integrity to fight it? That is what this is about. Corruption in our country is everybody’s business. If you are not involved in corruption, corruption will involve you. The new government has just announced price increases in basic commodities. This is a very disappointing start to the NEW DIRECTION. But again, the government has told us that they inherited empty coffers. They are saying that our banks are saddled and riddled with toxic debts; that they are struggling to pay salaries, and are basically struggling to keep the ship afloat. WHERE IS THE MONEY GONE? There is a groundswell of opinion that if you know where the money is gone.
CORRUPTION NA SALONE, NA ALL MAN BIZNESS.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).