By Glennis Kaitibi
Corruption is one of the most contentious words to define. Transparency International (TI) provides a definition which is generally acceptable: ‘the abuse of public office for personal gain’. Section 44 of Sierra Leone’s 2008 Anti-Corruption Act directly deals with the use of public office for private or personal gains. According to Jonathan Lucas of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), corruption is a crime against all the pillars of social well being, democracy, education, prosperity and public health.
Corruption is not strange to Sierra Leoneans and they have diverse descriptions and interpretations for it. In Sierra Leone, we have seen its debilitating effects which have caused serious socio-economic imbalances, leaving the country in a disadvantaged position.
Accessing basic services have always been challenging, often leaving the public with little option but to offer a bribe, creating a safe avenue for the perpetration of corruption by public officers.
In order to minimize corruption in public offices, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010 introduced Service Delivery Charters in key public institutions. Even with the Charters, some officers extort monies from the public and run the office as some landlord would do their estates, thereby scaring away prospective investors who are not ready to go through the rigours of bribing a never-ending chain of corrupt bureaucrats.
WHO SUFFERS FROM CORRUPTION?
Corruption affects all. It threatens our peace and security, justice and ethical values. It undermines institutions and the values of our democracy as well.
Whether one is affluent or not, corruption affects all. For example, there are plethoras of developmental challenges facing every Sierra Leonean due to corruption. It may be the appalling state of the roads leading to frequent and expensive vehicle maintenance; challenges with electricity and water distribution- forcing the less privileged to cut water pipes in order to gain access to potable water. It is a shame to see how people in Freetown scavenge for water under bridges and in filthy drainages. Some contractors have been busy doing shabby buildings that would fall apart in the shortest possible time.
Corruption in the health and education sectors has left us with mixed feelings and various stories. The Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) clearly states the importance of health care for economic growth; in the education sector for instance, there are illegal malpractices ranging from the illegal sale of textbooks marked NOT TO BE SOLD : to extra charges in schools to ‘sex for grades’. Law enforcing agencies have their own stories to deal with as well.
There are many rogues purporting to be lawyers busy extorting huge sums of monies from members of the public. Security forces have their own stories. Other sectors that the country depends on largely to build the economic basket such as marine, mines and agriculture are marred by corruption. True to oneself, citizens pay the most price. The Government on its own part is affected greatly in terms of revenue collection, and donor confidence is threatened. Stealing public funds affects all. No matter an individual’s social or political status, everyone suffers considerably. When the Government loses, every one of its citizens loses.
HOW CORRUPTION FIGHTS BACK
Corruption is not just a case of public officials abusing their positions of power for private gain. Business people, religious leaders, the media, CSOs, the list goes on and on, have taken opportunities to abuse the power given to them for private gain The chairman of Nigeria’s former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, is renowned for his stance against corruption, he once said “ When you fight corruption, it fights back”.
Corruption has been fighting back for years in Sierra Leone. The country has seen how some indicted persons/convicts and their benefactors organized rallies when charged to court for corruption related offences. The country has also seen how media houses would write negative stories against the ACC when they have a vested interest in an accused or convict. It is a shame to say that those who benefit from corruption tend to protect their sources of livelihood instead of thinking about the development of the nation. In Makeni, Northern Sierra Leone, when a certain accused person was acquitted and discharged by the High Court, pro-corruption protesters were around the premises of the Commission jubilating and singing hate songs against the Commission. At the end of the day, one wonders who suffers the most.
The Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, perhaps one of the greatest examples of an anti-corruption agency, did not only embark on large scale investigation and solving high profile cases, they made huge investments in changing public attitudes, building partnership, shared responsibility and hard work among political party leadership and citizens. It is a fallacy to believe that a single institution can win the fight against corruption. In building partnership, every citizen has a crucial role to play. The impact of citizens’ participation in strengthening democracy, service delivery and empowerment, is being increasingly recognized. There is growing evidence on the active role civil society led anti-corruption efforts have had on indirectly reducing corruption and increasing State responsiveness.
In essence, the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone will only succeed when considerable amount of resources are set aside and all citizens demonstrate commitments to tackle it. The ACC, as the lead institution in the fight against corruption, does not have all the required resources to combat corruption. Such battles are fought collectively. The public must have the understanding that without their commitments and collective efforts, corruption will continue to thrive and there is little the Commission will be able to do to minimize the widespread illiteracy, poverty and underdevelopment. The Commission should therefore, be aggressive in building partnerships with various stakeholders in society.
THE WAY FORWARD
A new approach to the fight against corruption is through collaborative efforts. Adopting and enforcing laws, reviewing systems and procedures and educating the public have had serious gains in some nations. To gain strides in this effort, firstly there is need to address the high rate of illiteracy in the country. According to UNDP, only forty one percent of Sierra Leoneans are literate. Most of the acts caused by corruption are due to ignorance.
With an enlightened public, all other issues will fall in place such as; openness in Government spending. Government should have an open policy as to how public funds are spent. Citizens should be able to monitor Government activities to question and debate any suspected form of malfeasance. For instance, in New Zealand, one of the best top performers in TI, created a transparent budget process by initiating a Fiscal Responsibility Act, providing legal framework for transparent management of public resources.
Another approach that could be used is to minimize some of the bureaucracies and bottlenecks that exist in accessing public services or doing business. There are so many needless regulations, which nurture or breed ground for corruption.
A country like Chile had successfully made use of recent technologies in order to discourage contact and illicit transactions. This comes back to literacy and how many people have access to communications technologies. In Sierra Leone, the Government should make huge investments in educating the public to reduce corruption. Partnership and collaboration is vital. For the development of this country, every Sierra Leonean should be committed to fighting corruption.