December 3, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Corruption is still the way of life in our society despite some desperate public relations gimmick by both officials at the Anti-Corruption Corruption (ACC) and within government.
The current government is always quick to beat its chest that it had given the commission more powers to prosecute alleged corrupt persons, unlike pre-2007 when the Attorney General’s Office had to give the fiat. That is the fact. But what they do not tell the public is that there numerous cases of corruption which are not being prosecuted or have stalled in court, for inexplicable reasons. The fiftieth anniversary celebration is one among the lot.
And, if the dictum of the former Kenyan anti-corruption czar, Professor PLO Lumumba, is anything to go by, merely having tough laws to fight corruption will not defeat the menace or take the corrupt out of business. What is needed is the political will and a strong determination by the ACC to go after the corrupt, especially the ‘tigers’. From how things are shaping up, it pretty looks like business as usual, almost seven years since Sierra Leoneans thought a new dawn had come.
More public funds are being siphoned, with many leakages in both the private and public sector. Those who control finances have had a field day – misappropriating funds, doing bad procurements and engaging in very doggy implementations. The diagnosis does not look good, as a result, despite efforts to falsify reality by those in authority or whose business it is to fight graft. The reality is that if the law on corruption is rigid, men and women have mastered the act of evading detection. Or is it the case that the Martial Eagle is not effective enough to pick them out?
As Sierra Leone turns a new era, post-Ebola, it is sad that corruption still thrives, and on a scale that undoubtedly it has permeated all facets of our society, thirteen years after the war ended – a war that was triggered among other things by massive corruption by a political class with sticky fingers. There is no doubt that the current class may have even bettered their predecessors.
During the Ebola outbreak, even as hundreds were dying each day, the shylocks and hyenas were busy plundering ours resources, donations from good citizens and well-wishers. They could not help but to chop ‘blood money’. The disease itself may not have spread across the country if corruption was not our stock in trade. Hospitals lacked basic supplies like gloves, ambulances and protective equipment, despite annual allocations to the health ministry quantified in billions of Leones, and assurances by the political class that the situation was under control.
Consequently, what the Ebola outbreak did was to expose the charade that the health sector had significantly improved prior to the outbreak, as parroted by spin doctors.
Facts do not lie, and that is factual. It soon dawn on us, including the political elites that the health sector was in a shambolic state. But if anyone thought lessons had been learned they were mistaken as billions of Leones were allegedly stolen as people took advantage of the emergency.
The auditor general published a real time audit report covering three months (May to July 2014) of the outbreak and the findings were damning. The magnitude of graft unearthed was palpably breathtaking!
Unsurprisingly, nothing has come out of the scandal, despite the outcry by the public. Business as usual: Parliament, whose primary constitutional duty is to enact laws, took it upon themselves to investigate the scandal, browbeating the anti-corruption boss, after a brief standoff between the latter and the majority party leader. A report was subsequently release, but your guess will be good as mine whether the recommendations have been complied with. To date, nothing has been heard of the Ebolagate scandal, not from the anti-corruption commission, which promised to ‘robustly investigate’ any allegations pointing at corruption in the management of Ebola funds. The auditor general’s office is still to release another real time Ebola audit. It might yet signal end of story, with many hideous things hidden beneath.
That notwithstanding, the ACC still boasts of a hundred percent conviction rate in 2014. The question they should answer is whether cherry picking who to indict – going after more low level targets instead of the big boys – is the best way out of instilling fear in the minds of the corrupt.
When a recent Afrobarometer report came out, the commission went out of its way to issue a press release that failed to tell the entire story that the country had actually done very poorly in corruption. It glossed over that and instead gloated that the rule of law and democracy are taking root in the country. While that assertion may not be entirely incorrect, the fact is that our rankings in various corruption indices would eventually undue achievements made over the years.
There is a growing body of evidence that we are moving in that directly slowly but surely. Sierra Leone has failed to scoop hundreds of millions of dollars of development aid from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation in successive years primarily because our anti-graft campaign is failing. That is why the strategy to fight graft needs to be revamped or better still change the driver and bring in one who is costumed for the tough fight.
Everybody knows that fighting corruption is a big fight. Therefore, maximum concentration is needed from those entrusted with the task to fight the hydra headed menace as the enterprise can be costly and failure could lead to even costlier consequences. That is why the boss of the ACC should either distance himself from talks that he is eying to replace President Ernest Koroma or do the honourable thing to resign. The two do not sync, being a politician and at the same time a corruption czar. So the earlier he chooses between either career options the better for his reputation, the institution and the country.
The timing could not be better now than before because as a country we need serious soul-searching in the wake of another poor showing in the Transparency International report titled “People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015”. That 70 percent of Sierra Leoneans think almost every sector in the polity is corrupt, speaks volumes about how far we have gone in successfully fighting corruption. We may have hyped the fight, but we are certainly not punching enough to knock the corrupt guys off their perch. Thus the ACC need a full time boss who owes no allegiance to any party or individuals.