Muctaru's Blog

I am Muctaru Wurie from Freetown, Sierra Leone. I blog on a variety of subject from my homeland and most of my post feature well researched stories I do.

Sierra Leone’s Corruption Chief Resignation And The Complexities Of Corruption Here

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Back in 2002, a summit of the African Union on corruption clearly highlighted just how serious this evil is within African societies. The statistics for the cost of corruption to the continent was an estimated 148 billion dollars annually. In Sierra Leone, the legacy of corruption had already seen the Athens of West Africa became the laughing stock of the world. A country that was once the bedrock of British colonial rule in the sub region, wherein the bureaucracy was prided as one of the best in the entire British colonial empire was surely taking a downward trend. By mid 1970s, that positive reputation had already slipped off and by the eighties the saying “Usai den tie cow na dae e dae eat”, was already a common adage. And as the late Professor Akintola Wise put it in a paper presentation on the socio political history of Sierra Leone; a society that once valued virtue and scholarly achievements now tend to have lost it completely by the late eighties as the widespread maxim then indicate; “Den say Bailor Barrie, u say Davidson Nicol.” At the end of war, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted that one of the war’s main causes had been the rampant corruption that had infested every level of government in the preceding decades. If Sierra Leone was to avoid a repeat of the 1990s, corruption was the biggest vice to be eradicated. Yet even after the commission published its conclusion in 2004, Sierra Leone’s post-conflict government is still struggling to solve this ever growing problem.

Inaugurating the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on Feb. 6, 2000, then president Kabba told the country, “My government and the ordinary people of Sierra Leone now have a new war to wage. This is the war against corruption. And in this fight, nobody will be above the law, including myself.” Ten years after that epoch-making statement there is no doubt that corruption is still an entrenched menace in Sierra Leone today.

In the two years after it launch, ACC statistics showed the cases investigated by the ACC paint a picture of a country rotten with corruption. By 2002, the ACC had investigated 500 cases and submitted its findings to the Justice Ministry with recommendations that it follow up. The snag there as many pointed then was that only the justice minister can charge cases of corruption. By force of the constitution, only he can decide whether to prosecute or not to prosecute. However, now that the 2008 ACC Act empowers the commission to use the shortcut option of bypassing the law officers department, (Not only can the ACC investigate corruption, as before; it can also now launch prosecutions on its own, without having to refer cases to the attorney-general, a political appointee.)

On the backdrop of the resignation of ACC boss, Abdul Tejan Cole, does his resignation indicate something much deeper? How has the fight against corruption going? Is it that our country has been doomed to live with corruption? Is it that our political leaders lack the political will to swallow the bitter pill and enforce a robust anti-corruption campaign or is it that we are making an exaggeration and corruption is not the real issue here?

Desmond Johnson, acting director of public education an external outreach of the ACC who defines corruption as not having any clear-cut definition, but they see it as misusing offices for personal gains and also as when someone fails to act or act in an inappropriate manner believes that dishonesty is the main problem; “It is affecting our socio economic development and in the ACC we believes that it is a fight that we can only succeed in if we have the support and cooperation of the general public.” When I put it to the ACC PR chief whether the government has genuine intentions towards the fight against corruption he replied; “I believe so, if not the government would not have the commission existing.”

Desmond Johnson cited the ACC Act 2008 as an instance to back up his claim that the government is serious about the fight against corruption, he referred to the ACC Act 2000 as ‘very weak’ and said the 2008 Act now gives them more strength to fight corruption. Is the ACC equipped and using the right approaches to fight corruption and are we not seeing the same trend of those found in ACC net? According to Mr Johnson, the ACC is doing it best and it is using the three pronged approach, namely punitive, which involves investigating and prosecuting alleged acts of corruption. The preventive and education approach. Contrary to what many believe he claimed the ACC is daily carrying out intelligence investigations and prosecutions; “We don’t make our intelligence works public and we have a proactive and intelligence wing that secretly go out there but you cannot see them.”

Interestingly, Mr Johnson told me that although the ACC was able to convict 11 people in 2009 the greatest challenge to the ACC is public support; he thinks the ACC needs more support and cooperation from the general public. He also pointed out what many fear might be the stumbling block to minimising corruption. “We need logistical support, the commission work throughout the country and if we are to succeed logistics like vehicles and other gadgets are vital. Finance and office is another problem,” he said.

Whilst the ACC boast it success stories such as raising the public’s awareness of the dangers of corruption and recovering billions of Leones for the government, David Tam-Baryoh a political commentator in Sierra Leone said that the issue about whether the fight against corruption is being done in the proper way should be assessed on the amount sacred cows the current and previous government have, something he humorously said he is not prepared to enter. But Charles Mambu, director of coalition of civil society told Sierra Eye; “A fish is a fish, whether is big or small. If the ACC want to succeed in it fight against corruption, we believe it should investigate and prosecute any sacred cow or special personality but the best option for the ACC is that it should set an example at all levels of corruption that is the best way it can minimise the evil,” said Charles Mambu. The civil society leader also criticise the ACC and said it should be ‘more open and transparent’. To Charles Mambu, his greatest fear is that of government interference; “We will continue to talk to the government not to interfere into any of the functions and activities of the ACC. We will also talk to ACC officials not to allow themselves to be used by selfish politicians and members of the public because of the money or power they wield.” He believed that leaders should be an example for progressive change and that the fight against corruption though not only reliant on them should be key in enabling it success.

The Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai in her book “The Challenge for Africa”, powerfully argues that the continent is in urgent need of a revolution in leadership and “those in power-the presidents, prime ministers, politicians, and other elites-have to recognize that the way Africa has been conducting its affairs of state has neither protected nor promoted the welfare of the continent’s citizens nor provided for the long term growth and stability of its nations.

According to James Taiwo Cullen, a broadcaster for VOH FM 96.2 radio station, the greed and selfishness of government officials is to blame for high-level corruption in Sierra Leone. But meagre salaries within the civil service—which can be as low as US$1 a day—may have as much to do with the problem. This brings us to the point of poverty and corruption, in the latest edition of Development Drums, titled DOES CORRUPTION CAUSE POVERTY, OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY ROUND? By Daniel Kaufmann and Mushtaq Khan, both authors argue that though poverty and corruption come from quite different points of view, there is quite a lot of convergence between them. They agree that there is much more corruption in poor countries than in rich countries; that nobody should put too much faith in econometrics to decide whether corruption is a reason that poor countries remain poor; and that you do not fight poverty by only fighting corruption.  But whereas Daniel Kaufmann believes that you have to tackle corruption to create the conditions for markets to work and to to create economic growth and prosperity, Mushtaq Khan believes that you should focus on policies to promote growth and that a certain amount of corruption is an inevitable (albeit undesirable) corollary of the transition to a capitalist economy. Most Westerners they say believe that corruption is a one of the most important reasons why poor countries remain poor; and yet a lot of them working in development seem to be willing to tolerate some corruption as an inevitable fact of life in poor countries.

According to a Human Right Watch Briefing paper on Sierra Leone, petty corruption, extortion, and bribe-taking, particularly by police officers or low ranking officials, is rampant. Money has to change hands in order to secure entrance for children into public school, receive treatment in a public clinic, obtain a permit, authorisation, or letter from a ministry, or even file a police report. Corruption has historically bought the support of both the police and the army, making them subject to political interference and undermining their duty to protect. Personal gain through corruption remains the primary motivation for those entering the civil service….. the efforts of those seeking redress through the legal system are often frustrated by corruption within the very system designed to combat it.

So is it a way of life for may in Sierra Leone, Mabinty Sillah residing at Moyiba in the hilly side of Freetown is a very mother of five, struggling to send his children to school and provide them with basic meals but she was forced to bribe as she went for her national ID card at the National Registration Secretariat; “I didn’t even have enough money to feed my children that day, I had no option but to pay a bribe of Le 5, 000 to officials filling our forms. Those who didn’t comply were made to endlessly sit down and wait. I needed the ID to enter into the micro credit scheme, so I had to ensure I got my ID otherwise I will not be considered for credit,” said Mabinty who told me that because of that bribe she could not feed her children on that day. A young graduate, Andrew Conteh believes that ordinary Sierra Leonean should resist the temptation of corruption and stop bribing public officials; “In the words of Elbert Hubbard “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing. Therefore we should openly oppose and expose anyone who encourages any form of bribery, we are ourselves aiding corruption in our little corner and at the end blaming government for all our problems,” he said.

Whilst leaders such as Tejan Kabba in the past has stated that lower salaries should not be the reason for the high corruption in our society, many ordinary Sierra Leoneans I spoke to believe any effort to stamp out corruption should be matched up with what some described as ‘decent salaries’ for lowly paid government officials. “I don’t care what any moralist or man of God tells me, but I know that you don’t expect a man to be free of corruption when his salary is so meagre but handles millions of daily transactions. Except the government tries to augment the salaries of workers, then we are only fooling ourselves,” said a civil servant who prefers anonymity. Another civil servant tells Sierra Eye that despite the fact that he is a Masters holder he is ashamed to say his salary to his wife; “My colleagues in the private sector earns five times more that what the government pays me and yet every emphasis is now being laid on corruption and they are ignoring a grave problem that is threatening our livelihood, paltry salaries.”

Is the ACC being used as a tool to stifle opposition and other dissent in the state? At the initial setting up of the commission some Sierra Leonean journalists and politicians claim the ACC is nothing but a political tool used to hunt opponents of the government. Victor Foh, now the ruling party secretary for the incumbent All Peoples Congress, said back in 2000; “The ACC is an albatross and a tool to grab those who do not see things the way the government sees them.” A signal to that criticism came to the fore back in Nov. 2, 2001; acting on direct orders from then president Kabba, the ACC began investigating outspoken critic, For di People editor Paul Kamara for tax evasion. Kamara, who has been a blunt critic of the Kabba government, was eventually cleared of the charges, but the investigation sent a clear message then.

Sierra Leone still has a long way to go in its battle against corruption. That officials from the government waging the battle against corruption are themselves corrupt compounds the problem for the ACC investigators, who must depend on the government’s good graces to continue their work. As a senior British diplomat stationed in Sierra Leone put it, “A greater percentage of the president’s men are from the old block, and this is where corruption breeds in this country. In order for government to win the uphill battle against corruption,” he says, “The president must continue to distance himself from the older politicians who have had their hands in every political pile since Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.”

Clare Short, former British Development minister, described corruption as endemic and ingrained within both the public and private sectors in Sierra Leone. “It permeates all levels of government and most business transactions. Scandals involving the looting of state coffers and development aid are commonplace.” However, African economy expert, Dambisa Moyo in his work titled; Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa, stated that money from rich countries has actually trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. Cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial, and many times he pointed out when the west talks about corruption in Africa it usually refers to huge mineral monies or aid monies. Citing World Bank figures he referred to nations such as Rwanda, Somalia, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Sierra Leone, countries which from 1970 to 2002, have had over 70% of total government spending coming from foreign aid but still struggling with problems such as corruption that hampers growth. So is there the feeling within the ruling elite that aid money is just money from abroad and not the people’s money?

In a presentation titled GOVERNANCE, DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA: A CULTURAL APPROACH, presented by: The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) corruption is identified as a universal problem, with complex causes. “Its net effect is commonly regarded as negative for all societies, especially developing countries. It leads to economic inefficiencies; distorts development; inhibits long-term foreign and domestic investments; misallocates talents to rent seeking and away from productive activities; induces wrong sectoral priorities and technological choices.”

What are the solutions to corruption in our societies? The paper state that there should be a creation and sustenance of a low corruption environment, and it requires the establishment of effective mechanisms of discovery and punishment. An institutional framework conducive to fighting corruption must promote easy oversight, assessment of wrongdoing and punishment for those convicted of wrongdoing. Equally important, the institutions established to oversee, expose and punish corruption must be insulated from the very actors they are supposed to be controlling (Diamond 1998). “Here too, we must build institutions for preventing, detecting and punishing corruption instead of relying on individual morality,” it concluded.

As challenging as the fight against corruption may be, despite all the impediments faced by the ACC in Sierra Leone, there has been some positive features that could be signs that all is not lost, twenty-seven public officials have been indicted for corruption in the past year or so, including judges and the heads of the post office and the national broadcasting service.  The number of prosecutions has soared nine in 2008 to 29 in 2009. The ACC has clawed back around 3 billion leones in assets from those found guilty of corruption. Such changes, brought some joy to now resigned Abdul Tejan-Cole who said they have given the ACC ‘more teeth’. This will tempt one to further ask the question, do we need more reform in the state to enhance the fight against corruption. Because it is certain that no matter how capable and robust an ACC commissioner is, there are extra dynamics to ensure success in the fight against graft in Sierra Leone.

In a November, 2009 article in the Economist Magazine titled, Sierra Leone’s corruption problem, A mortal enemy. The ACC was praised for it lead on a very tough challenge in fighting corruption in Sierra Leone as indicated in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, a Berlin-based lobby, which showed Sierra Leone steadily climbing up the rankings, albeit only to number 146 out of the 180 countries surveyed. The magazine hailed Abdul Tejan Cole for introducing a system whereby every public official must declare all his or her assets and also for persuading parliament to change the law governing the ACC’s operation in the ACC Act of 2008. Abdul Tejan Cole clearly set a legacy at the ACC that can be hard to emulate, he was like a radical outsider calling for what many in state establishments will see as drastic measures; he called for the repeal of the criminal and seditious libel, he also called for the enactment of an access to information act among others.

Although he did not clearly state any reason for his resignation, it was very clear for all to see that Abdul Tejan Cole, a man who had a very strict disciplinary record was certainly put off by political pressures from some sacred cows. But whosoever will replace him have a very huge task to carry on, it is clear for all to see now that the ACC position is one of the most challenging assignments in the land.


Written by Muctaru Wurie

May 27, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. The so called South African journalist should have used another way of consoling his country for the two points lost and underperformance of the Bafana Bafana boys than exposing his poor characteristics if his profession.Even a blind man cant accept his story.


    October 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm

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