By Saa Matthias BENDU-FDID-SL
Corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that has affected our country since independence in 1961. It has undermined our democratic institutions, slowed down our economic development and contributed to political instability. Corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is to solicit bribes.
Economic development is stunted because foreign direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the start-up costs required because of corruption. Foreign investors, who decided to stay, because the constitution was flouted with impunity to give them unprecedented tax holidays, pay those taxes to those who wave it in cash or kind. It’s an open secret that such investments benefit mainly the status quo, whiles ordinary citizens suffer in pain and feed on the crumbs that fall off from the table of such foreign investors and the powers that be.
Sierra Leone signed up to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on the 9th December2003, being amongst the first countries to do so, and ratified the said document on the 30th September2004. Eventhough the Anti-Corruption Commission has been set up corruption is still endemic in Sierra Leone. During the tenure of President Ahmad Tejan Kabba a few high profile politicians were dragged to court but many more should have been as well. With regime change in 2007, the ACC has been empowered with, among other things, prosecutorial power. Again some high profile politicians have been dragged to court and found guilty. However only fines were leveled against them instead of being imprisoned.
Many believe the ACC does not have the free hand it deserves with political dictate coming down to them sometimes. Some believe that and the threat to his life, among other things, accounted for the resignation of the former ACC boss, Abdul Tejan-Cole.
We have also witnessed how the Anti Corruption Commission, shifted the goal posts in the NASSIT Ferry saga. Those involved were asked to refund some of the money. The ACC said it aimed to encourage and facilitate systematic and timely return of assets or money stolen through acts of corruption. WE are yet to know how much of the amount has been paid by any of those involved in that NASSIT Ferry saga.
Most people strongly believe though that the ACC only shifted the goal post because one of those involved in Nassit ferry case is a close relative of the president’s. The Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said at the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December 2009 that it’s the world’s vulnerable who suffer “first and worst” by corruption such as the theft of public money or foreign aid for private gain. The result, he says, is fewer resources to fund the building of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads. Mr. Ban notes, however, that corruption “is not some vast impersonal force” but rather “the result of personal decisions, most often motivated by greed.”
Motivated by greed, well said Mr Ban. This so true in the case of Sierra Leone, a nation endowed with abundant mineral resources, we have witnessed over the past 51 years how our politicians, some traditional leaders and elites have collaborated with corrupt multinationals chiefly mining companies to rob us of the proceeds of mineral resources and other sources of income. Consequently we wallow in abject poverty, amidst abundant wealth, as our wealth only nourishes owners of corrupt cooperate mining companies and their greedy collaborators who give them national tax holidays surreptitiously. We are seeing substandard infrastructures because of the huge amount of kickbacks given to greedy people who awarded those contracts.
There are many different forms of corruption, such as trading in influence, abuse of power and various acts of corruption in the private sector. All these different forms are at their highest peak in Sierra Leone today. The trading in influence and abuse of power has let off the hook many corrupt people, thus compounding our fight against graft. Currently we are seeing corrupt people being recycled, for example from Open Government Initiative OGI to the ministry of presidential and political affairs. It is the trading in influence and abuse of power that is preventing the implementation of reports of commissions of inquiry and government white papers. They include, for example the Jenkins Johnston commission of inquiry on the Koidu Holdings Limited saga leading to the death of two people and the injuring of many others in Kono district, and Sheer-Moses Commission on the spate of violence in Freetown, Tongo Fields, Kono and Bo. Today, the perpetrators are moving about with their chest high. This act of corruption is preventing the rule of law as it keeps shifting the responsibility of taking the appropriate action against the perpetrators as the commission’s report stipulates – IMPUNITY!
A serious impediment to the success of any anti-corruption strategy is a corrupt judiciary. A compromised judiciary means that the legal and institutional mechanisms designed to curb corruption, however well-targeted, efficient or honest, remains crippled. Unfortunately, there is a strong and steadily growing perception of corruption in our courts system.
To confront these problems, we must take a variety of approaches. Let us start by examining judicial corruption in detail and seeking to remedy it. Another area we must also work on is assets recovery, which aims to encourage and facilitate systematic and timely return of stolen money and assets. We must also strongly caution our political leaders especially those in power that they should stop interfering with the work of the ACC and the commission’s head must not be a puppet. Finally, we must all be sincere in our fight against corruption.