By Josef Dumbuya
Yes, initially it was a pipe dream, well, from so-called detractors. Some had even hinted that the panicky manner the access to information bill was passed into law was a sign that the government was struggling to pass enough indicators to be reselected to develop the compact proposal for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant. Now, it has come to pass. We have missed out on the mouth-watering grant that would have changed our lives especially the majority poor who need it most.
The message from the Board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation cannot be clearer; ‘The fight against corruption is not good enough’. This is despite the fact that our anti-corruption law is very good coupled with the efforts of government and civil society organizations.
But all is not lost. The good news is, we still stand a chance of being reselected in December 2014. This is reflected in this statement by CEO for the MCC, Daniel W. Yohannees, ‘We recognize the efforts that the governments of Benin and Sierra Leone have undertaken to address corruption, and I can assure them that MCC is committed to helping those efforts succeed. I am hopeful that the continued and deepened efforts of both countries will be reflected in future performance on the control of corruption indicator’.
Now the challenge facing all of us, of course with leadership from the government, is to face this stark reality and work assiduously to pass the MCC’s control of corruption indicator to get reselected for the MCC investment. This is time for reflection but it is no time to brood over the fact that we have not been reselected for the MCC compact.
The question that should be occupying our minds is this: What can we do as a nation to pass the MCC’s control of corruption indicator to get reselected next December? We have had an offer of help from the MCC but the saying goes charity begins at home. We all have a role to play with the government obviously in the led. I will now try to explore the role every sector or individual should play and, as you would expect, I will start with the government.
Passing the Freedom of Information Act, even though belatedly, is a huge step in achieving transparency and accountability in the way the affairs of the country are conducted. Who knows, we might have passed the corruption indicator if it had been passed, say, in the first term of this government. The government cannot now afford to dilly-dally. It should as a matter of urgency ensure the Information Commission start its work by the end of the year. But this has cost implications. I know! But this is peanut compared to the amount of money we will continue to lose to corruption as a result of delay in establishing the commission. We know President Koroma is very, very slow at taking crucial decisions but some of us are hopeful that he has learned his lessons.
Another important issue demanding urgent addressing verges on the unquenchable appetite of Sierra Leoneans, not least those in the public sector for class. Let me hasten to say before DJ Base accuse me of ‘bad heart’ that I am not in any way opposed – why should I? – To anybody making as much money as s/he genuinely can. If a public worker decides to use a helicopter to work because of the chronic traffic congestion that should be fine as long as it is not at the expense of Sierra Leoneans and it is through genuine means.
It is important to note that public sector workers engage in corruption in large part to feed their unquenchable obsession with class. They want expensive vehicles and unlimited amount of fuel – by stealing what is meant for their colleagues – to do some non-office related work. They want well decorated offices with expensive settee chairs and other furniture, TV set, fridge and equipment. They would not share toilet with colleagues because as the boss they should have one exclusively for themselves.
This bring to mind something a Sierra Leonean who herself had lived in the West for over two decades had to say about compatriots who have made the decision to return home. Unlike what obtains in other African countries including Ghana where she has lived, Sierra Leoneans become localized when they return home. They eschew the good things including the work culture and start copying all the negative things that stand in the way of productivity back home. What’s more, some even behave worse than their compatriots who have not lived and worked abroad.
They do the things for which they would be sack if they were abroad. They turn up late for work and meetings; sit in the office and do nothing; banter on the phone while at work; become obsessed with class and start to pay more attention on their appearance by wearing suits (coat and tie) they never wore abroad; rather than share office space, they would ask for bigger space; become lazy and care less about work ethics and quality of output and rabble in British accent – common among the half-baked – to make up for what they lack in education and experience. They drink dive, talk on the phone while driving and smoke in pubs, supermarkets and other public spaces.
Government should through its policies, programs and actions reduce the temptation for corruption. Public sectors workers should start sharing office space with their colleagues like we have with UN agencies and many international NGOs in the country. Government should privatize canteens and equipped them with TV set so it will not have to provide one for each office. As a matter of fact TV sets serve only to distract attention from work.
Another area of concern is the amount of money we lose to reckless spending including fake and bloated contracts. I was shocked to learn from one of the pieces by US-based Chernor Bah that the standard cost for one kilometer road is US$250,000 and that US$4 million was spent on one kilometer on Wilkinson road.
I think it is about time we started cleaning up this area. One way of doing so is by having standard prices for every contractible job. For instance, based on advice of experts, we can say to make a one kilometer road a contractor cannot charge more than a certain amount.
Also, Government is losing too much money to dubious sanitization workshops. What we now know is that when some NGOs and public sector workers lose money to corruption and are at lost on how to account for it, they organize workshops to ‘educate’ us on something as a way of covering up for it. Government should therefore clean up this workshop thing. It should include reducing the number of sanitization workshops to that which is absolutely necessary.
The President needs to clean up the cabinet to save cost. The President should resist calls for a reshuffle or moving around ministers if you like instead he should slice the cabinet by more than half. It is bloated and unaffordable.
Recruitments should be transparent and competitive.
The political opposition
Of course, I will understand if the opposition especially the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) tries to make political capital out of the failure to qualify for the MCC grant. No opposition can afford to miss such an opportunity. At the same time, any opposition worth its salt should seize the initiative to proffer alternative proposals and ideas on such issues. This is what constructive opposition is about. I know!
That said, the failure of the opposition to proffer alternative ideas on these issues before now could also be a serious failing on their part. I’m not talking here of, say, Mohamed Bangura of the UDM or Tamba Sam of the SLPP going on radio to accuse government of being corrupt and criticizing it for failing to fight corruption. This is actually the easiest thing to do. As a matter of matter fact many of us do. I’m talking about proffering clearly thought out alternative ideas that will run parallel to those of the government. I’m talking about implementation of these ideas. I’m talking about suggesting structures which will make it very difficult, if not impossible for corruption to thrive. We will all agree the opposition has failed in this area. Thanks in large part to the infighting and bickering within especially the SLPP.
Victims of corruption
Playing by the rules in this country could be a mind-boggling experience because you risk being treated with scorn. Many would recall incurring the wrath of public sectors workers because they had insisted on playing by the rules. They waste your time, hiss (suck teet), poke fun at you (gee you back tok) and become very rude to you. In fact some offices pamper notorious foul-mouthed women they unleashed on those who refuse to toe the line.
I recall an experience when workers in a certain office gang up against me no sooner they realized I was ready to play by the rules. Before I could realize it word had done round and everybody was set to teach me a lesson for obeying procedures. Nobody was prepared to talk to me and those who did were rude. They wasted my time by giving me wrong information.
The experience with another is worse of. They wasted my time and after two weeks I was told my documents were nowhere to be found. So I had to start the process all again with all the costs that go with it.
Also, on countless occasions I had to spend my money to get things done and to avoid waste of time. I have had to pay fares, buy top-up and papers and provide lunch.
With a very docile public these problems will not go away any time soon. For a start, we should begin to demand time limit when services should be delivered. Civil society should monitor these offices to give voice to victims of corruption. ACC should support civil society undertaking sure activities.
One thing both supporters and opponents of the ACC will agree on is that there is still a lot of work to do in the fight against corruption. Granted we have one of the toughest – some say it is in fact the toughest – anti-corruption legislation on the continent. Granted a lot of efforts have gone into telling people at least those in the major towns about the consequences of corruption. Granted there are system reviews and processes in place. This notwithstanding, surveys by organizations monitoring corruption indicate it is getting worse. Of course, I understand the challenge with the judiciary and political interference.
The anti-corruption strategy therefore needs overhauling to reverse this trend. With a staff of 200 – courtesy of ACC Commissioner, Joseph Kamara – the commission simply hasn’t got the luxury of resources to run after every jack and gill that is engaged in corruption. Some of it should be done by civil society.
It is for this reason I have always agitated for the ACC to become a unit of the Sierra Leone Police. The ACC will have at its disposal a pool of investigators to tap into. In addition, it will put an end to poaching of some of the finest police investigators by the ACC.
I know you are opposed to it chiefly because you subscribe to the view that the police are the most corrupt. Let hasten to say that corruption in the police is the most visible but I definitely do not subscribe to the view that they are the most corrupt. I will return to the issue just now.
The ACC should therefore focus most of its time and resources on the groundswell of grand corruption – the contracts, travels expenses and per diems, hotel bills, procurement, allocation and disbursement of funds, receipts, how funds are being accounted for, budgets, dispensation of justice, sensitization workshops and funds channeled through NGOs. You must know of people on less than one million Leones a month having cars and living very classy lifestyle to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
This strategy has the advantage of having members of the public fully on board which could take several forms including outreach and sharing intelligence with the ACC. It will change widely held view that the ACC is not serious because it is only running after the small fishes – police officers, teachers and local tax collectors to name a few.
It is important to note that you lose the fight against corruption when you treat all forms of corruption – grand, middle level and petty/small – on the same scale. The fact it, they are different in magnitude and complexity and should therefore be approached and treated differently. It is folly to do otherwise.
Corruption among police and teachers is the most visible. But this is by no means the most serious; talk less of falling within the category of grand corruption. Also, we should not forget that police constables are poorly paid. When you pay a constable Le250,000 a month, which is barely enough for fare and lunch for two school going kids for a month then you appreciate why they must take Le2,000 bribes to supplement their salary. It actually doesn’t matter who is in that position, whether it is ACC commissioner Joseph Kamara or whoever.
What is more the ACC finds itself in an awkward position to lecture the police to perform miracles and live on Le250,000 when they have got one of the most competitive salary structures in the country.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is right. What I’m saying is that until they are paid a wage that is enough to cover basics – education for kids, food on the table, fare and medical – we will be wasting time attempting to stop it. What I’m saying is that this is a lesser evil compared to those who engage in grand corruption that is for purposes of maintaining an extravagant lifestyle or becoming rich.
I think I have heard people say that corruption has nothing to do with salary. I beg to differ. I agree that some of the most corrupt people receive the best salaries. This is corruption driven by greed. At the same time, if people are not paid way below the living wage they have to find ways of supplementing their incomes. This is corruption driven by need. You can address the latter if you tackle the former. The reverse is not possible.
The current strategy is failing because the ACC spends more resources on talking at people (or opencolling if you like) not to be corrupt and keep reminding them of the consequences. They will tell you prevention, outreach and system reviews and processes are the magic wand but the evidence suggest otherwise.
In fact some have argued that the ACC would have achieved a lot more, if it had diverted the resources from prevention and outreach to spying on lifestyles. I’m sure this will have Ibrahim Tommy of Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law hit the roof. But if we have to sacrifice some of our privacy to beat corruption, I think it is worth it. After all, the US and Europe are worse at spying on their citizens for what they describe as ‘the common good’.
Also, it is one thing to have system reviews and processes in place and it is quite another to enforce them. After all, there were system reviews and processes at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation when the GAVI funds were misappropriated. What’s more, it is so embarrassing that it took the donor to raise the alarm for the ACC to be aware of the corruption that had taken place. By then some of the evidence had been destroyed. Now tell me, what is the point in having system reviews and processes if efforts are not made to ensure they are scrupulously adhered to?
Civil Society should fill the gap resulting from the ACC’s focusing on grand corruption. They should take the lead in mobilizing efforts in fighting small and petty corruption. They should lead by example by ensuring that they conduct their activities in a transparent and accountable manner. This means among other things properly accounting for donor funds. They should begin to make public donor funds and expenditures. International NGOs should do the same.
Since they are receiving money on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone it is but incumbent of them to tell the people how the money is spent. It is fair to say they are not doing that at the moment.
Also, civil society should take the lead on outreach on corruption. I mean they should be doing exactly what ACC’s outreach officers are doing around the country. They can do so without incurring any costs by including ACC messages in their programs. I have said that they should share intelligence with the ACC.
We should begin to hold to account NGOs and civil society groups for resources received on behalf of the people. For far too long we have allowed them to go uncheck, as a result we have seen donor funds diverted to personal aggrandizement.
I would not want to bore you with the conspiracy theories around the relationship between the ACC and the judiciary. You are all too familiar with talk around town that the judiciary is jealous about the mouth-watering salary of the ACC boss thus undermining ACC cases. Rubbish!
To enhance the fight against corruption, we need to have a team of credible Sierra Leonean and foreign judges to preside over the ACC cases only.