Mohamed L. Kallon
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 May 2016
It is high time Sierra Leoneans reflect deeply on some of the challenges facing the country, especially after last week’s presidential order, banning all peaceful protests within the vicinity of State House – the people’s House in the capital Freetown. Aristotle Onassis once said: “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
In Sierra Leone today, inefficient government institutions are offering too many opportunities for bribery and extortion. And yet the ruling APC wants people to shut up.
The civil service has been turned into an extremely politicised institution. Ruling APC party officials and supporters are awarded government contracts and other benefits, to the detriment of the country.
There is widespread mismanagement and misuse of resources in the education sector, where the absence of a formal complaint and redress mechanism, offer opportunities for extortion, bribery and nepotism. Yet the ruling APC wants the people to shut up.
Powerful individuals in society are allowed to manipulate the criminal and justice system to their personal advantage. And yet, the ruling APC wants the people to shut up and put up.
The judiciary’s ability to deliver justice services in an independent and impartial manner is impeded by lack of resources. Poorly paid and under-qualified staff are making a living through bribery and corruption.
Judicial presence outside the capital city remains limited, contributing to excessive delays and backlogs in the dispensation of justice in the provincial towns and cities.
Establishment of basic justice services like the identity card system have been unsuccessful, due to rampant corruption. This results in the obstruction of criminal investigations, leading to miscarriages of justice.
Foreign aid is often distributed outside formal and official accountability structures, which comes with its own inherent corruption risks.
The Public Order Act 1965 that criminalises libel is used to control what is published in the media, and restricts the exercise of freedom of the press guaranteed by the constitution.
Sierra Leone is ranked 115 out of 175 countries surveyed, and is among some of the least-free press nations (Reporters without borders 2009). However, congratulations must be directed at the few newspapers that are openly critical of government.
There is deep concern over “state capture”; where corruption is used to influence public policies, the legal environment and the economy for personal gain.
Grand corruption, nepotism and embezzlement are commonly practiced by those at the helm of the country’s leadership and senior public officials.
Let us reflect on some of the consequences of political corruption, which has become a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law.
Corrupt politicians are spending public money on projects that are lining their pockets, rather than benefiting poor communities. They prioritise high-profile capital projects such as roads and airport construction, over less spectacular but more urgent infrastructure projects such as schools and hospitals.
Environmental degradation is another consequence of corrupt systems. The non-enforcement of environmental regulations and legislation means that precious natural resources are carelessly exploited, and entire ecological systems are ravaged.
Corruption undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership.
It is crystal clear that corruption is the most important factor responsible for the country’s under-development.
In our objective to promote democratic and progressive values, we must address institutionalised forms of corruption as a priority, so as to prevent the country from further deterioration.
After nine years in power, the ruling APC is showing no positive indication of political will to address corruption, lack of accountability and poor governance in the country.
What is wrong with asking our leaders to shed light on the prevailing rules, plans, processes and actions they are putting in place? This is what promotes good governance, transparency and accountability.
Citizens should be free to hold their leaders and officials to account. This will help guard against corruption, and will increase the people’s trust in their institutions, on which their futures depend.
If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at will definitely change.
“Let us pray for Sierra Leone” is commonly heard nowadays. But there is no evil curse on Sierra Leone to pray for.
Sierra Leone was blessed even before it was inhabited.
Let us reflect on of some of the world’s most precious and highly valued diamonds discovered in our rich alluvial diamond deposits since the 1940s that we know of:
In March 1943, a 249.25 carats diamond was discovered; In June 1943 – came a 532 carats; In January 1945 – 770 carats gem was discovered.
In February 1972 – a 968.9 carats, otherwise known as ‘The Star of Sierra Leone’ – ranked as the fourth-largest gem-quality diamond and the largest alluvial diamond ever discovered in the world.
And among recent discoveries, in 2013 a 125 carats diamond was discovered in Sierra Leone; and then came the 153 carats gem in February 2014.
Is it therefore not inexcusable for Sierra Leone to be in the category of “one of the poorest countries in the world”?
Sadly in Sierra Leone today to use the words; poor governance, poor administration, poor water supply, poor electricity, poor education, poor hospitals, poor sanitation, poor citizens, is a crime. Hence last week, State House outlawed any form of public protest around the vicinity of State House itself – the people’s House. It declared: “It should be noted that such protests have a disruptive influence on the peace and quiet of the presidency.”
Who do you think you are Mr. President? Who do you think is to be held responsible for the problems of Sierra Leone today?
Sierra Leone’s economy relies on its abundant mineral, marine and natural resources, which represent a substantial portion of the country’s export earnings.
Despite being among the top-ten diamond-producing nations, these resources have failed to translate into sustainable economic growth, due to mismanagement and corruption.
Corruption in the diamond mining industry remains a national concern; some government officials involved in illicit mining schemes with complete impunity. This is reflected in the small number of investigations and prosecution by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Sierra Leone is losing massive revenue from taxes and licensing agreements – revenue that could be invested in education and healthcare. Research suggests that 50% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are smuggled annually.
Sierra Leone’s mining performance is reported to be extremely poor. With good institutional reforms, the country should be able to increase mineral exports seven-fold in less than ten years.
Instead of blind affiliations to political parties, we should align ourselves with the country’s national goals, democracy and good governance.
We must seriously consider changing the country’s constitution to get rid of the present system of governance to that of a coalition system, that will promote inclusiveness and national unity, rather than the ‘first past the post – winner takes it all’ system.
We cannot remain tight-lipped and fail to denounce the evils that prevail in our country. We must continue to strongly protest our concerns about the poor management of the economy, inequality and rampant corruption. It is the most powerful democratic weapon we possess.
If we, the people of Sierra Leone are not capable of putting our country on the right track, then no one else will. Citizens must therefore continue to advocate for a better Sierra Leone, where everyone can participate in creating and enjoying the benefits of that wealth.