BY: DOLLY A. ISSA
All living things must breathe to stay alive. Plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Animals, on the other hand, take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide.
To put it figuratively, corruption, a vicious animal, has had its moment to thrive and breathe in Sierra Leone. Not all those who were aware of its presence and nature were willing to fight it, and the few who were willing to fight it did not know how.The few who knew how did not have the support and trust of the system to do so. Hence, corruption fed on our oxygen while it caused us to feed on carbon dioxide.
When corruption breathes, the people are suffocated. But when corruption loses its oxygen the people begin to breath- and it is only when the people can breathe that they can have the strength to fight corruption and live a prosperous life.
A human breathes about 9.5 tons of air in a year, but oxygen only makes up about 23 per cent of that air, by mass, and we only extract a little over a third of the oxygen from each breath. That works out to a total of about 740kg of oxygen per year. So Sierra Leone with 7.5 million people needs 5 trillion and 55 billion kg of air for us to survive. This estimate never covered corruption, and corruption at its peak can take away 95% of that oxygen.
Thievery within our public space was a commonplace. Society saw no evil in public servants unduly amassing wealth beyond their salaries and other emoluments. Public funds were the resources being used by those in public service for personal gratification at the expense of the suffering masses. Misappropriation of public funds contrary to Section 36 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as amended) was only a law on paper which presence meant nothing to ward off thieves from getting close to public funds. Patronage and political ties were held high above citizens’ needs. This was the result of broken (if not collapsed) institutions that could have salvaged an already weak and dying Sierra Leone.
Medical funds for the wellbeing of citizens were syphoned and converted to personal wealth. Children under five and lactating mothers died in thousands because they could not get the needed basic treatment. Therefore, morbidity took the rise over and above many countries within the sub region placing our country’s health level below the average. Health workers employed to save lives became the killers by selling drugs and medical equipment procured to secure a better health system. But was this done with fear amidst laws guarding against same? The answer is an obvious negative.
Bribery and kickbacks were the hand that shook contracts; it was the tool openly used by those who wish to gain access to more public funds and opportunities; and obviously the wheels that transported unexplained wealth to offshore bank accounts owned by public servants while the country is left in misery and penury.
Bribery diverted the course of justice thereby depriving those of poor economic status of justice. The bribes became openly known as ‘kola’ or ‘shake hand’. Our courts became an open market where bribery became the legal tender used in exchange for justice. This resulted in a lack of confidence in our legal system.
Service delivery was thwarted, challenged and derailed. Education was not earned, rather, it became a commodity for those (teachers and lecturers) expected to instill values in those (pupils and students) expected to propel the future of Sierra Leone. From primary schools to tertiary levels, corruption of various forms was openly embraced by authorities.
Politics was the quickest path walked on by the corrupt to achieving ill-gotten wealth. The Anti-Corruption Commission was seen by some as a mere political tool and was commonly defined as a ‘toothless bulldog’ while others mimicked the eagle on its symbol as blind. This was due to the rampant corruption within the public space which the ACC then could only but sit and watch. Can it be said that the political power capable of rendering the wrath to punishing these nemesis was asleep?
Humans and corruption are never meant to be in the same room; hence a stance has to be taken to kick corruption out! For that to happen, corruption has to be isolated and then deprived of its oxygen. Promotion and mainstreaming of accountability, transparency and integrity in public sector institutions, a rigorous enforcement of anti-corruption laws and a massive public education exercise are some of the instruments needed.
Upon his ascendance to the Commission’s throne in 2018, one of Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala’s maiden steps was to lay before Parliament a Bill amending the 2008 Act in a bid to take the fight against corruption seriously. Its outcome which was the 2019 Amendment filled the lacunae of the 2008 Act by making corruption an expensive and risky enterprise for any public servant to embark on it. Sternly, he sent a warning out to the public that his mission is to rebrand Sierra Leone and launder its long-damaged image. Needless to overstate that Sierra Leone was one amongst the least performing countries in the world in the fight against corruption as adjudged by internationally recognized corruption assessment institutions. To this end, the Commission on a data-led footing has overwhelmingly caught the admiration of the globe over its robust strategies introduced to nailing corruption down regardless of who is involved.
On its matters already investigated over a period of under 4 years, the Commission has secured more than 90% conviction rate on its cases. This is inclusive of politicians from both ends of the isle. In fact, evidence stands clear that the Commission has prosecuted more members of the ruling Sierra Leone’s Peoples Party under which the Commissioner was appointed. The data defeats baseless assertions that, the ACC, during the reign of Ben Kaifala, has only been a suppressing tool used by the ruling government against the opposition.
The 2019 amendment also provided for the recovery of monies stolen by public servants where the need to prosecute them does not provide the best option for the State. This has led to the recovery of over 30 Billion Leones, which was paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Commission has also recovered stolen public properties like vehicles, which were handed over to the State.
Before now, our educational system had turned into a market place where grades could be bought either with money or money’s worth. This unworthy and immoral trade necessitated for provisions in the amendment for the prohibition of such practices, including examination malpractices. These provisions cover any immoral conduct like sexual harassment, leaking examination materials, sale of grades and examination material and the exchange of sex for grades.
Since the dawn of this new era, Sierra Leone has witnessed a new wave of decency within her educational system. Teachers have been investigated, prosecuted and convicted for examination malpractices and other corruption-related issues. This sanity and sanctity now enjoyed in our learning institutions is restoring the old order that once made Sierra Leone “the Athens of West Africa”. This is helping to instill discipline and confidence in pupils and students that hard work is the only sure path to achieving their educational goals.
The gains made by the Commission have quickly transformed Sierra Leone’s image from one of the most corrupt countries in the world to one that has become a leading example of an effective anti-corruption campaign. This is evidenced in the recognitions by credible and independent global anti-corruption intuitions like Transparency International (TI) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
In the TI’s Global Corruption Perception Index, Sierra Leone has made steady progress moving from 130 out of 180 countries ranked in 2017 to 117 countries in 2021. In 2021, the country also increased its score from 33 in 2020 to 34, which continues to be above the Sub Saharan average and the highest Sierra Leone has ever scored since the inception of the CPI rankings. This shows consistent exemplary performance by Sierra Leone on corruption control. As a result, the country now leads 64 countries in the global campaign against corruption, including 32 African countries like Kenya, Guinea, Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Zambia, Mozambique and Egypt.
Therefore, while there should be no room for complacency, it can be confidently and proudly stated that corruption is no longer an openly accepted trade within the walls of our public domain; it is no longer the tool used by the political elites to derail public service delivery. In current day Sierra Leone, we can safely say that corruption is losing its oxygen while allowing us to breathe more comfortably.