Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Institutional Corruption in Sierra Leone

Former Chief of State and Artful Forger
Dr. Richard Konteh
"Not bribery but culture"
The focus of most corruption watchers in Africa is almost always on politicians. In our country Sierra Leone, the most widely trumpeted cases on electronic, print and social media are almost always those involving prominent politicians or political appointees. Most of the prominent cases of corruption in Sierra Leone over the past year involved government ministers, mayors of the country's cities or urban settlements, revenue commissioners and so on.

What these sensational prime time media reports unwittingly convey is the idea of a honest society in which mostly the political class is corrupt; nothing could be further from the truth. In Sierra Leone, corruption permeates every institution, public and private. From the illiterate market woman who grounds rotten cola nuts and mixes it pepper to sell as cayenne pepper in the streets, to the roast beef seller killing stray dogs and selling it as roast beef, to the nurse who pilfers medications meant for patients, corruption in Sierra Leone is all is all encompassing and is the foundation of the panoply of issues facing the beautiful country.

At the educational level, a simple survey of students in Sierra Leone given scholarships to study abroad will reveal a system in which students with the best results in the country may not even be considered, regardless of whether these students come from families buried up to their necks in poverty. As long as you don't have political connection in Sierra Leone, you could be as intelligent as Einstein and still have no access to educational assistance. The award of foreign scholarships in Sierra Leone is so rotten that the names of those awarded are hardly ever made public. The award of scholarships at the country's local colleges follows the same pattern.
Police Inspector General Francis Munu

At the level of the judiciary, the a Sierra Leone legal system is a nightmare for the poor. Poor have no right under the legal system. People without money or influence could be arrested and locked up for months without due process and nobody cares. Sierra Leone's legal system is so corrupt that a a rich plaintiff will actually tell a poor defendant that "I will see that you are locked up for two years," and it happens. The political class will call a judge presiding over a case and dictate to them how a case should be decided and the judge will willingly comply. Poor people are only needed around election periods for the might of their numbers.

 A very public example of the decadent nature of Sierra Leone's judiciary happened in 2012 when the member of parliament of my constituency Kailahun Constituency 7, Robin Farlay who was an opposition MP at the time was apprehended and accused of voter registration malpractice. He was locked up like a common criminal and held without bail. As he was about to be prosecuted, he decided to defect to the ruling party. As soon as he made the announcement that he was defecting to the ruling party, the case against him was suddenly dropped, he was automatically given the ruling APC party symbol to contest as a their candidate and is today the deputy national campaign coordinator for the party. He was even on a short-list of Ministers to replace the Eastern Resident Minister who died some months ago. There are hundred of such instances in Sierra Leone, where power and money are all that are required to bend the law to your will in the country.
Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh

If the Sierra Leone judiciary is a nightmare, the police is a 10 hour-long horror movie. If ever there was a single institution that was the poster child for institutional corruption in a Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone police will earn that award with distinction. I have seen with my own eyes people go to the police with a case and be told to go buy a pen and paper just for their statements to be taken. 

Kailahun District Chairman
Alex Bhonapha
Just this week the Chairman of Kailuhun District a Council, a lawyer by the name of Alex Bhonapha had his premises invaded by trigger happy police officers shooting wildly into the air. Kailahun district is the epicenter of the current Ebola outbreak and the movement of people in the distract has been severely limited due to a state sanctioned quarantine and the police are in charge of monitoring compliance. The Chairman received reports that some police officers were taking bribes to allow the movement of people, which caused the chairman to complain to the a Local Unit Commander (LUC). The response was for police to invade his compound threatening his life and that of his family.

 In 2009, Sierra Leone scored 2.2 on a 10 point country corruption scale with 10 being the least corrupt and 0 being most corrupt. This corruption figure was then heavily disputed by the lead government spokesperson at the time Dr. Richard Konteh. Who at that time stated that people simply did not understand African culture. Dr. Konteh is now removed from office and facing prosecution for forging the President's signature on official documents in direct violation of government imposed export restrictions and pocketing huge sums of money from bribery in the process. Currently the President is under immense pressure from prominent members of the disgraced Chief of Staff's tribe to drop the charges against him.

Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer measures public opinion on corruption in countries around the world by seeking information on corruption from representative samples in the countries. In 2013 the global sample was 114,000 people in 107 countries. The in Sierra Leone  sample size in 2013 was 1028 and face to face interviews were conducted. Ambiguous responses were discarded and the data analyzed by both the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin Germany and verified by an independent statistical analysts for validity. 

In Sierra Leone  in 2013, 89% of the respondents reported that they had been asked for a bribe during the time period under consideration. Sierra Leone which led the bribery scale last improved to 3rd  place, with Malawi and Burundi now leading with 95% and 90% respectively, thank God for small mercies! Comparatively, only 2% of respondents in Japan reported that they were asked to pay a bribe within the same time period.

On the perception of corruption in the Sierra Leone in 2013, 26% of the respondents said that it has increased a lot, 39% say that corruption is a serious problem while 4% said that it is not a serious problem. 57% of respondents said that the government is run by few individuals acting in their own best interests while 12% either slightly disagree or said not at all. The bright spot is that 51% say the government is taking effective steps to fight corruption, while 49% either deny or are unsure.
Most Corrupt Institution in Sierra Leone

Looking at corruption by institution in Sierra Leone 79% of Sierra Leoneans believe that the police are corrupt followed closely by 74% who say the judiciary is corrupt. The educational system is the third most corrupt with 64% of Sierra Leoneans thinking it is corrupt. The most highly regarded national institution was the military with only 33% of the respondents thinking that the military was corrupt. The military was tied with NGOs. The least corrupt in the country according to perception were churches and mosques with 18%. 

The immense corruption of the country's police and judiciary  is remarkable for the fact that 90% of respondents reported paying bribes to the police and 82% to the judiciary. 

When the judiciary and the police of a country are the most corrupt law and order become selective and justice become a privilege accorded to the few. Ministers in Sierra Leone and those close to him can pick up the phone and call the police and tell them to go arrest anybody and they will do so without question, compliant like a sheep, fearful of losing their jobs. A prominent politician and lawyer who challenged the President's wife over his own piece of land was arrested and locked up for several days on the bogus claim that he had made threats against national security. It was only when his family went to the President and begged him that he was released. No charges were ever filed. 

The only good news about the corruption in Sierra Leone is that occasionally some big fish would be caught in the corruption net in in the country. Unfortunately the Anti-Corruption Commission usually bungles the cases and is now the best example of the worst Ant-Corruption agency in West Africa. 

The mistake the President who set up the commission President Ahmed Kabba made, was that he failed to realize that those succeeding him would not have the same sense of morality and zeal to fight corruption that he had. Today the ACC is a lame duck presided over by a close ally of the powers that be. Until the  ACC becomes independent of political influence and it finds a way to regulate or highlight corruption in the police and judiciary on the country, Sierra Leone has no relief for the common man over the foreseeable future. 

As of now, there is no hope for the hopeless, no mercy for the merciless. 


Tell Fren Tru said...

What more can be said? The trouble is, nobody seems to care. I mean, among us, ordinary citizens.

It is worrying though, that the military is seen as one of the less corrupt public institutions in the country. I would hope that we don't have to turn to them for relief.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sheku. Your apt presentation of the situation in Sierra Leone cannot be overemphasized. And contrary to a previous comment made, it is not that we don't care, rather it is because we can hardly be listened to. Your article or blog posting is as example of the people's voice, meaning that the common man cares. Unfortunately, the politicians who are the prime architect of this predicament are insensitive and blinded by corruption to a level that they have lost all moral values. But by his grace, they shall be exposed for the world to see just like the celebrated Dr. fraudster. This one time poor teacher unfortunately stood before students at Njala University in the 1990s purporting then to be a saint. But Governor Clarkson em prayer who harmer den one by one!