It is an irrefutable fact, that corruption is the enemy of development and good governance. It is therefore imperative that fighting corruption should be a national objective for the government and the people of Sierra Leone. Over the years, the people of Sierra Leone and successive governments have not only recognised the cancerous effect of corruption but made it central to their manifestoes and political mantra. It is one thing to acknowledge and profess to fight corruption, but it is an entirely different kettle of fish to practise what is preached. Interestingly, like other countries around the world and especially African countries, there is a fervent wish to fight corruption. Sadly, those wishes are never backed by the will or determination required to do so.
Corruption might be old as prostitution, but unlike prostitution which might endanger the morals of an individual, corruption invariably destroys the morals of an entire society or country. Therefore, the prevalence of corruption does not only lead to the loss of public trust, but the cost is paid for by the poor. So, the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone is not only a moral duty but a civic and patriotic one for every citizen. If the youths are our future leaders of tomorrow, it goes without saying that it is the duty of the youth to challenge corruption.
It is almost impossible to discuss corruption in Sierra Leone without invoking the trauma from the late President Siaka Steven’s regime. I deliberately call it regime because that was what it was at best. His megalomania led to the ill-timed and badly thought-out hosting of the OAU conference in 1980. Many people believe that epoch defining moment did not only serve as the nadir of corruption but also marked the beginning of the normalisation of corruption in Sierra Leone. Who would forget “Usai den tie cow…na dae e dae eat”? – the cow only eats where it is tethered.
Following his victory in 2008, former president Ernest Bai Koroma and the ACC took meaningful steps to address the cancer of corruption that had asphyxiated development in Sierra Leone. EBK took the unprecedented move to declare his assets and requested senior government officials and parliamentarians to do the same. Using its independent powers, the ACC investigated, prosecuted, and secured 11 convictions including high profile officials like the ombudsman. The ACC recovered $375,000 in stolen assets by October 2009. We saw an avalanche of employees suspended, referred to and investigated by the ACC. Unfortunately, the ACC came under fire for failing to prosecute one Minister who was exposed for awarding illegal contracts. Sacred cow? Call name na en geh case.
When President Bio came to power in 2018, he made the fight against corruption, alongside Free Quality Education the DNA of his term in office. In his speech about fighting corruption, Bio cautioned that corruption will always fight back. When the ACC boss then, Francis Ben Kaifala presented his 52-page 2018 annual report on 5th September 2019, he highlighted the increase in conviction rate and increase in the revision of systems and processes to entrench prevention activities, as central to its success story. Sierra Leoneans were treated to a weekly bulletin on the amount of money recovered by the ACC. Photo ops regularly flashed across SLBC and other media houses, showing the ACC handing cheques of billions of leones recovered to President Bio. Headlines like “ACC hands over Le 8 billion leones to President Bio of Sierra Leone” were a common feature. On August 11, 2023, ACC handed over a Le 10 billion cheque as part of its 2022 annual report. Houses of senior politicians with Red leaning persuasions were reportedly seized, and owners placed under investigations.
In 2021, the ACC said in its annual report that Sierra Leone increased “its percentage score to 83% in the corruption indicator in the Millenium Challenge Corporation scorecard and ranked 115 out of 180 countries surveyed in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (TI-CPI).”. On the eve of the June elections, we saw President Bio commission the aptly named “Integrity House” to reinforce the drive against corruption. The UN and UK took the lead to reform and strengthen Sierra Leone’s law sectors. The UK’s poured £62 million to support ACC and justice and security reforms. In 2007, the UN peace building fund gave $34 million to support reconciliation efforts. Sierra Leone has benefitted from several donations aimed at dealing with the scourge of corruption and its inherent consequences. How far have we come in that journey?
During his first term, President Bio was accused of witch hunt because most of the people charged, prosecuted, and fined for corruption were members of the outgone APC party. Interestingly, the APC’s attempt to deflect accountability defied logic. The ACC was charged to investigate corruption. Was it not logical that such investigations will focus on those who occupied positions in the former government? For argument sake, let us assume that the APC back comes to power and embarks on recouping stolen money and assets. Which group of people or party will form the bulk of their investigations? Sadly, and irrespective of your political persuasion, it was obvious that members of the outgoing party and its members were to be held to account. Simple.
What is glaring clear is that every Sierra Leonean knows the damage corruption has and continues to inflict on our people. There is a collective wish to tackle this scourge. But that is where the consensus ends. Is there a collective motivation, courage, and decency to do so? Any effort to tackle corruption, irrespective of the government of the day is tagged as a witch hunt, tribalism, nepotism etc. Although one cannot summarily rule out the role of tribalism, nepotism favouritism, “udat you Sabi-ism” in determining who is investigated or otherwise, Sierra Leone will ever remain to be shackled by corruption until we all manifest the conscious belief that as a nation, a people and country, we can change a corrupt system.
If President Bio’s first term were to tackle the corrupt practices of the erstwhile APC government, recent reports about corruption under his watch will be the litmus test of his determination to fight corruption. According to thesierraleonetelegraph.com (15/01/24), the ACC informed the public in a press release that it “is investigating allegations that the Clerk of parliament employed his wife without due process. Mrs Abibatu has not been reporting for duties but received salaries”. According to the article, “Mrs Abibatu returned the sum of one hundred and thirty thousand leones from the one hundred and fifty-six thousand leones she received as salary for the 10 months she was on payroll”. If these reports are anything to go by, then this goes to the very heart of President Bio’s fight against corruption.
As Clerk of Parliament, there can be no better symbolism to reflect the HEART of the government. Recent reports that “Honourable” Paran Umar Tarawally summarily dismissed over one hundred staff (who might have been reporting for duty) while his wife allegedly never did is not only rich but ironical. In another report, The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is embroiled in a corruption scandal involving MoF employees. Seven ministry officials are reportedly being investigated for diverting Le 6.5 billion into a fictitious account. According to unverified reports, the payment was for an accounting firm Edwards Davies and Associates, hired by SLRA.
President Bio promised Sierra Leoneans that fighting corruption will be one of the corner stones of his government. During his first term, the APC never missed the opportunity to play the victim role. He has had 5 years to prove his mettle in fighting corruption. That should not blindside us from the fact that his first term in office had been riddled by allegations of corruption by his government officials. Former First Minister Mr David (10%) Francis was a regular feature on the front pages of the Africanist Press. When Victor Foh hung his political gloves, you would have thought that it was the last time you would hear about “vouchergate,” until allegedly, …. allegedly, Honourable Paran Tarawally came to the scene.
President Bio’s critics, especially my cousins in the red corner stress that these are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of his critics say that while President Bio was busy trying to remove the speck of dust from APC eyes, he forgot to remove the plank in the eye of his government. If these reports are anything to go by, President Bio will hardly get a better opportunity to add some spice to his “talk and do” philosophy. You can bet your last dollar that the APC party is assembling a contingent of political VAR officials somewhere in Kamakwie.
We all know that fighting corruption is no mean feat. Like President Bio said, corruption will always fight back. As a nation, we just need to have the conviction that it can be done. First, our leaders must not only have the motivation but have the courage to stand up to and fight corruption. Fighting corruption is a demand for accountability, and this requires transparency to preserve integrity of the process. As a nation, we can only achieve this if we find the solidarity among us, irrespective of tribal, regional, political, and religious affiliations. The effect of corruption knows no tribe, region, or political party. This will not only ensure that justice is done but will also help to provide the foundation stones for our democracy. The prohibitive cost of living affects all of us, though at varying degrees. Interestingly, the cost of a bag of rice is not determined by our tribal, regional, or political persuasions. I have never heard of Mende, Themne, APC or SLPP price of gari.
With the spate of corruption scandals hugging the headlines recently, is this the time for President Bio to prove the perennial cry-baby APC wrong? Is this the time to prove that President Bio’s Governance Transition Report (GTR) was not a manual for APC witch hunt? We know that governments around the world hate corruption. They hate competition. President Bio could show that not all men are corrupted by the exercise of power. Greed is the womb where corruption and all social ills are conceived. Is it time to perform a caesarean?
Over to you Ngor Maada.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK)
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.