By Alimamy Lahai Kamara
I am particularly motivated to produce this article contingent upon a symposium organized by the Anti-Corruption Commission titled ‘Bribery in Sierra Leone: the Causes, Effects, Solutions and Implications for the Agenda for Change’. More importantly the academics and media pundits that made presentations on this topic interestedly stimulated me. I resonate with their views. These scholars boldly untie the notion of bribery as it relates to society, concernedly draw parallel as to whether it is part of our habit or culture, passionately compare Sierra Leone of old with Sierra Leone of new, and thoughtfully float radical solutions as to how this country can break from the contagion of bribery. For Dr. Omodele Jones, he sees bribery as a societal and not an individual problem. His thought is informed by the standpoint that Sierra Leone as a nation had once existed within the frame of a society characterized by rule of law, by values, and by morals.
Sierra Leone used to have a port far more transparent in its dealings, where less or no extortionate fees were charged. Dr. Jones, I reason, tries to juxtapose Sierra Leone of 70 years ago with Sierra Leone of today. The gem of West Africa. This gem, he holds, is a society today where the dominant political, social, and economic sphere is indicative of a form of societal madness called societal cynicism that has affected the cultural values. Societal cynicism, he espouses, is viewed in the fact that people view life negatively, people exploit and mistrust others, and people place low emphases on high performance. This problem can only be tackled targeting society and not the individual, he argues. His thinking, I understand, frowns at piecemeal approach to addressing societal problems. But his disposition however is coterminous with the approach the ACC is applying in the fight against corruption. The ACC’s approach, intrinsically eclectic, is informed by its National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which guides the Commission’s fight of the cankerworm. We will revert to this later.
I find pleasure in Francis Sowa’ (lecturer at FBC) presentation, maintaining that the notion of bribery is a bad habit and is not part of our culture as Sierra Leoneans. For him bribery is a bad habit; a settled and regular conduct difficult to give up. Whereas culture is a way of life; it characterizes the language, religion, and art of a particular group of people. Culture is collective; habit is personal; therefore, bribery cannot be part of our culture but a bad habit left unchecked for years, he argues. We can readily find wisdom in Sowa’s point of view and attempt to look for symmetry in that of Dr. Jones’. According to him, Sierra Leone used to have a rich culture marked by high morals – a culture whose value-system was commended by foreign merchants. I believe that gradually, over a long period of time, Sierra Leoneans, as a society and as a people, have cultivated bad habits, as attitude pattern pronounced in our behaviour, which are firmly fixed into the base of our culture and therefore now produce streams of far-reaching vices of which bribery is one. The good elements within our culture that used to bind us together have been excessively suppressed and profoundly overtaken by urgent social factors that deepen competition, instill hate, ignite personal aggrandizement, undermine patriotism and encourage corruption.
At the symposium though all four presenters praise the agenda for prosperity document but call on government to factor into it the fight against corruption. Umaru Fofana, (Editor, Politico) adduces that the fight against corruption will make headway when it is pursued more vigorously, more generously and more sincerely. Countenancing the argument surrounding morality and value-system, Fofana posits that the solution to fighting corruption can be where public officials do what is right, the public resist what is wrong, and institutions set up to fight corruption do so more vigorously.
At this point, I wish to draw your attention to the approach ACC employs in the fight against corruption and attempt to synchronize it with Dr. Jones’ thinking for a holistic method in the fight. The ACC has three-pronged approach: prevention, education and prosecution. Within a broader framework, society is disaggregated into pillars, and the three approaches are applied to theses pillars to cure incidence of corruption or to educate or prevent corruption before it breaks out. The pillars provide a clear picture of who the target for public education on corruption is, and as well identify the weaknesses and gaps in the public sector that are corruption breeding-ground. For example, the legislature, as a pillar, has its strength and weakness and in some instance this weakness can be an avenue for corruption. Weak capacity to perform oversight functions breeds poor service delivery in the public sector that will undoubtedly impinge on the economy. Raising awareness through customized meetings, seminars and academic presentations on parliamentary oversight functions can reposition and prepare parliamentarians to perform oversight in a bid to close up potential corruption spot.
The ACC and its partners have been very active in this drive. A number of public and private institutions including the media, NGOs and CBOs are partners with the Commission, pooling resources, sharing information, coordinating personnel, and implementing programmes towards eradicating the menace. Eradicating corruption is a process, and in an informed society, where every unit plays its part, where the public report corrupt practices, where government officials reject bribery, the fight against corruption can be worn. Dr. Jones, Sowa and Fofana can be described as avid in their presentations in accentuating the path to prosperity for Sierra Leone – a destination that can be reached when we all are serious to holding accountable the corrupt, to naming the corrupt, and to shaming the corrupt.