• January 22, 2024

IMPUNITY: THE NEW FEATURE OF CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE

IMPUNITY: THE NEW FEATURE OF CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE
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PONDER MY THOUGHTS

BY Andrew Keili

IMPUNITY: THE NEW FEATURE OF CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE

“Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity.”

Jim Yong Kim, former President of the World Bank

The threat posed by corruption in Sierra Leone has been a constant refrain in various discussions. What is however disconcerting now is the impunity with which people indulge in corrupt practices. There no longer seems to be any fear of getting caught. Corruption has become a badge of honour.

The recent case involving the Clerk of Parliament, Hon. Paran Tarawally and his wife can only be described as bizarre. He is accused of employing his wife, who had not even reported for duty and was receiving her monthly salary without due process. Meanwhile the ACC reports that the wife had returned ninety percent of the One Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand New Leones she received as salary for the ten months she was on the payroll.

A newspaper report however quotes a senior member of the Parliamentary Commission claiming that the accusations are vacuous and that the Clerk was in fact out of the country when his spouse was lawfully recruited as a staff of Parliament by the Director of Human Resource in 2021. On return from vacation and discovering this state of affairs, the report claims he “took immediate steps to reprimand the Director of Human Resources by first suspending him, placing him on half salary and later getting him fired for not disclosing details about the recruitment of his wife as a staff of Parliament”. What a principled man who enforces the law to the letter and ensures that procedures are followed! One more thing- although not mentioned, one is in no doubt that such a principled man was livid with his wife! How could she not have mustered the gumption of informing her loving husband that she had been employed? The things some wives do!

A quick reflection however reveals that this is not the first time the Clerk and the whole parliamentary leadership have been accused of corruption. In 2020, two SLPP MPs, Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh and Hon. Hindolo Ngevao faced the Speaker’s guillotine for being “unable” to prove their highly publicised assertions that Parliament was corrupt. They were removed from Parliamentary oversight duties and investigated by the Parliamentary Committee on Priviledges and Ethics. It would seem that after an initial bout of bravado in which they made several bold statements, they later “saw the light” and “lived happily ever” with their colleagues.

The ACC opined that there was an “absence or serious lack of systemic and appropriate monitoring and accountability regimes; thereby encouraging risky practices in the management of public funds by the administrative architecture of Parliament, the Members of Parliament, and in some instances, its leadership.” They promised to work with parliament to remedy the situation.

Also in 2020, unflattering reports by two respected Civil society organisations, CARL and IGR mentioned that Parliament was considered by an inordinately high proportion of the populace as being corrupt. The Speaker of Parliament spit fire and waxed lyrical about “sins” committed by Carl, through Ibrahim Tommy and IGR, through Andrew Lavali and the powers of Parliament. It was enough to make both gentlemen quake in their boots and run for cover.

How dare they accuse Parliament of corruption? – “It was analogous to treason”, the Speaker strongly asserted:

“Therefore, for Parliament to be accused of corruption, it must of necessity be viewed as committing a crime analogous to Treason, the crime of betraying one’s country. It strikes at the very heart of our central nervous system and that must never be taken lightly. In such circumstances Parliament must either emerge triumphant or atrophy.”

He went on to make the burden of proof higher for Tommy and Lavali:

“And the evidence they must adduce must be of unimpeachable quality and the standard of proof cannot be anything less than the highest possible standard, that is to say, proof beyond all reasonable doubt……We shall settle for nothing less because it’s time we made it pellucidly clear to all our citizenry that in our present dispensation, there is no more free licence to defame and slander; to curse and abuse….Enough is enough!”

I hope my CKC colleagues, Tommy and Lavali have not paid too much attention to the English and have now come out of hiding!

Sometimes the corrupt practices may not only be done with impunity but also with absurdity. Take the case of the alleged theft of funds meant for the Engineering firm of Edward Davies and Associates. Apparently, a new account in the company’s name was open in a community Bank in Kabala by senior officials of the Finance Ministry and the Accountant General’s Department. One of the foremost Engineering companies in the country was owed huge amounts of money over several years for legitimate work it had done for government. The amount had depreciated so much over time that the funds, even when paid could not cover their original operating expenses and non-payment was affecting its finances. How could such a company, constantly at the doors of MOF to get paid not know that its funds have now been sent to the new “tax haven” of Kabala, so far from Bermuda! The logical explanation was that the perpetrators were not bothered!

Recent audits have been the same as previous ones. They indicate an absence of processes and procedures and wanton misuse of government resources. The weak capacity of oversight institutions and limited compliance with audit recommendations continue to limit Sierra Leone from rooting out corruption and making service delivery to its citizens more effectively and efficiently.

For all of government’s efforts in giving a leg up to the educational sector with some degree of success, we have seen some educational administrators and students embark on a different trajectory with reckless abandon. In the future people who were exam cheats or forged certificates will be jostling for leadership positions available at all levels of government. One writer says of them: “Many of them will have cheated their way through the education system, and will be well-schooled in the art of taking short-cuts and covering their tracks. They will win their positions by dubious means, and will be blissfully unaware that there are cleaner ways of getting ahead in the race to prosperity. Once comfortably ensconced in positions of leadership, they will proceed to display more avarice than their predecessors. They will blatantly steal all public funds at their disposal and then come out to tell the citizenry that there are no funds for essential services.”

How true!

The spectre of corruption is also hitting financial institutions especially commercial banks. Hardly a month goes by without us learning about some big heist at a Bank by employees. They brilliantly circumvent systems, often with internal and external accomplices. The more adventurous find their way overseas and could often not be traced. Many later get caught and get enmeshed in such lengthy judicial hearings that the Banks throw their hands up in the air. The perpetrators are often young and seem to be in a hurry to get rich.

But let us get back to most worrying aspect of the impunity displayed in corruption matters-that of the constant allegations against our lawmakers in Parliament.

It would also seem that there is some falling out of sorts amongst the top hierarchy that may be linked to general investigations into illegal recruitments and sackings of Parliamentary staff. In a strange twist of events, the Speaker of Parliament, according to a newspaper report says there is evidence of conflict of interest, embezzlement and corruption in parliament, claiming that allegations of sexual harassment against him are to divert public attention from the grave accusations against the Clerk of Parliament. In what must now be seen as a case of “things fall apart”, he is quoted as further saying: “You cannot use the argument of morality to undercut the law when evidence abounds that legal abuse of office, conflict of interest, embezzlement and corruption are rupturing the administration of Parliament.”

The fact that amidst all past and present allegations, Parliament seems to police itself is worrisome.

This quote from the 2000 Transparency International Source Book, one of the seminal compendiums of anti-corruption analysis and advice is apt.

“An elected national Parliament or Legislature is a fundamental pillar of any integrity system based on democratic accountability. Watchdog, regulator and representative, the modern Parliament is at the centre of the struggle to attain and sustain good governance and to fight corruption.”

Parliaments sit at the heart of the national political space. They shape the rules by which national life is conducted, and they set the tone for both politics and wider social mores.

Impunity must not be allowed to be the new face of corruption in Sierra Leone. Parliament and the ACC should muster all their efforts to ensure that this does not become the new normal. The Speaker is noted as saying that his hands are as clean as a whistle and that he is willing to subject himself to the law. This must be a good start.

Ponder my thoughts

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