October 19, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
The Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2015 is out. It is not news any more that Sierra Leone was ranked 25 out of 54 countries in the African continent, doing extremely well in some of the four categories or indicators – safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development – used to rank the performance of countries. In West Africa, Sierra Leone did pretty well, sitting sixth [not fifth as someone erroneously wrote] among the sixteen countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
After the recent Afrobarometer Index which seems to suggest that citizens’ perception about the state and trajectory of our democracy has declined considerably, the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2015 came as a huge relief for many within government circles, not least the Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission went to town with a press release welcoming Sierra Leone’s ranking and praising strides the country has made in governance. It is quite pleasing that Sierra Leone performed relatively well in the ranking, albeit with more room for improvement in key sub-categories, including accountability and even the much touted infrastructure development. The report underscores that by stating that “Sierra Leone’s weakest sub-category performance in the ‘Sustainable Economic Opportunity’ category is in Infrastructure, scoring 21.3”.
So, for an institution with the statutory mandate to promote accountability and transparency to deliberately omit certain key aspect of the report is not only disingenuous, but worrisome.
Indeed, it is a source of great elation that Sierra Leone did exceptionally well in the overall governance performance, scoring +0.7 which is higher than the African average, but lower than the sub-regional average for West Africa. We also did well in safety and rule of law, scoring an impressive 58.0, which represents 17th in Africa, and registered 82.9 in national security, which is our best in the category of national security.
A reading of the ACC press release would suggest, to the unsuspecting and less critical mind at least, that all is well and good with our governance experience. While the report is not all doom and gloom, certain aspects of it are not particularly good as the ACC press release suggests. The devil, they say, is in the details, which the ACC somehow tried to be picky and choosy with.
Take for instance this excerpt from the report: “Sierra Leone’s weakest sub-category performance in the ‘Safety & Rule of Law’ category is in ‘Accountability’, scoring 35.8. Sierra Leone has shown a deterioration (-0.1) in ‘Safety & Rule of Law’ since 2011. This has been driven by deterioration in two of the four sub-categories: ‘Accountability’ (-2.1) and ‘National Security’ (-6.4).”
By that score, it seems to me that the ACC press release was meant to obfuscate the citizenry into believing that we are on the right path in the crusade against corruption. I dare say we are not, despite claims by the commission that corruption is on the decline. The fact is that, and which majority of Sierra Leoneans hold, corruption continues to eat deep into the fabric of our society, with little or nothing being done by the commission to go after the ‘sharks’. What instead the commission has targeted are soft targets, such as nine junior officials from both the private and public sector they indicted last week. As usual, the commission has made a meal over it, plus the fact that they received 100% conviction rate last year. One would have thought that the commission should have stated the fact about our dismal rating in especially accountability, a euphemistic way of saying that we are still corrupt, instead of glossing over safety and rule of law, and participation and human rights, which is not part of their brief. In effect, they were taking praise for other democratic institutions while craftily ignoring our bad performance in accountability.
If the ACC is serious about corruption, they should go after those who have siphoned the Ebola funds; they should track folks who have crippled state banks, and investigate and make indictments over the purchase of buses from China. But to date, the commission has remained conspicuously silent over the Ebola funds, which it had vowed to pursue, while those who have crippled state banks are enjoying their loot.
At the launch of an ACC Report on Case Law on Corruption, the ACC Commissioner, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara was quoted to have said that reports about corruption are often magnified! As shocking as that statement was from a corruption czar whose brief is to put the corrupt guys out of business and retrieve their stolen wealth, it essentially shows the direction this current commission is headed. By his utterance the ACC boss was effectively saying that we should stop talking about corruption and for the public to change its perception about corrupt officials. While perceptions may not necessarily be true, in truth they most times point to truth as the people are not blind; they know the corrupt. Even the ACC commissioner once promised Sierra Leoneans that they would go after people who they perceive have amassed unexplained wealth and have built mansions on hilltops.
Contrary to what the ACC deputy said in that release, we are not making progress in the fight against corruption, rather we have seen a clever strategy to shield the ‘sharks’ and ‘hawks’ and to go after the ‘dogs’ and ‘rats’.
In a country where Ebola wreaked havoc on the populace partly because of corruption, where schools and colleges lack basic amenities because powerful people in society shortchange students, and where folks leave well beyond their income, the ACC like their counterparts in Africa should be busy going after those enemies of our collective progress instead of indicting poor teachers and police officers who may have stolen few Leones. That is not to justify petty corruption, but the fact is that it is best to go after those with the greatest responsibility than waste state resources on foot soldiers
It is clear that the task ahead for Joseph Kamara and his men and women is huge because in the words of the Kenyan anti-corruption crusader, Professor PLO Lumumber, “the forces of darkness are greater than the forces of light.” That is the more reason the boss of the commission should focus of the job he is paid to do and forget about politics or any hopes of becoming president, at least while he is commissioner. There is no gainsaying that he is qualified for the presidency, but he should respect the office and the people whose trust he carries by either resigning his current post to concentrate on politics or to concentrate on his job and resign from politics. Put succinctly, Joseph Kamara should talk and walk accountability and transparency, nothing more nothing less!