Corruption – perception is in the eye of the beholder

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 October 2020:

“We must not allow other people’s perceptions to define us.” – Virginia Satir. Our Parliamentary Leaders seem to be piqued by the results of perception surveys by IGR and CARL which indicate that the public consider Parliament to be the third most corrupt institution in the country. They are in a state of denial and have gone nuclear with veiled threats made against these organisations.

But surely, perception is the combination of one’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and awareness and the way that you perceive the world is uniquely different from anyone else. On the matter of negative public perception, our Parliamentarians should be relieved they are in good company.

Imagine an organisation in which more than 500 employees have the following characteristics:

• 29 have been accused of spousal abuse
• 7 have been arrested for fraud
• 19 have been accused of writing bad checks
• 117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
• 3 have done time for assault
• 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
• 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges

Can you guess which organization this is? Give up yet? It’s the 535 members of the United States Congress.

One has to be very careful about perception –Perception, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I recall the story of a cousin of mine in Bo. My mum, a teacher used to have special maths lessons for him, and being no Einstein, he flunked all the tests! When we asked him what happened, his excuse was always- “Dis Mammy lek for gi posin maths test way di san wam!”.

What Mathematics had to do with the sun coming out is anybody’s guess. We corrected this “perception” of his by administering the test at night- he still flunked it.

Parliament, the Bronze medallist is not the only group livid. The Office of the Presidency has also joined the fray. The thing about perception surveys in Sierra Leone is that when they are favourable to certain groups, they put out press releases in self-congratulation, but when they are unfavourable, there is always something wrong with the methodology. No sample size is enough. Some spokesman would allude to “illiterate hard-to-reach people in Kurobola” who were not interviewed.

Carl and IGR have defended their methodology. They further stress that the results should be interpreted as perception but not necessarily facts. However, they quite rightly say that if a vast majority of people consistently view you as being corrupt, it calls for some introspection.

The Speaker of Parliament has been spitting fire and waxing lyrical about “sins” committed by Carl, through Ibrahim Tommy and IGR, through Andrew Lavali and the powers of Parliament. There is enough venom in his statements to make these gentlemen quake in their boots and run for cover.

How dare they accuse Parliament of corruption? -“It is analogous to treason”, the Speaker strongly asserts:

“Therefore, for Parliament to be accused of corruption, it must of necessity be viewed as committing a crime analogous to Treason, the crime of betraying one’s country. It strikes at the very heart of our central nervous system and that must never be taken lightly. In such circumstances Parliament must either emerge triumphant or atrophy.” Strong stuff!

He goes on to make the burden of proof higher for Tommy and Lavali: “And the evidence they must adduce must be of unimpeachable quality and the standard of proof cannot be anything less than the highest possible standard, that is to say, proof beyond all reasonable doubt……We shall settle for nothing less because it’s time we made it pellucidly clear to all our citizenry that in our present dispensation, there is no more free licence to defame and slander; to curse and abuse……..Enough is enough!”

Wow! Tommy and Lavali should bear responsibility for the views of others? After the threat he finally points out what they did wrong: “First, both the so-called surveys lack substance. They are based on public perception and not reality. And we say clearly and loudly that public perception is not enough basis for an indictment.”

Well this sounds strange. They did state that this was based on public perception and it looks like the speaker agrees.  The speaker goes on to steer his argument towards the normal “Kurobola theory of sampling”:

“Second, the perception is that of the very few, some might even say infinitesimal, number of people who mostly reside in the urban areas of our country; not of the multitudes who reside and toil in the rural areas. Moreover, what really do they stand to gain from such inconsequential surveys? “

Just when I thought the Honourable Speaker was not going to talk about any introspection, he put me to shame: “Upon the resumption of Parliament after its recess this matter will be duly committed to the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges for investigation…….. However, I promised that if ever such practices as alleged are taking place, then I do consider it as an opportunity for self-introspection and for full investigation.”

Thanks you Mr Speaker. So what was all the threat about? So you will investigate?

Let’s come next to the Office of Chief Minister (OCM) whose spokesman went slightly short of calling for the decapitation of Messrs Tommy and Lavali. According to him, Carl and IGR do not even understand the ”complexity” of the governance structure at the wider Office of the Presidency which consists of Office of the Vice President, Office of the First Lady; Office of the Chief Minister and a host of key agencies, initiatives and advisers:

“If you don’t understand the structure, what were they answering to when they said they perceived the Office of the Presidency to be corrupt?, he asks. “It is evidently clear that the IGR is ill informed of what even constitutes the Office of the President.”, he concludes.

Not satisfied with “outing” Carl and IGR on the matter of  “terminological exactitude”, he veers off into exposing the “impertinence” of Messrs Tommy and Lavali for not acknowledging the importance of the Office of the Chief Minister:

“The OCM is informed that the wider Office of the President were not accorded the respect to be served copies of the report nor were they contacted to corroborate the survey findings that touched on the highest office of the land – The Presidency.”

He then sites the “Kurobola theory of sampling” argument and actually calls into question the competence of the two organisations to carry out such research: “This gross generalization about the office of the President clearly shows that IGR cannot even undertake a credible research let alone a perception survey. This so-called survey was done in blatant disregard of the very basic principle of research information dissemination especially when the Office of the Presidency was a survey target.”

Poor Carl and IGR are being hung out to dry for the views of others! This reminds me of a boss of mine at Sierra Rutile who was a serial liar but always had a witness. He would drop his bombshell of a lie to someone, turn to me and ask- “Andrew a lie?. I would answer hesitantly- “E m em, No Sir, na true Sir”.

It is indeed strange that instead of taking this as an opportunity for introspection, both Parliament and OCM have taken umbrage and resorted to attacking the messenger.

Indeed, as far as Parliament is concerned the repeated accusations of corruption both within its ranks and from outside over the years and recently should be cause for concern. They are in denial and always asking for proof, but as one political pundit told me -” Who will be the squealer? How will you prove that brown envelopes were given to members? Whoever (whether a company or individual) owns up to having paid a bribe must do so at his own peril. And besides who will offer a brown envelope in the presence of witnesses?”.

But Parliament has a golden opportunity to showcase its constraints. Why else would only 80% of the members in the previous Parliament not get re-elected? How will they fund oversight trips when enough funds are not provided them as per the budget? Are they in fact given enough time to vet appointees or is it always rushed? Do their constituents expect far too much from them beyond their mandate and means? One is not giving excuses but there are many reasons why they must have an introspection on this corruption issue. This matter cannot be resolved by rhetorical flourish and intimidation alone.

As for the OCM, representing the Silver medallist on the corruption perception survey, the preoccupation should be finding out why people perceive the Office of the Presidency, whatever the inadequacies in exactitude of the definition to be corrupt. Could this present a golden opportunity of educating the public on the “complexities” of the office and the onerous job of the Chief Minister?
.
The bottom line is that we should stop splitting hairs and accept that people have a poor perception about the willingness of our governance system to tackle corruption and believe the system itself is corrupt. Two major organs of government ranking second and third in people’s perception on corruption is worrisome. Berating the messengers would not change people’s perception and it behoves the accused parties to do some introspection and change these negative perceptions.

And, I even forgot to ask who won the Gold medal! I should have asked Messrs Tommy and Lavali but suspect they are probably in hiding. Ponder my thoughts.

4 Comments

  1. It is unfortunate that both the speaker of parliament and the spokesperson in the office of the Chief Minister are taking this perception survey personally. The recent COI report has revealed that the former president and persons close to him including the holder of the office that has been renamed office of the Chief Minister have been named as corrupt. Similarly many MPs in the last government were denied symbols because their constituents saw them as unfit and corrupt to represent them. The current chief minister David Francis comes from the same constituency as the former minority leader Dr Bernadette Lahai. Was she not accused by her own party as corrupt?

    What about the recent happenings in parliament where a member is accusing the clerk of parliament who ironically was an MP in the last parliament as extremely corrupt? What about the complaints by the former mayor of Kenema against the committee that was responsible for city development funds asking for kickbacks before they can approve development funds for Kenema? And like stated by Mr Kailie above, because it is difficult to prove brown envelope corruption, the matter was dismissed by the APC led ACC. Evidently Kenema was deprived of the few development ventures that the last government took to the south and east of the country. The current speaker vehemently said that parliamentarians are not elected to develop their constituencies. That they are elected to make laws and check the other organs.

    Be it as it is, why are parliamentarians given sixty or more million Leones every year as constituency development funds and this money is coming from the consolidated funds? This is money that is being diverted and should be cut off henceforth. The good thing is that the fight against corruption has never been central in our governance. It is a blessing that today it is taking a centre stage, and I pray that it is not derailed. The next step should be how we can provide incentives that would discourage corruption by public officials. The Rwanda model should be imitated.

  2. In the interest of maintaining our Parliamentary democracy, the government and our elected members will be best served if they try to rebuild public trust to the way we are Governed. Rather than dismiss the perception report with a shrug of the shoulders, or go after the messenger, they should go after the message and work on it by delivering the service they promised to the people. Sierra Leone has reached a crossing point. Do we continue to do politics as usual, or find alternative ways to govern ourselves? Because when the public lose interest in the way politics is conducted on their behalf, they tend to look for alternative ways of expressing their frustration.

    The first causality is the break down of law and order. In majority of cases they resort to violence to effect change. No one in their right mind wants that for our country. Corruption amongst our elected members, and our system of first past the post only adds fuel to the fire. Because the 55% segment of population feel their voices have been heard. The other 45% that voted differently, naturally feels disenfranchised because their party is not in government. They think despite all the campaigning their vote is a wasted vote because no one listens or pretends to listen to their concerns, let alone address their needs. To the angry minority, it feels like the air vent to express their frustration has been blocked by the ruling party. Consequently they never accept the legitimacy of anyone party that is in government.

    No one individual can be blamed for this. Its the way our system works. Although sometime it will help if the leader recognises this fault, and take a common sense or pragmatic approach to the way he does things. Then you have Bio, who likes to hoard power, and make impulsive decisions – with nothing done in the interest of the country, but for his party and with an eye on the election cycle. Apart from corruption, the biggest threat facing us is our electoral system. It is out dated and needs urgent reforms. Maybe to bring our country together as one people striving for the common good, I think its about time we amend our electoral laws, and make it the law of the land to allow the party with the highest vote occupy the presidency. The second highest party occupies the first vice presidency. Then the smaller parties are given ministerial jobs in that government. Its called division of labour, because we are all working for the common good. There will be less corruption, less tribal and regional differences. Switzerland is the best example. May God bless Sierra Leone.

  3. Indeed Corruption is in the eye of the beholder – And who is it that wouldn’t agree with such a truthful and perceptive statement? Firstly, to proceed on a solid footing let me emphasize that our social, religious and moral upbringing are key factors that determine and influence how we perceive things. The ancient saying that ‘One mans meat is another mans Poison’ is nothing but the gospel truth, and bold utterances like, “A man labelled a terrorist to some is a Freedom fighter to others” have been embraced by many. But is it True? Maybe! But without a shred of doubt your viewpoints will all depend on the influences that have shaped your perceptions since childhood – the grass doesn’t lean in one direction for nothing, it is only the wayward wind that keeps on pushing it there.

    The same thing applies to corruption in Africa. Many people that grew up in abject, degrading poverty are brainwashed by family, friends and communities into believing that poverty is a curse and are encouraged to use any means and avenues readily available to them to rise gallantly above it. Even stealing is dismissed as something inconsequential. But a Fulani herdsman once told something I will never ever forget – in his candid words I found an Ace for overcoming corruption I could keep – “A obstinate raging bull can only be subdued by an army of herdsmen, because it kicks violently with lethal force, twenty men or more must grab all its four legs, and because of its life-threatening head butt another twenty more men should firmly hold its head and its horns very steady and still, and lastly, another ten strong men of skill with ropes made of the strongest wire must bind it before it can easily be slaughtered. Gentlemen – we will need all hands on deck to win the war on corruption in Sierra Leone, not just a few – Everyone must work with a common purpose otherwise no hope!

  4. Maybe we should have all members of every aspect of the government declare their assets in order to be part of the government in SL. Corruption is embedded in every aspect of our society. Our country needs a strong leadership in order to tackle corruption.

Tell us about your views

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.