You cannot fight corruption without integrity and transparency

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 October 2021:

President Bio came to power in 2018, and made the fight against corruption, among others his signature vison and policy. But he wisely reminded us all, that the fight will not be easy or go unchallenged. He famously said that “Corruption will fight corruption”. But in fighting corruption, the fundamental values should be integrity and transparency.

Corruption is the mortal enemy of democracies, and especially young democracies like ours in Sierra Leone. But just like charity, corruption starts at home. We should all see and treat corruption as the disease and single most cause of our societal ailments. The vaccine therefore is transparency, an essential part of its treatment. It goes without saying that those who fight corruption must be “clean” themselves. Integrity is premium.

Therefore, President Bio’s legacy might be judged largely by his level of success in his fight against corruption. He wants us to move from a culture of corruption to one of reforms. To do this, our government needs to be serious about it and give the public the government we deserve.

Irrespective of your political persuasion, you cannot ignore or deny the fact that President Bio’s government has made laudable progress in many spheres. Even when trapped by the catalogue of difficulties, including high cost of living, unemployment, deprivation, inflation and all sorts, our progress as a country would be difficult to achieve outside democratic principles.

Many recognise the strident steps taken by President Bio in dumbing down the draconian Libel Act, the abolition of the death penalty and most recently, allowing Sierra Leonean citizens in the diaspora, to participate in the public political life blood of our society, to name but a few. You cannot deny that these have been tangible steps to strengthen our nascent democracy.

But recent events in parliament have seen the NGC, APC and other opposition parties walk out mid-session, in defiance of Bio’ political appointment of Zainab Moseray as NEC Commissioner for the Western Region.

According to the NGC Party, “Our rejection of this appointment is due principally to her very controversial and unsatisfactory track record in her previous employment as Acting Registrar at the PPRC.” The NGC finds it unethical to consider Zainab Moseray “for such high office when the position she currently holds is yet to be cleared of wrongdoing (corruption allegations) as a result of findings by the audit service and the ACC.” (thesierraleonetelegraph.com- October 26, 2021).

This is coming hot on the heels of the recently concluded bye elections in Koinadugu District, for which the main Opposition APC party has launched a legal action against the electoral body NEC. According to the APC, “The inaccurate entry was in respect of the total number of votes cast in favour of KALIE THORONKA (“SLPP”). Instead of entering 049, as recorded in the RRF Form, 149 was purportedly entered intentionally, to give numerical advantage to the said KALIE THORONKA (“SLPP”), thereby resulting in an extra 100 votes in his favour” (sierraleonetelegragh.com-October27, 2021).

After President Bio won the elections, which was popularly acclaimed as free and fair by a narrow margin of about 3 percentage points, the EU mission made 29 recommendations; as part of its commitment to strengthen “electoral management by providing experts, logistics assistance and elections monitoring”. Norbert Neuser – a Member of the European Parliament and the EU Election Follow-up Mission and his team, held discussions with former President Koroma – the outgoing Chairman and Leader of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), at his residence in Freetown on Tuesday. The Mission’s Team Lead Dominic Howell noted that “improving on gender representation in elective positions, the management of elections particularly on the tallying and computation process and the general transparency of elections,” were paramount to their objectives. The EU Commissioner and British Ambassador also visited the former President Koroma for undisclosed discussions.

So, with the opposition APC party launching a legal action against the National Electoral Commission with allegations of vote rigging in the Koinadugu bye elections, would this make for a good bedtime story for President Bio? Is this just a coincidence that our European partners, who take special interest in “the tallying and computation process and the general transparency of elections”; in support of strengthening our democratic process are holding discussions with the main opposition party?

Is the timing coincidentally ironical or ironically coincidental? If part of the mission’s objectives is to help ensure, monitor and maintain the integrity of our electoral process and hence our democracy, are these visits suggestive of something we do or don’t know?

In view of the contextual backdrop of these visits, should Sierra Leoneans be concerned about our electoral integrity as a nation under President Bio’s government? Is the rejection of the appointment of Zainab Moseray as NEC Commissioner for the Western Region, and the resulting walkout of the opposition parties a sign of the times?

Does the APC’s allegation, I repeat allegation of vote rigging in the bye election suggest a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods? Are these recent events meant to highlight doubts on the political and in effect democratic credentials of the SLPP? If so, is President Bio in danger of blotting the otherwise laudable reforms he had undertaken?

Is President Maada Bio in danger of destroying his legacy of strengthening our democracy?

President Bio may have done a lot in reforming some of our political gridlocks. But all that may pale into insignificance if our political, and specifically our electoral system is dogged and littered by doubts and integrity vacuums.

The oppositions believe that Zainab Moseray carries too much baggage to merit their trust in her integrity.  Do those who reject Zainab’s appointment see it as unethical and untransparent to rubber stamp her proposed role? Do they see it as hypocritically audacious to preach integrity from a den of corruption?

The National Electoral Commission is one the most important custodians of our electoral process, a major beacon of our democracy. Such an important institution should be beyond reproach and be able to stand the test of any level of scrutiny. When the credibility of its members is brought into question, it runs the risk of losing the trust and confidence of the public. How can you trust the message if you don’t trust the messenger? But we have been told to trust the process, remember?

Integrity and transparency are essential contributors to democracy. When fighting corruption becomes a priority, honesty, integrity, transparency and the blunt refusal to be compromised should be the building blocks for a balanced success. Sadly, our opposition parties resorted to walking out of parliament, in protest of the NEC appointment.

We must recall that the SLPP perfected this art while in opposition. But where did it get them? If anything, it unintentionally gave the then President Ernest Koroma carte blanche to bastardise the constitution. Would that be the same if the opposition parties follow the same route, instead of engaging the ruling party? May be, just maybe it’s not the best course of action; to throw the baby out of the pram. Remember that those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber – Plato

While the allegations, innuendos, rumours and political gymnastics continue, there is a need for a strong moral authority to protect and maintain our young democracy. A free, fair and peaceful election day is not enough proof of democracy. It is a process and the fundamentals of it.

Our local and general elections are the best opportunities to showcase our political maturity as a nation. To achieve this, we need to ensure that the institutions and processes are beyond reproach and have the confidence and trust of our people. There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny.

Don’t Forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

4 Comments

  1. Yes in the run up to 2018 presidential election, Bio’s made a solemn promise that if elected as president of our Republic, he will fight corruption and all its manifestation in our society. But as Mr Mansaray pointed out, he also told “corruption will fight back corruption” Even an unborn Sierra Leonean knows the corrosive effects of corruption and its impact to our national development. As empirical studies after studies have shown, the results are mixed. As this three researchers, Enste, Dominik Heldman, and Christina, published by the institut der deutschen wirtscharft in 2017 reports identified the causes of corruption,(1) the size and structure of government,( 2)democracy and political system, (3)the quality of the institutions (4)economic freedom /openness of economy,( 5)salaries of civil services( 6)press freedom and independent judiciary( 7)cultural determinants,( 8)percentage of women in the Labour force and in Parliament, (9)colonial heritage, and (10)the endowment of natural resources. Now you can pick anyone of the above to use it as a litmus test on how well this Bio government is doing and make up your own mind.

    I certainly don’t held out much hope all of the above under Bio’s one direction government will pass with flying colours. If anything as the reports went on to identify the consequences of corruption and its impact on (1)investment in general, (2)direct foreign investment and capital inflows (3)foreign trade and aid(, 4)officials growth (5)inequality( 6)government expenditure and services, and( 7)shadow economy and crime. Much of the things Bio and his government can reel out as his accomplishments, like his flagship free education, and repeal of the libel and seditious laws, those achievements will pale into insignificance, because of his failure to tackle corruption. You cannot fight corruption by engaging in corruption. You can only fight corruption by fighting the corruption of the corrupted in our society. And there are many of them, not just politicians but civil servants, police officers, local government officials, and anyone in position of authority. Is a bottom up not a top down approach.

    Corruption is the front and back of our problems in Sierra Leone. If we get rid of this monster we call corruption, our country’s future economic prospects will be transformed over night. Youth unemployment will disappear, business will thrive, creating more employment, government tax revenues will increase. We will stop taking IMF or World Bank loans, and most importantly of all, we will able to build a cohesive and transformative society, where tribal and regional differences will be banish for ever. Our democracy will be strengthen and built upon for future generations to come. But lets don’t get ahead of ourselves, we need to fight the cancer of corruption that is deeply engraved in our country. This is not Bio’s fight alone, is the Patriotic duty of every Sierra-leoneans to do their bits so we eliminate this scourge in our country.

  2. Elections have consequences. Our constitution gives only the president the power to nominate NEC commissioners and not opposition party leaders. The processes and procedures that should be followed by parliament is confirmation based on the candidate’s credentials and voting. Majority carries the vote, as was the case of the previous controversial US Supreme Court nominees ( Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett) by former President Trump. Late President Tejan Kabba nominated Christiana Thorpe but his party still lost the 2007 presidential election to the APC and recently former President Koroma appointed N’fa Alie Conteh but his party still lost the presidential election to the opposition SLPP. So let’s trust the system and respect the processes and procedures of our institutions.
    The reality is losing a close election campaign is always painful but filling a petition is the best solution .

    • Alusine Fallay, as usual, great insights. I do not understand why a segment of the Sierra Leonean media is peddling the false narrative that the EU members of parliament only met with former president Ernest Bai Koroma. Some opposition news outlets are even going further to suggest that the International Community is pursuing a regime in Sierra Leone. Mr. Abdulai Mansaray who usually writes insightful articles may have been a victim of this deceitful game to not mention anything about the very fruitful discussions that President Bio held with the EU delegation at State House.

      I also do not understand what the opposition is afraid of. Have they seen the writing on the wall that they are headed for a colossal collapse in 2023? Why the desperation to spin the news? Why is the APC in particular craving the support of the EU to the extent that it is lying to the voters about the mission of the EU? Has the APC forgotten how our developments partners dumped it into the samba gutter and left the country on the eve of the 2018 elections? What has changed about the APC in so short a time that it could suddenly now become the darling of our development partners?

      When all is said done, it is the voters of Sierra Leone and not the EU that will elect the president of Sierra Leone. Also, Sierra Leone is not the United States where a biased media can easily win an election for its preferred candidate. The opposition and the APC should devote whatever time is left to rehabilitate their battered image. But with the governing party demonstrating such strength as is evident in how competitive it is in the so-called opposition stronghold, I am afraid there is no time left to rescue this sinking opposition ship.

      • “Has the APC forgotten how our developments partners dumped it into the samba gutter and left the country on the eve of the 2018 elections?”

        Billy Coleman, as far as I could recall from news archives, the same fate befell previous Sierra Leonean Governments. The development partners are probably hedging their bets and adopting a wait and see posture at the Sierra. What an indictment of our poor leadership over the years.

        I would remind you in the coming months when your man’s turn comes. The aid-donors will certainly press the pause button

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