Integrity crisis among Sierra Leonean politicians: A worrying concern

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By Alhaji Haruna Sani

Sierra Leone is a nation rich in resources and potentials, but yet continues to be inundated by a persistent pervasive lack of integrity among its politicians which undermines the nation’s progress and stability. This integrity deficit is not merely a political issue; it is a societal cancer that erodes public trust, leads to blatant corruption hampers economic development, and suppresses democratic governance. The implications of this crisis are far-reaching, affecting every facet of Sierra Leonean life.

The irony of politicians preaching integrity while exhibiting the lowest standards themselves is striking. One of my favorite musician, Emerson Bockarie, a renowned Sierra Leonean musician, aptly captures this hypocrisy in one of his revolutionary music: “Una attitude nor wer clos, then una d tell we for change we yon attitude,” meaning those with negative attitudes telling others to change their bad attitudes. This resonates deeply in a society where those who consume too much sugar ironically warn others about its health effects.

The integrity crisis in Sierra Leonean politics is deeply entrenched and multifaceted. The lack of integrity has fostered a culture of corruption that has become almost institutionalized. Alarmingly, top officials in offices meant to combat corruption, promote quality education, security, and other critical areas frequently fall short on integrity themselves. From the highest levels of power to the grassroots, corruption is rampant. Politicians, entrusted with the welfare of the people, often prioritize personal gain over public service, leading to routine misappropriation of public funds and policy decisions driven by bribery rather than citizen needs.

Despite some slow progress, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index consistently ranks Sierra Leone poorly, highlighting the endemic nature of the problem. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), despite efforts under different political administrations, often seems to be fighting a losing battle against a system designed to protect those in power. High-profile corruption cases frequently end with light penalties or are quietly dropped, reinforcing the perception that the powerful are above the law. Sometimes, the heads of these institutions fall short on integrity themselves, exacerbating the issue.

The lack of integrity among politicians has significantly eroded public trust in government institutions. Sierra Leoneans have grown cynical about the political process, viewing elections as futile rather than as opportunities for change. Voter turnout is often high only because electorates strive to have their tribesmen in power, rather than out of genuine hope for change. This pessimism is dangerous, further weakening democratic institutions.

Moreover, the lack of integrity extends to electoral processes themselves. Electoral commissioners are often accused of open rigging, and the issues worsen over time. Reports of vote-buying, intimidation, and electoral fraud are common. Such practices not only undermine the legitimacy of elected officials but also discourage honest and capable individuals from participating in politics. Why run for office if the system is rigged in favor of the corrupt?

The recent elections conducted by the Sierra Leone Bar Association in Kenema on May 18, 2024, were alleged to have been marred by manipulation and fraud, reportedly orchestrated by  the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone. Such allegations, if true, are deeply troubling for the nation.

The economic implications of political corruption are profound. Mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds divert resources away from essential services such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure development. This misallocation perpetuates poverty and inequality, as the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by a select few while the majority of Sierra Leoneans struggle to make ends meet.

Foreign investment, crucial for the country’s development, is also deterred by the perception of widespread corruption. Sierra Leone’s reputation for corruption makes it a less attractive destination for such investment, limiting the country’s economic potential. Investors who dare to venture into the country often find themselves engaging in corrupt practices, adhering to the adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The Way Forward

Addressing the integrity crisis among Sierra Leonean politicians requires a multifaceted approach. Firstly, there must be a genuine commitment to enforcing anti-corruption laws. The ACC needs to be empowered and supported to pursue cases without fear or favor. High-profile prosecutions with meaningful consequences will send a strong message that corruption will not be tolerated.

Political reforms are necessary to increase transparency and accountability. This includes campaign finance reforms to reduce the influence of money in politics and the establishment of independent bodies to oversee electoral processes. Strengthening the judiciary to act independently of political influence is also crucial.

Education and public awareness campaigns can play a significant role in changing the culture of corruption. By fostering a sense of civic duty and ethical behavior among young people, Sierra Leone can cultivate a new generation of leaders committed to integrity and public service. Addressing the problem of integrity is not a quick fix. This generation must start the fight for the next, understanding that it may take decades to achieve success. But if we are to succeed, we must begin now.

The lack of integrity among Sierra Leonean politicians is a profound challenge that threatens the nation’s progress and stability. However, it is not an insurmountable one. With concerted efforts from both the government and civil society, Sierra Leone can begin to build a political culture rooted in integrity and accountability. The journey will be long and arduous, but the rewards—a prosperous, fair, and just society—are well worth the effort. The time for action is now.

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