|Even The Children are Concerned|
Sierra Leone is a country with amazing paradoxes. A nation with more per capita natural wealth than most countries in the world, but with the majority of its citizens existing in poverty and squalor. A land full of pristine rivers and fertile agricultural lands where the vast majority of the people can barely afford a single meal a day. A country with the first University in English Speaking Africa with an educational system in rapid decline and most of the graduates ill prepared to cope with the technological advances of the 21st century. A land where every single agenda for development; The green Revolution, The New Order, Political Inclusion, Vision 2010, Agenda For Change, etc, have all just succeeded in making every succeeding decade progressively worse than the preceding decade.
It has not been for lack of trying; multiparty democracy, one party dictatorship, military adventurism, IMF intervention, UN and ECOWAS intervention have all failed to lift this country of barely 5 to 6 million people out of the vicious cycle of poverty that it descended into for well over 30 years.
So, what has gone wrong, why has everything failed? Why is even the much touted and brand new Agenda for Prosperity already getting off the rails. The answer is very simple; corruption.
There is no country in the world where there is no corruption.Corruption has been with man since the dawn of time. From the moment humans stepped beyond the bonds of the family and decided to live in communities, the spirit of competition was born. Competition for food, for water, for land, for partners. Sometimes the competition became so fierce that others had to move far away, forming their own distinct cultures, developing their own languages and developing their own codes of conduct and traditions. Those who stayed together became united by developing a singular world view, their culture. They learned to settled conflicts by negotiations and rules rather than by force of arms. They learned to live as one. But even after learning to live as one some decided not to abide by the rules. some found it easier to twist the rules in order to get ahead, thus corruption was born. As corruption spread it divided into its various forms and has been with man to this day.
Just last week, Transparency International, a transnational nongovernmental organization with the stated purpose of fighting against corruption in development, came out with their annual Global Corruption Barometer, a measure that ranks countries in terms of the practice of bribery, which is one of the main components of corruption in international trade and development.
Sadly my small country of Sierra Leone on the coast of West Africa, just above the Equator was ranked number one in the entire world for incidents of bribery on the Global Corruption Barometer and in a knee jerk reaction, the country's politicians came out swinging.
Some unbelievably saw it as an opposition plot to undermine the ruling All Peoples Congress Party, (APC), others faulted the methodology and others yet saw it as just another facet of neocolonialism. Even the country's anti-corruption commissioner came out against the report, strenuously and shamelessly trying to differentiate between what is known as a "hand-shake" and bribery.
In order to understand the issue at hand, it is first important to know what the fuss is all about. What is Transparency International and what is the Global Corruption Barometer?
Transparency International (TI) was started in 1993 by a retired World Bank official Peter Eigen who had spent many years working for the Bank on development projects in East Africa and had seen how negatively corruption impacted the process of development, particularly in emerging nations. Eigen realized that even with all of its negative impact on development, there was no global convention or body set up to fight corruption and no reliable way to measure corruption on a global scale. He therefore decided to make the fight against official corruption his life's mission and to do so on a global scale.
With a group of nine like minded people, Peter Eigen set up Transparency International in 1993 with a secretariat in the German Capital Berlin. Over the years Transparency International has developed and refined statistical tools to measure the nature and impact of corruption around the world and today they are the leading anti-corruption crusader in the world, not only pointing out corruption in government, but also giving due recognition to societies that are serious about the fight against official corruption and awarding exemplary public servants.
The term corruption itself is shrouded in controversy. People in societies which are accused of prevalent corruption often try to make a distinction between international and cross cultural perceptions of corruption. To avoid falling into this unnecessary academic trap, Transparency International focuses on official corruption and defines corruption as " the abuse of entrusted power for private gain." TI stresses the fact that corruption " hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority." The truth of this statement is glaring in African countries like Congo, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, countries with so much natural and human resources,but with huge populations deeply mired in poverty, because of the preponderance and pervasiveness of corruption.
As mentioned earlier, Transparency International has over the years designed, tested and refined a series of statistical measures of global corruption using conventional methods of statistical inquiry, whose results have been found to be both statistically and practically significant. Some of the measures that have been developed by TI include; the Corruption Perceptions Index, Global Corruption Barometer and the Bribe Payers Index. People with an affinity for statistical research methods can follow the following link to know more about some of these measures http://www.transparency.org/research
The measure that has created so much unease in Sierra Leone and has seen the country's Information Minister Alpha Kanu, Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations Kaas Kanu, a host of other politicians, and even the anti-corruption boss come out to openly manifest an appalling lack of knowledge of the tools of statistical inquiry, is TI's Global Corruption Barometer (GCB).
The Global Corruption Barometer is a primary public opinion survey conducted by TI's constituent chapters and statistical experts that involves a random public poll of the views of corruption on the ground in the countries involved. The GCB provides a statistical measure of people's experience of corruption in the previous year on a general and institutional basis. It provides a measure of the extent of bribery in a country and the view of the local population on the fight against corruption. The main weakness of the GCB is its primary focus on bribery. However, it is an internationally acceptable statistical measure of corruption, except in West African country of Sierra Leone.
In a gross display of statistical ignorance the government spokesman Alpha Kanu in a press release questioned the methodology of the GCB in a bid to undermine the findings of TI that Sierra Leone had the highest incident of reported bribery over the past year. What Minister Kanu fails to realize is that the not only is the GCB is based on an accurate representation of the population of interest, but that a well selected sample of slightly above1200 is large enough to make statistically accurate inferences about the population of Sierra Leone. The margin of error between a representative random sample of 1000 and a size of 100000 is so small as to lose any practical significance. But somehow all those who worked on the press release are unaware of this small mathematical fact.
Even discounting the lack of knowledge of modern methods of statistical inquiry, who in their right mind would argue about corruption and bribery in Sierra Leone. Unless the Minister of information walks about town with his head buried in his pocket, he would know that bribery is not only ingrained in Sierra Leone culture, it is often done publicly and in brazen fashion. Poor students college students applying for government scholarship have to bribe to be on the list while those unable or lacking political contact are forced to go without, even if they applied with excellent political qualifications. College students who are qualified to get study leave have to grease the palms of education officiald to get a benefit that they have worked for, while some other students get study leave after teaching for just a year. International scholarships meant for exceptionally bright Sierra Leone student are never advertised, yet in the diaspora you meet hundreds of mediocre students who came abroad on scholarships and wonder how the heck they got it in the first place.
If Minister Kanu denies the existence of bribery to any taxi or Okada driver in Sierra Leone, they would seriously laugh in his face and wonder what part of Sierra Leone he came from or if he went through life living in a cocoon. They would tell him that he does not the heck know what he is talking about. in Sierra Leone the police brazenly solicit bribes from drivers openly in front of passengers, before vehicles are allowed to move and that has been happening since I became aware of myself.
Just last week we heard about the discovery of 12 ghost schools in Kenema, a single district of Sierra Leone. All these schools must have had ghost principals and ghost teachers teaching ghost students. Will the officials of the education ministry really want to tell me that they have been paying workers in 12 schools whose existence they did not know of in a single district? Imagine then what is happening all over the country.
Just some few years back, an Al Jazeera sting operation caught government officials and their henchmen on camera openly soliciting bribes and stating that this is how things are done in Africa, did these people not go through the country's legal system and go scot free whiles thousands of pickpockets languish in the country's jails because nobody knows who they are and they have no contacts in high places?
Corruption is hard to fight in Sierra Leone because today because of partisanship. The ruling party is now resistant to exposing corruption in its ranks because they think admitting its existence will somehow be to the advantage of the opposition who will use it to undermine them. The opposition also does not go after the individual perpetrators of corruption, but use such instances to paint the ruling party with a wide brush. This unfortunate situation has therefore led to supporters of the ruling party adopting a blind and deaf approach to cases of corruption. In many cases it is the party supporters who are quick to come out to deny instances of corruption and paint it as a ploy to undermine their party.
|The 1 or 2 million Saga|
The social culture of Sierra Leone also makes it an ideal breeding ground for corruption. Social status in the country is usually determined by how much you have and frequently, people do not really care how you got the money. When we were living in Approved School in the East End of Freetown, there was a fellow who was very popular in the area as he lays had loads of money to dish out to poor folks. When there was a local football match on the approved school field, local people would line up to shake his hands. It was only later that I learnt that he was a local Robin Hood with a gang of boatmen who used to go at night to Refinery and steal fuel with the help of the security at the plant. His antics were no secret and as far as I know he was never caught, but people flocked to and celebrated him like the Nelson Mandela of Portee Junction.
The culture of money changing hands in Sierra Leone is so acceptable that even among the leadership of the country, the act is seen as very acceptable. In the last election in Sierra Leone, the President of the country had no problem publicly doling out loads of cash to his supporters in the street. In Sierra Leone, this is very acceptable behavior. Any politician in America who would go out in the streets publicly handing out money to his supporters would only be looking for political trouble, but such is the nature of Sierra Leone, that this is wholly acceptable behavior at every level of politics in the country. It is almost as if the mantra is "keep the people poor and give them chicken change around election time, in return for their votes."
When corruption becomes so widespread in a society, nothing works as it should. In Sierra Leone even the Hydro Electric Dam that runs on water does not provide electricity. The police provide tyranny instead of protection. The newspapers produce propaganda instead of news. Anything of value sent through the post office never reaches its recipient. You take your car to a mechanic and new parts are exchanged for old parts. You buy land from an individual and you are ready to fight ten other owners for the same piece of land. Corruption has reduced the country into a system of organized chaos. We all know this, everybody knows this, only the politicians.
There is a popular saying I once heard somewhere that goes thus, "You were blind, we made you see." In Sierra Leone the reverse is true. In Sierra Leone we should say "You saw, yet we made you blind." A politician who was friends with both Tejan Kabba and Ernest Koroma once stated that the difference between the two men was that Kabba was not "righteous." I was befuddled, as both Kabba and Koroma were publicly very religious figures. It was only later that I learnt that righteousness has a completely new meaning in Sierra Leone. A righteous politician was one who always had some cash to hand out to supporters. Tejan Kabba was considered a tight wad who did not spread money around. Years of living and working in the West had made him, "unrighteous." Koroma was a righteous leader.