March 2, 2015 By: Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
An African proverb says that what the dog sees and barks at, the sheep has already seen and remained silent.
We are travelling a familiar road. That pathway of universal deceit, on which the more you look, the less you see. The street of righteousness where we put on sack clothes, expecting to go to heaven but definitely not prepared to die. You know what I mean – that lane of hypocrisy and tomfoolery.
Politicians will always produce enough hot air to turn the turbines at Bumbuna and despite the fact that they sometime appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet, they are rarely in harmony. Which is what the aftermath of the release of the Ebola fund forensic report is turning into. The exposé confirms that some of our leaders are happy to paddle in the creamy waters of moral decadence having lost the sense of propriety, decency and shame. Just listen to the clueless parliamentary leader’s catastrophic reading of the public mood and the government spokesman’s confession that the report, from their perspective, was baseless, fallacious and a distraction. Really?
In other words, even though Sierra Leone is suffering from financial haemorrhage and an increasingly high rate of cash leakage which has turned it into a money farm for the privileged few, there is no real zeal to fight corruption and re-engineer perverted societal values which will live with us long after Ebola has taken leave of our shores.
Is the minister trying to reveal the-elephant-in-the-room to show us that the whole tedious list of midge-swarm of initiatives, strategies and policies gleefully announced by his boss – the President – to short-circuit corruption, since the inception of the administration, has really been nothing but a forgotten blur which has also now become an irritable rash?
Let’s not forget the grandstanding by the shambolic anti-graft body, whose public image is not only ambivalent but whose one-dimensional, cartoon-network calibre of leadership and sense of perception of its function, makes it totally disconnected from the aspirations of majority of the people.
The government’s breath-taking hypocrisy has been pitiful to watch and as lootocracy, which is government of the looters, by the looters and for the looters entrenches itself in our polity, we come to realise that the reason why the whole sleaze issue has become a mumbo-jumbo, is because morally, those in the corridors of power cannot climb on a high horse, since they are not above all reproach.
It is therefore impossible not to see, in the whines and threats of the missionaries in the ruling political elite, a formulaic, over-rehearsed recitation and bubbles of melodrama to the issue of corruption. There is a difference between anti-corruption rhetoric meant for public consumption and genuine attempts to roll back the tide of this evil scourge. Our government is not really interested in the latter.
I’m also sorry to say that while a leader takes the credit for whatever success was/is achieved, he must also take the flak for the prevailing excesses and abuse of power and privilege. President Koroma is complicit in the entire shambolic junkyard of shattered dreams that the fight against graft has assumed. His integrity and anti corruption stance suffers a little corrosion by the reputation and character of some of the men around him which has made it a wee bit challenging for the government to explain its stewardship since it is running on the barest of accountability.
Squandermania and greed apart, the irresponsible financial rascality of political office holders, is why the government often attempts to produce a virgin in its run-down maternity ward or looting gallery. Obviously, the bile and venom, the national outrage and cynicism over the rapacious greed contained in the Ebola fund scandal, which the government spokesman is exposing as a three-day wonder, is shaping up to be a confirmation of our continued pretence not to know that corruption, like cancer, has metastasized into the very sinew of government.
Like most of our national scandals and pressing issues, the subject of making ‘money in the shadows’, has become the basis of an emotive topic on which vested interests have studiously muddied the waters of public opinion. For one, the release of the Ebola fund report has achieved exactly what it was meant to do – take the sails out of the winds of detractors that were waiting stick in hand to pillory the government and put it on the defensive. Any discourse now, can only extend the national conversation on this fundamental issue or diminish and indeed befuddle it.
Therefore, as the storm fills the airwaves and takes column inches of strangled vowels in the print and social media, we need to realise that the effort at shutting others out of the political space is the typical definition of politics in our part of the world. There is no getting away from the fact that corruption in Sierra Leone, which has clearly become a weapon of mass destruction, has infested almost every aspect of life, work, and society. The orgy of corruption and impunity abounds at every level of authority, office and institute and I can’t think of a single area where you wouldn’t encounter one form of graft or the other. There is no beginning or end to corruption which has become a permanent fixture on our landscape, like the cotton tree.
Contracts are routinely awarded clandestinely against laid down guidelines to party men, as rewards for loyalty; or to local or foreign conduits; most of whom have a chequered history of exploitative participation, in and out of governance. But then, some of the intemperate criticisms and reactions of key actors in a government that is in itself loaded with shady characters, go to illustrate that reformation requires more than an attitudinal change from the burdened faithful down below, when there is blatant nepotism and greed at the pulpit from where the hierarchy preaches a different sermon.
Like a second time parent whose first child always slept through the night, those in power and very much aware of what to expect from a gullible society, are blasé about corruption. This is why the battle against graft has been lacking coherence, consistency and political will. Even though the kleptograph has been sounding off continuously, like a fire alarm in a paint factory, the government has shown the poise of an elephant on roller skate, in the fight against Lootocracy.
Following in that footstep, collectively, we, as a people, have also continued throwing rocks at the beehive, then wondering why we are being stung. We reel with disgust that corruption, which is at its zenith, is our fastest growing industry. Yet, we often allow the issue to become scattergun of trivialities. And with the national political landscape littered with kleptos and hangers-on who indulge in wild extravagancies; the pacifistic demeanour of President Koroma to the war on corruption and his penchant for not taking a strong stand on the issue of ‘Thieves of State’, has ensured that indulgence in graft is a badge of honour.
On several occasions when developments have bordered on the dripping hands of those closely associated with the government and its personnel, what we have always been confronted with is a ludicrously complicit silence from the corridors of power; or pretentious righteous indignation from the chambers of agenda of tantalisation.
At best, as soon as the kleptogram reaches the point of busting its gauge; with peeping toms’ all around, the government embarks on a show of public satiation to disguise the uncommon and unsurpassed avariciousness of its apostles and other foot soldiers.
Corruption in our dear nation is even worse than the Ebola virus that has left us traumatised. It has eaten deep into the fabric of every facet of our society that even our leaders have been totally paralysed by its scourge as they turn logic on its head, reign with impunity, turn blue into white and speak tongue in cheek. Just look from the top down and you’ll see its spectre in official and political nepotism in which family members mostly corner juicy projects and choice contracts; or are employed and promoted over anyone else. Outright theft is rife, especially from the state coffers; by those elected or chosen to serve and who swore to protect our commonwealth. Dishonesty is the order of the day; from those in high places to the street urchin.
This behaviour is repeated through every strata of society from the very top of the government where lying, fiddling, impunity and blatant disregard for any sense of decorum in the mad rush for wealth is not in any way related to honest efforts or applying oneself to something constructive. The raison d’être of ninety percent of those hobnobbing with the powers that be, or fighting tooth and nail for political influence and position, is to obtain as much money and benefits for themselves and family members. Which is why if the searchlight were to be beamed on those in the corridors of power, I wonder if any will come out without blemish. They have sunk into the same circus of self-enrichment and empire building that consumed the moral authority of past administrations.
Back to the issue of the audit report, the unaccounted billions of Leones is a lot of money for Sierra Leone which is in desperate need of funds to drive development that will put us on the path of progress. And I am sure that to lose that much to fraudulent transactions is what has sufficiently frightened the government into its ‘urgent’ action.
The truth however, is that nobody in government can deny knowledge of the disconcerting story from the onset and as a matter of fact, should the forensic be extended to the highest echelon of government, very few (and I mean VERY FEW) individuals if any at all, will come out with clean hands; including those in the legislature and corridors of power now threatening to kick the door down.
I challenge ‘he/she’ that is without sin of any form of pecuniary advantage since taking office in the present government to cast the first stone by submitting to independent verification of their assets since taking office.
“The fatuous stunt of those jokers, who first described the alert of the impending Ebola doom as the usual conspiracy theory and who even in the light of prevailing circumstances are still pushing the blame button, will see many in the corridors of power become accidental millionaires in the course of supervising the several well-funded containment initiatives. (RANDOM MUSING – Vultures and Carcasses 28th August 2014)
Isn’t the official sleigh of hands and the righteous indignation from several quarters to the latest block-buster movie on our most influential ‘politician’ – corruption, then rather amusing? So instead of public offences and such crimes against the polity being answered in the public space, our voodoo practising political class and their caucuses-of-bargaining cronies prefer to tell us the contrary as they haul a handful of scapegoats to the gallows as sacrificial lambs.
And why not? Obviously it is easy to pillory a few individuals, than to address the inter-related threats of corruption and impunity by government officials and the public discontent to the apparent ‘theocratic’ rule on display. Deliberately or otherwise, government which is the major sources of the looted resources, has too many loopholes in its set up, which is what is constantly exploited by light fingers.
People have a right to be scandalized on this score; but the truth is that high level official sleaze will continue to grow and eat deep into the public treasury as well as lead to worsening poverty and economic inequality if the government does not change its policy of shielding powerful politicians and its own officials from robust prosecution. It is this plain fact rather than all the rest of the fandango in coded and conflicting signals, which has led to a growing public scepticism about the ability of the current administration to successfully combat corruption across board and to promote public accountability.
So, if what to expect from our political cult is the diplomatic practice of asking people who will not be missed to proceed to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip, then the prevalent culture will not only be further entrenched, it will be a bitter blow to the millions of Sierra Leoneans who are paying a heavy price in their quest for the simple things of life.
Just getting rid of some individuals as a cannon coolant trivialises the more compelling question of whether the political short-termism of such a move actually helps the nation solve the level of greed and impunity that permeates the corridors and bedrooms of those in power and their known and unknown foot soldiers.
Seeing this, those who find themselves confronted by the ‘opportunity’ which power brokers are enjoying, believe they too can only become ATMs when the table is prepared before them or else they will miss the gravy boat that their bosses are feeding from. Corruption flourishes where greed is not denounced. Hence, those with the get-rich-quick-syndrome think it is okay to underhandedly enrich themselves from public coffers. Remember, greedy people do not seek riches to make the world better, but to ensure that the rest of humanity and society scramble for crumbs from their greedy hands.
By the way, in saner climes, the system fights corruption and the president does not take credit for it. What is urgently needed is a strengthening of institutions, systems, and processes of fighting corruption as well as improvements in the overall welfare of the generality of the people. But as long as we have the battle being headed by cronies and family members, enact laws that respect individuals; or the judiciary continues to hand out ridiculous sentences if it does not circumvent the trial, those that steal, inflate contracts, peddle influence, create schemes to fulfil societal expectations would continue to flourish.
Author, Sarah Chayes says some governments now resemble criminal gangs, bent solely on their own enrichment. Trying to tackle a systemic problem without a clear and honest reform agenda is to embark on a journey without maps. There is a need to appreciate public sector corruption as a societal problem.