Thursday, June 19, 2014

Will Richard Konteh Apologize to Transparency International?

Dr. Richard Konteh
In 2013 the international corruption watchdog Transparency International's annual list of national corruption around the world was not very favorable to Sierra Leone. Not only did the report take particular note of the high level of official corruption in Sierra Leone, but went further to actually award the West African nation the unique distinction of being the country with the highest incidence of reported bribery in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
President Koroma
Zero Tolerance?

The bribery report was a major embarrassment to the Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, coming on the heels of an invitation by President Barack Obama  to visit the White House in recognition of positive democratic trends in the West African nation. The bribery report was also a major setback for the President's "rebranding" effort, a policy that was designed to convince both the international and domestic audience that Sierra Leone was now a very different place, largely free of the strife, corruption, poverty, bad leadership and many of the other vices that had stultified the country's progress for decades. The TI report exposed the "rebranding" charade as just an attempt to use a very expensive perfume to mask the smell of a festering sore. The President's much touted "zero tolerance for corruption" had been revealed to be a mere play at words for the gullible masses.
Banda and Koroma
Was Obama Deceived

In addition to being a major embarrassment, the report also jeopardized Sierra Leone's chances of winning a multimillion dollar development compact with the Millennium Challenge Cooperation, a US bilateral aid agency that gave grants and development compacts to developing countries with notable democratic credentials, respect for human rights and dignity and adherence to the principles of good governance.

Noting the potential negative impact of the report, the Ernest Bai Koroma led goverment wasted no time in condemning the Transparency International report. The governments troop of journalists for hire and government officials came out swinging, damning the result, disputing its accuracy faulting its methodology and totally rejecting its findings. Some of the more statistically ignorant officials even questioned how it can be possible for you to just interview a group of people and then make conclusions about the population, which is exactly what inferential statistics is all about.
Not Bribery,  but "Kola

Leading the chorus of rejection was the President's own Chief of Staff at the time Dr. Richard Konteh, the man who was also given the monumental task of leading the government's bid for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact. Dr. Richard Konteh came out very forcefully against the report, rejecting it in its totality. He stated that Transprency International had a fundamental lack of understanding of the cultural practices and norms of Sierra Leone, and that most of what they called bribery was just the normal cultural practice of giving "Cola" or "Cold water" in the country, which was a totally acceptable cultural practice. 

In explaining Transparency International's misunderstanding of the Sierra Leone culture the then Chief of Staff made the following point:  “In our culture, it is normal, if you want to get land from the paramount chief you go with what we call, kola.  You give the paramount chief the kola as a sign of respect, that is not bribery.  It is also part of our culture to show appreciation to people for good things that they’ve done to you, that is not bribery.”

Dr. Conteh also stressed the Koroma governments fight to weed out corruption, stating that, “The government has taken tremendous steps in the fight against corruption.  The president has outlined he will run a policy of zero tolerance against corruption.  Anybody who is found guilty or indicted in his cabinet, he sacks,” said Konteh.  “We have given the Anti-Corruption Commission, the power to prosecute.  In the past, before they prosecute they had to go through the attorney general, [but] that is no longer a requirement.”
Konteh and his Crew of Deniers.

Dr. Konteh noted that the report in which 84% of the respondents admitted to having at one time paid a bribe was not only skewed, but was not statistically representative. He noted that the sample size of 1028 out of a population of 6 million, the sample distribution and sampling frame were all inadequate.

In noting the recognition of the government's democratic and economic progress by the Millenium Challenge Corporation, Dr Konteh noted that, “The MCC [Millennium Challenge Cooperation] commends Sierra Leone and that is why we have qualified for a contract with the American government.  They underscored government’s effort. So a report like this coming at a time when we are busy trying to prepare for our MCC funding, will tend to distort the realities on the ground.”  
MCC Team Led by Konteh

Well, unfortunately,  it seems as if Transparency International may have all along been right in their report on corruption and bribery in the country. 

Last week, the chief corruption denier himself, Dr. Richard Konteh was fired from his lucrative job as the President's point man in State House on charges of massive corruption,  and this has very little to do with cola. It so happened the while Dr. Konteh was busy denying the scale of corruption in Sierra Leone, he was secretly negotiating mining contracts for his own benefit at the country's expense and signing fraudulent timber contract deals in contravention of the limits on timber exports set by his own government. He did all this from the comfort of State House. 

Having taken the "Cola culture" to a whole new level, Richard Konteh is now busy helping police with their investigations. As usual, most Sierra Leoneans are just going about their business as they've seen it all before. Many are saying nothing will likely come out of it, as the country's inept Anti Corruption Commission will in the greatest likelihood bungle any case against him.

Richard Konteh's corrupt practices were undertaken with impunity. It is even rumored that he was in the practice of forging the President's signature on official documents. It seems as if in this case, President Koroma's penchant for surrounding himself with close friends, family members and allies has misfired badly.

Accusations of monumental corruption against the President's chief of Staff has been an open secret for many years around Freetown, as the young man who is a maternal relative of the President, had accumulated assets around the country far in excess of anything he could have attained from his official emoluments. Unfortunately, being so close to the President, nobody, not even the country's Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has had the testicular fortitude to accuse the President's golden boy of anything. 

Many of the nation's pundits watched in silence as Richard Konteh was shuffled from one lucrative appointment to the other.  From deputy in the Development and Finance Ministry, he was elevated to Trade and Industry Minister, Chief of Staff, lead person for MCC Compact, etc. Now many are quietly wondering how a a criminal with a doctor's degree ended up conning the President for so long, while taking him for a joyride. 

The question now is will the Sierra Leone government or at least Richard Konteh apologize to Transparency International for having put the watchdog institution's reputation into disrepute? Will he have the decency to call them and say they were right all along.  Should President Koroma have paid more attention to the report instead of seeing it as an attack on the reputation of his government?  As Richard Konteh is already denying the current accusations against him at the CID, many are quietly saying the internationally recognized denier will just keep on denying. 

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