PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER
Most Sierra Leoneans accept that corrupt actors have broken this country for the longest part of post independence. What is also not in contention is that most Sierra Leoneans accept that a serious clampdown on corruption is the only viable way forward for the country. However, it is also fair to query how much have we done, or willing to do as a people and a nation, to right a situation that has been so wrong with devastating consequences.
This point can best be illustrated by the verity that corruption thrived in countries where people do little or nothing in confronting it, but rather accept and treat same as norm, with wide levels of acceptability. As revealed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other studies, Sierra Leone squarely falls within this bracket. In essence, corruption became systemic in Sierra Leone mostly because the people accepted it. Nonetheless, it is fair to point out that the majority of the populace did not involve or benefit from the loot, they simply complied despite the considerable negative effects it had on them and the country. Like an obedient flock on its way to the slaughter house, the people simply obeyed and complied with the roguery even when it made them poorer. The ‘How for do’ syndrome has permeated our culture for long periods.
It is effortless to distinguish that citizens are the main drivers in state governance, making them pivotal to the national anti-graft campaign. When the main drivers are not supportive of the fight, the consequences are bad; they become even worse when citizens publicly demonstrate support for people charged or convicted of corruption.
When the populace, that critical mass, fail to support the fight against corruption, but would rather come out in full gear in support of convicts of corruption, such actions undermine and render irrelevant efforts geared towards the eradication of the hazard. The irony is, as a consequence of corruption, Sierra Leoneans are among the poorest people in the world. The mockery is unmistaken, but the problem is, some people still don’t get it, it seems.
In the recent past, various groups, fully robbed in distinct ‘Ashobe’ regalia, sang and danced at the Law Courts in support of a Reverend found guilty of corruption. This Reverend swindled monies solicited from the international donor community in the guise of constructing an orphanage in Eastern Freetown, but ended up building a hotel for personal benefit.
Yet, these same community people deprived by this thievery, organized themselves into support groups and carried the convicted Reverend shoulder high, singing and dancing across the streets of Freetown. The mood was joyous as ‘citizens’ slug it out in total submission to the ‘gumbay’ beat.’ You will be forgiven to believe that the Reverend had just won the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedicated and unflinching service to humanity. The celebrations seem to blur what is glaringly a distinct setback for this country and its people, the continued conversion of national resources to personal.
On a previous occasion, when a famous politician was convicted for corrupt offences, the drama was not less, ‘citizens’ protestations were much higher and coordinated. Offensive placards were directed at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), damning the institution for doing its work; for chasing and bringing corrupt actors to book. Like a lynch-mob dressed in colorful ‘Ashobis,’ the support group even shouted its chants louder after the politician was pronounced guilty. The situation was as if the convict has been elected Prime Minister.
For the progressives and sensible, what still remains a puzzle is that nearly every Sierra Leonean wants to bring corruption to an end, at least by their testimonies, but why do people come out in defense of those who have deprived them of their right to be rich; or at best minimum, those who have historically and continuously deprived them of access to their basics. Is it greed, poverty or ignorance? Or is it a combination of all?
Much as ignorance is still classified a national sin, yet it can be understood given the reality in Sierra Leone. In a matching streak, I cannot say same for greed. Greed cannot be forgiven because it has been the leading motivation for corruption globally. Poverty as a factor is too much of a wildcard. However, poverty does not stop a man of integrity from remaining honest but one would be amiss and completely off track if poverty is taken out of the equation.
Whatever the reason for corruption in Sierra Leone, citizens must join efforts to curb the scourge rather than promote it. Only citizens can mobilize the greatest pressure for change in any society. To this end, citizens must be public watch dogs in ensuring the enforcement of anti-corruption laws and policies correcting opaque budget-making processes, establishing greater transparency in government transactions thereby creating an accountable society that is fully capacitated to deal with the social and economic needs of its people. For this reason, folks must be on the side of the good guys, instead of opting for supporting people found guilty of corruption. People must turn attention to a far better prospect of the great nation we all seek to attain by supporting the fight against corruption.
The frustration for all is that corruption has been the principal cause of failures in all the failed spheres of the country. The cost of corruption in the medical sector, the income generating institutions of government, the business sector and the glaring failure in the aid and NGO sector have heaped so much pressure on government despite the gains the anti- corruption campaign has registered. Corruption, like Ebola, is hard and too complex to disentangle without public support.
Corruption distorts markets and destabilizes societies, perpetuates poverty and prolongs social injustice. It is responsible for poor healthcare delivery system, feeble power generation and distribution; corruption is responsible for the weak educational and learning structures and breeds the risk of a violent outbreak of hostilities. Corruption infringes on the fundamental human rights to fair treatment, it prejudices decision-making process at all levels of the national strata, and further infringes on civil and political status. Through corruption, the public services on which the poor depend are starved of funds, Direct Foreign Investment takes a hit as foreign investors are driven away, and even environmental protection measures are flouted.
Is this what we deserve as a People? Why do we continue to support corrupt actors even when their actions breed us so much throbbing?
In the interest of balance and fair engagement, its needs remembering that it is understandable for a corrupt but generous pubic official to attract some support from his beneficiaries. But those supporters must not go as far as directing unwarranted aggressive flaks at the Commission and its leadership. It is not fair to put up a tough show of support for anyone convicted of corruption. Such lack of honor will not benefit the nation. It is clueless and unpatriotic to celebrate thieves for personal benefit at the expense of the state. We are setting the wrong precedence if we continue to admire and celebrate this category in society. We must not be weak in the face of corruption. According to an American moral and social philosopher, Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983), when honor and the Law no longer stand on the same side of the line, choose both. Many have argued that power corrupts, but more have also conceded that weakness corrupts too. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.
There is a barrage of very good reasons to accept that it is an honor to support the fight against corruption unequivocally. Whilst no one would deny the obvious that corruption is still widespread, there is also no denying that the Commission has made distinctive accomplishments. When compared to the hysterical reaction to it challenges, we are yet to see the same magnitude throngs of “Ashobies’ making the assemblage to celebrate the Commission for the country’s continued victories and upwards movement in all the local and international intuitions that track the fight against corruption, including the TI Index, the MO Ibrahim Index on Governance, the World Bank and others.
Within the past four years, the ACC has made unprecedented success in its battle against graft. In this 2014, the Commission has so far secured a 100 percent conviction rate in all its matters in the High Court. The Systems and Processes Review Department has produced cutting-edge recommendations for MDAs, which has promoted transparency and accountability.
The NACS 2014-2018, the national document defining the roadmap to the fight against corruption, has as it fore objective, the mainstreaming of anti-corruption reforms across all the national Pillars of Integrity. The country is one of the leading UNCAC (United Nations Convention Against Corruption) compliant states in the world with a very tough anti-corruption legislation which has granted the ACC increased mandate and extensive powers, including independence and prosecutorial powers.
Now is time for us to accept that corruption is not a private matter between corrupted and corruptor, but something that may distort and degrade whole economies and cultures and cause serious conflicts. So the people must act to stop the bane, and not drone “Ashobies’ and dance for corruption.
And the spotlight has moved to the role of the citizen in the fight against corruption. When the day of reckoning comes, one should be concerned about how one is rated in the nation building scorecard; especially if one is a concerned patriot. This national discourse should trigger sensible solutions and not fevered debates that reflect political affiliations, regional and tribal divide in the national game; for doing so is a recipe for self-inflicted failure.
Lets us always keep in mind that it is the same citizens who dance for corruption that suffer most of its depressing brunt on development. It is citizens who suffer when bribery damages a whole economy and public services suffer, because it is only the ordinary man who is most dependent on public services. Since ordinary citizens have few alternatives as they cannot afford private healthcare or private schools, they must stand against all forms of corruption especially bribery. Bribes distort public spending priorities as aid money is drained off into private bank accounts.
In many countries, if not all, where societies have rapidly progressed, the people have always taken the greater role in monitoring the management of public good. With a growing sense of public responsibility, there is a massive chance for the country to progress only if we sweep out corruption and say no to impunity and Ashobis parades for convicted corrupt actors. If you cannot stand up for one thing, they say, then you will lie down for anything. This is the time for citizens to stand up against corruption and be counted.