Sierra Leone government reacts to Transparency International’s findings

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 July 2013

Sierra Leone is the most corrupt country in the world, according to the latest report of Transparency International.

The report says that over 80% of people questioned in Sierra Leone as part of their research on corruption in the country, admitted to have offered bribe to officials in order to get things done.

Those questioned cited the police, the justice system, health care, education, licenses and registration departments, and the country’s only electricity supplier as the most corrupt.

Whilst most Sierra Leoneans would agree that this finding is conservative, the government has gone on the offensive, branding Transparency International as enemy of the progress that the government is making in combating corruption.

But the reactions on the streets of Freetown – the capital is moot, though most people believe that corruption is rife, starting at the top of the seat of power to the messengers that oversee office security in most organisations.

Two years ago, a similar survey conducted by civil society, found that corruption was rife in most institutions, and that public trust and confidence were at their lowest ebb.

It’s obvious there have been little or no improvements since that report was published two years ago.

State House - FreetownAlso, the recent report of the country’s Audit Office found that tens of millions of dollars cannot be accounted for by government ministries and agencies, including State House – the seat of power.

Millions of dollars meant for tackling malaria, and revenue generated from mining companies to fund community development programmes in deprived communities are yet to be accounted for. Malaria kills thousands of people every year in Sierra Leone.

International aid received by the government has been slashed this year, in response to the opulent lifestyles and rampant corruption exhibited by those in authority.

There are fears that of the Le1.2 Trillion, supposed to have been collected in taxes by the country’s National Revenue Authority in 2012, less than Le800 Billion can be properly accounted for through the Agency’s bank accounts.

This latest report of Transparency International cannot be far from the truth, except to say that had the survey sample been much larger, the findings would indeed have been shocking.

president koroma - sumana - police chief 2012It is very difficult for a government that is being run by a small cabal of men, whose hands are deep into the state’s coffers and getting rich on contract kickbacks, to be able to govern with moral authority and conviction.

But the reaction of the government of president Koroma to these latest findings by Transparency International has been less than constructive, despite the attempt by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to gloss over the report.

In a press statement released a few days ago, the ACC said:

“The attention of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been drawn to the recent publication of the Global Corruption Barometer Report for 2013, in which Sierra Leone was rated as one of the countries with the highest incidence of bribery, more particularly with respect to accessing social services (the Police, justice, health, education, licenses, registration and electricity).

“However, it is important to note that the respondents admitted to the effectiveness of government action in the fight against corruption with a 51% aggregate.

“Similarly, 85% of the respondents also acknowledged knowing how and where to report corruption. In this vein, the Commission reaffirms its efforts in the drive to get the people sensitized and responsive to reporting corruption.

“Furthermore, the Commission is reassured by the fact that the report indicates that 99% of the respondents expressed willingness to join the fight against corruption.

Alpha kanu and Logus Koroma“Over the years, the Commission has emphasized the need for the people of Sierra Leone to come on board in the fight against corruption and to report, resist and reject corruption in all its form.

“This report on bribery affords the opportunity to restate the country’s resolve to achieving zero tolerance for corruption which can never be realized without full participation of its citizens.

“While we continue to muster the necessary efforts to deal with bribery in all facets of public life, we would like to call the attention of the general public to the negative and indelible effect of bribery and indeed any other form of corruption, if it is not dealt with aggressively by all and sundry.”

Writing for the government from his embassy office in Beijing, China, information attaché – John Baimba attacks the record of the previous government, in response to the report by Transparency International.

This is his defence of president Koroma’s government record on corruption, as well as his attempt to debunk the Transparency International’s report:

“Sierra Leone’s efforts in tackling corruption took a different but positive direction in 2007. Prior to this period, there was the creation of a body to fight this societal and governance peril.

But it appeared, there was little or no political will, since the commission had no prosecutorial powers. As such, the effect was continuous thievery of state funds. A Minister of Marine Resource by 2000 was accused of embezzling state funds. He was asked to resign his job with no charges proffered against him.

In 2001, a Minister of Agriculture was convicted of embezzling funds from World Bank development funds. He was fined pittance. But there was an interesting development in the case; the judge in charge of the matter and who only fined the convict Le 500,000 (US$250), was in turn convicted of having accepted bribes in trade for the light sentence.

A permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, a former Transport Minister had a taste of corruption related issues, but less or no actions were taken since the ACC was made more to shout and howl than to bite.

As a matter of fact, by 2001, independent Freetown based tabloids – Democrat and For di People, accused the Justice Minister of accepting bribe in exchange for arranging the release of an Israeli and a Russian held in Sierra Leone, pending extradition to Colombia on drug charges.

With no action taken against the Minister at the time, what we witnessed was an act of vengeance, since on November 2, 2001, the ACC commenced an investigation on one of the aforementioned newspapers for tax evasion.

Little could be said of the Tejan Kabba’s regime when it comes to sincerity of purpose as per the creation of the Anti Corruption Act and the provisions therein.

Journalist David Tam Baryoh wrote, that “…though President Tejan Kabbah has not yet been directly accused of corruption, he has been slow to order investigations of his political protégés, as in the case of Education Minister Alpha Wurie and Justice Minister Solomon Berewa. Moreover, there are indications that the ACC may be deteriorating into a political tool to track down the president’s detractors…”

parliamentary history - kabbah berewaFact remains it was at the peak of corruption during the Kabbah regime, that we saw the British – the largest single contributor of aid in Sierra Leone, stopped all aid coming to Sierra Leone in 2007.

(Photo: Berewa and Kabbah)

The Ernest Koroma administration came with the 2008 Anti-Corruption Act, which established the ACC as an independent commission to investigate corruption and with prosecutorial powers granted to the commission.

Only under the Koroma administration that the ACC ensured the highest rate of prosecution and conviction for corruption related offences in the country’s history, with billions of Leones recovered from persons convicted or
investigated for corrupt practices.

In 2010, a total of 199 cases were lodged with the ACC- up from 33 in 2007, when President Koroma was elected. By the same period, a total of $ 2440, 000 worth of stolen funds was recovered.

With efforts to step up prevention, an Anti- corruption System and Process Reviews of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for the purpose of improving their systems and processes was initiated.

Measures to strengthen public financial management in both Central Government and Local Councils, have been put in place.

There has been a comprehensive review of the Government Budgeting and Accountability Act (2005), financial Management Regulations (2007), Public Procurement Act (2004) and Procurement Regulations (2006) to strengthen the legal framework for budgeting, accounting, recording and procurement.

There also was the establishment of a Performance Audit Unit in the Office of the Auditor General to go beyond traditional financial audit and appraisal, and measure the impact of public service delivery on citizens.

All of the above are a clear manifestation of government’s commitment to transparency.

The institutional framework has been established and corrupt officials are now chased, devoid of party affiliation, tribe or region one comes from.

In fact by 2010, the Global Corruption Barometer conducted by the Transparency International found that 73% of Sierra Leoneans – up from 64% in 2009 believed the country’s effort in fighting corruption was effective.

The country even moved from 1.9 in 2009 to 2.4 in 2010 in the very Transparency International Index.

By 2010, the Global Integrity Scorecard published that among the lower and middle income countries of the world, Sierra Leone achieved important anti-corruption improvements.

It therefore becomes apparently ironical for Transparency International to present Sierra Leone as a nation woefully failing its citizens, when it comes to fighting corruption.

It gives one the impression that the study was not only faulty, but one that aims at undermining the smooth progress we have been making.

Using less than 1,200 respondents as sample for a country with over 5.8 million people brings suspicion on the whole study. Weak sample! And it thus brings into disrepute any conclusion thereafter.

I am not in any way suggesting that the country has achieved her desired goals in tackling corruption. I am aware of the challenges we still have.

But there have been sustained efforts and the policy of “zero tolerance” has been adopted from the outset, demonstrating a serious commitment to pursue
the fight against corruption.

If not for the purpose of just scooping donor funds, international groups like Transparency International (TI) should have been courageous and bold to state the progress we have made in the last six years of governance.

But alas! Not just will I therefore say the outcome of the TI survey is faulty, but one that should beg for more efforts to rethink and reposition their research if they should be trusted in the future.”