August 31, 2020: the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone (ACC) released a “Media Release” titled “UPDATE ON ACC’s ACTIONS WITH
AUDIT REPORTS (No 1)”. I write this piece on the 5th of September, 2020. Since that ACC Media Release hit the airwaves, and got front page treatment in many local newspapers, and was posted on dozens of social media forums… there have been almost no debate on it in the over 100 largely Sierra Leonean-peopled WhatsApp forums I am subscribed to. What social media is awash with is the rape charge against the Leader of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray, with all the lewd court room details on the handsome and loquacious Kamaraimba’s sexual positions with the 15 year old alleged rape victim; and the audios and videos and photos on the 37-man demonstration by apparent APC partisans against President Maada Bio in London. Why? Generally, most Sierra Leoneans don’t think corruption touch their daily lives; or, they are cynical that corruption is being (has been) seriously fought against by successive APC-to-SLPP-to-APC-to-SLPP governments since 1968.
Impunity and Sacred Cows
“A sense of impunity and the presence of sacred cows is still widely held… People perceive that the presence of sacred cows has DECREASED from 57% three years ago to 47% over the last year. Whilst this is an improvement in people’s perception about impunity and people getting away with corruption because of their power and connections, the rates are still high. Regarding the last 12 months, politicians (70%) and top government officials (60%) were the main categories selected… (There is a) sense of resignation by half of respondents… Only 34% think corruption can be reduced to a large extent… This could be attributed to years of impunity for corruption-related offences, thereby leading to a lack of confidence in public institutions. (This is dangerous!!). Such views may be held irrespective of the effectiveness or otherwise of the ongoing anti-corruption efforts”: those words are from “Corruption Perceptions Survey-2019; Actions, Hopes, and Impediments in the Fight Against Corruption in Sierra Leone”; Commissioned by Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, with funding from (the British government’s) DFID, and support from Christian Aid, Restless Development, and Budget Advocacy Network. According to this survey, “Corruption is not only perceived as prevalent, but also persistent. About half of respondents consider corruption to have INCREASED relative to three years back…(33%) say it has decreased….” Why do about 50% of people say that corruption has INCREASED over the past two years?
According to the CARL survey, “(This) may be related to people’s expectations that a successful fight against corruption would have positive impacts on their economic conditions, since they tend to see corruption as strongly correlated with poverty and deprivation. Poverty levels have not decreased significantly and hence people may not perceive a dent on corruption levels”. That was 2019. What about 2020?
2020’s “Wrong Direction”
68% of people in Sierra Leone think the country is going in “The Wrong Direction” – mocking the “New Direction” campaign slogan of the President, Retired Brigadier Maada Bio, during the 2018 presidential campaign: It is now “New Direction” into “The Wrong Direction”. That was the view of people
from “(Findings) from the most recent Afrobarometer survey” which states that only 32% of the people think the country is going in the right direction, a drop of 13% from the 45% figure two years ago in 2018. This FAIL MARK for the Bio Administration is more alarming in the most populated section of Sierra Leone, the West, where only 16% of the people think the country is going in the Right Direction. 57% of Sierra Leoneans live in poverty; and their living conditions have worsened over the past two years – with 81% facing shortages in medical care; and 71% facing shortages in food; 68% facing shortages in clean drinking water…. The figure for those who say the government’s fight against corruption is going well is almost the same in 2020 as it was in 2019 – about 50%. Rising poverty has clearly dimmed the sheen in the laurels earned by the Ben Kaifala-led ACC.
The Successes of the Ben Kaifala-led ACC.
For the first time in its 18-year history, “Best Public Sector Institution of the Year 2019” at the National Development Awards 2018, and “Outstanding Commission of the Year” by the National Youth-led Awards … was won by the ACC. The ACC has recovered about TWENTY BILLION LEONES from corrupt public sector workers – that is more than all the monies recovered by previous commissioners put together: from Val Collier, Joko Smart, Tejan Cole to Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, and Ade Macaulay. Sierra Leone has now passed the United States’ government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Control of Corruption Scorecard, from a failing position of 49% in 2017 (before Ben Kaifala’s appointment as ACC czar) to a respectable pass of 71% in 2018 and increased to 79% in 2019 – the country’s first ever back-to-back pass of the MMC Scorecard, which positions Sierra Leone to win about $400 million through the MCC; Afro Barometer’s Corruption Perception in Sierra Leone dropped from over 70% in 2015-2017 to an all-time low of 43% in 2018. Similarly, according
to Afro Barometer Corruption Perception survey of 2018, citizens’ belief in government’s effort in the fight against corruption jumped from an all-time low of 40% to over 66% in 2018; and according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Sierra Leone moved one space up in the CPI rankings in 2018 and thereafter jumped by 10 spaces to 119 in 2019, with its highest ever score recorded (33) that year. Sierra Leone now ranks No. 1 in West Africa and 3rd in Africa in Transparency International’s rankings of Government effectiveness in the fight against corruption. Moreover, the ACC has a nearly 100% conviction rate. Also, prosecutions are now moving faster with the highest convictions rates ever per annum back to back; and the ACC is conducting investigations covering all spheres of public life – with no room for impunity. Facts!! Statistics!! I have this suspicion that most of the educated elite among Sierra Leoneans in public service don’t know how to give meaning to statistics; or, if they do, they are largely unperturbed by statistics on poverty in the country, since they think that in their secured government jobs they would always get paid anyway, no matter how bad the economy gets; and they are likely to engage in corruption with relative impunity, and would have enough food to eat, or, money stolen from the people to build $350,000 mansions in the affluent Westend of Freetown. That is why there have been almost no social media comments – by the belligerent partisans of either the principal political antagonists in Sierra Leone, APC and SLPP, or by civil society activists – to the ACC’s “UPDATE ON ACC’s ACTIONS WITH AUDIT REPORTS (No 1)”.
The ACC should be the ‘People’s Commission
The ACC is developing more muscles to fight corruption. The Anti-Corruption Act (No. 12) of 2008 was amended in 2019 so “Asset Declaration” must now be done by nearly all senior public sector workers (and those public sector workers who handle money for government) three months of their entering the public service; and they must declare their assets twice a year. When they leave the public service, they should declare their assets within three months after their exit. There is a problem with that law. The public should lobby their parliamentarians to make a new law that would make this asset declaration PUBLIC. The 2019 amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 has increased the minimum penalties for corruption offences from thirty million Leones and/or three years’ imprisonment to fifty million Leones and/or five years imprisonment. Another problematic law! If a survey is done, most of the citizenry would likely tell you that this law is not tough enough to deter corruption. If a senior a senior officer in government steals, for example, Le4 billion and is prosecuted by the ACC, and convicted by the new Special Anti-Corruption Court the ACC has influenced the Judiciary to establish, the convicted person would gladly pay the Le50 million fine – and smile home with Le3,950,000,00 ‘profit’. The ACC has to take leadership in educating the people on these relatively lax laws that do not serve as deterrents, and solicit the support of people to lobby their parliamentarians for tougher laws. ACC has a Memoranda of Understanding with the Audit Service Sierra Leone, and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, and issues raised in the Auditor General’s Report are being (have been) thoroughly investigated or acted upon by the ACC, in consultation with Parliament. In fact, most issues raised in the Auditor General’s Report are flagged and, in many cases, acted upon by the ACC even before the report is published. The ACC deserves kudos for being proactive – but, without tougher laws, the ACC’s enhanced robustness would be like putting a man who has committed mass murder under house arrest in his luxury mansion. The biggest challenging facing the ACC is: “CORRUPTION” ‘mean say, nar YOU money big man dem dae TIF’! The
ACC must up its media and public relations game to let targeted public know that corruption is not an abstraction, but, something that affects the daily lives of every Sierra Leonean very intimately.
To Be Continued.
Oswald Hanciles, The Guru
September 5, 2020