March 31, 2016 BY: ALIMAMY LAHAI KAMARA
Since Independence corruption has been the biggest threat to the security sector in Sierra Leone, and has been identified as one of the factors responsible for the 1991 civil conflict that collapsed the State, barely twenty-five years ago. Failures in the sector might have started in 1961 when it manifested signs of a festering sleaze in recruitment, appointment and promotion. Security sector then was largely constituted of the Sierra Leone Police and the Sierra Leone Army – and chiefdom authorities also played a somewhat passive role in this arrangement.
In the last 15 years security sector agencies have snowballed, and the sector has been designed to be robust in structure to prevent threat to national development and to the lives of the citizenry. Agencies such as Office of National Security, Central Intelligence and Security Unit, Immigration, National Revenue Authority, Anti-Corruption Commission in addition to Sierra Leone Police, Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Correctional Centre have come to constitute the sector. However, the threat facing it remains bribery and corruption.
Bribery is pervasive, and perceptions abound that it has come to characterise security institutions. The 2010 Transparency International Global Barometer found an increasing number of people across the world paying bribes, and in 2013 the same Report indicated that 84% of Sierra Leoneans paid bribes in the period under review. Bribes are mostly paid to public sector institutions considering their interaction with the citizenry. The 2013 National Perception Survey commissioned by the ACC indicated that the Sierra Leone Police ranked in first position, among other public sector institutions, in the act of corruption. The public perceive the SLP to be corrupt and this could be because of its being an obvious symbol of the State, interacting with the public on a daily basis. At checkpoints, border crossing points, in traffic, and at police stations, the services of the police are solicited while apparently seen on duty. But we cannot push the view that their obvious interaction is the cause for high bribery rate in the Force. A Report titled Corruption Stops with Us: Ending Bribery for Traffic Offences in Sierra Leone found that 3 out of 5 drivers paid bribes when stopped by the police. This shows the temptation police officers are exposed to from traffic offenders, and the lack of uprightness of officers to reject and execute their lawful duty without committing an offence.
The National Revenue Authority is also exposed to this type of corruption – an act that has the potential to undermine the smooth function of the State through increase in external debt, the inflation of Government expenditure, disruption of business flow, and the hampering of service delivery. The practical outcome is that Government will be unable to muster needed local revenue – and this means road projects will be abandoned, electricity and water distribution interrupted, and health and education services disrupted. The 2013 National Perception Survey ranked NRA second in the list of institutions perceived as corrupt. NRA, like the Police, interfaces with the public – the business community – for the collection of taxes. And regular face-to-face interaction tends to lead to compromise. There is also the fact that staff overstay at a location without rotation.
The Sierra Leone military, like other armies across the world, is a subject of speculation for the occurrence of bribery and corruption, and this has been attributed to the fact that it operates in tight hierarchical secrecy. Stiff administrative bureaucracy tends to indicate that transparency and accountability are lacking. For example, Operation Pebu received significant attention from the ACC over mis-procurement for the construction of accommodation for officers in the regions. Additionally, the 2015 Audit Service Report indicated that the military is unable to account for billions of Leones of funds received for development purposes. Even though the Report does not present a conclusive case for corruption, which it will not do, but being unable to account for funds points to administrative lapses vulnerable to corruption. This no doubt puts the military in the limelight for mainstreaming anti-corruption measures into its operations and administrative procedures. Anti-corruption measures serve to promote transparency and accountability. They enhance best practice and motivate the culture of self-restraint, auditing, and financial propriety, while strengthening layers of supervision and reporting mechanisms.
Mainstreaming anti-corruption measures in ministries, departments, and agencies is provided for in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2014-2018 – being an integral part for the design and implementation of programmes and policies. This will require them to exhibit credible leadership and guarantee adequate internal structures that breed professionalism, ensure adherence to codes of conducts, compel compliance to lay down policies and procedures, and demand performance and exhibition of integrity.
Added to this is the establishment of Integrity Management Committees (IMCs) in security agencies, including MDAs, that allow them to take ownership of the fight against graft in their respective institutions. SLP, NRA, RSLAF, and Immigration Department have set up IMCs, while ACC coordinates implementation of their anti-graft strategies.
Eradicating corruption in the security sector is an enormous task, but not impossible. At this point, we will commend the sector for holding continuous inter-sectoral meetings, the outcome of which is a partnership commitment to curb bribery and petty corruption. Action plans have been developed and agencies are springing into action: the SLP, championed by the CDIID, is on sensitisation to various police divisions admonishing officers on issues of integrity, discipline, and professionalism. The ACC is focusing on public sensitisation to engender favourable public opinion and confidence in the security sector, and to create a feeling of safety and wellbeing among the citizenry. Security stakeholders are brought together on a panel discussion on radio and TV discussing their resolve to tackle bribery and corruption and the role each agency is playing. This is a huge effort; and the ACC is coordinating this commitment with the objective of sanitising the security sector of corruption in order to create a safe and secure nation.