Bribery and our public projects
By Abubakarr Turay (ABT)
One of Boo Chanco’s articles in the Philippine Star, a widely read newspaper in the Philippines, says a lot about the damaging effects of corruption. In his article titled Corruption and Disaster, Boo looks at the manner in which corrupt practices have contributed to the loss of thousands of lives in his disaster prone native country, the Philippines. For the past three decades, the Philippines has seen some massive natural disasters-mainly earthquakes and typhoons. Boo underscores the fact that there is little the country can do to prevent such natural disasters. However, he thinks state authorities can take active steps to prevent the deaths and destructions that follow these natural disasters, which he describes as having a ‘manmade component’. For Boo, the destruction caused to fairly new infrastructural projects during natural disasters is largely due to corruption. This can be seen in severely damaged bridges and concrete roads, whose “construction standards were lowered” to provide kickbacks to public officials who awarded the contracts.
Let’s take a minute to think of the public infrastructural projects in Sierra Leone. Let’s do an assessment of our roads and bridges. Recently, President Ernest Bai Koroma sacked two key officials in his government’s infrastructural drive. Although no official reasons were given for their dismissal from office there have been reports that this was mainly due to the poor state of the roads in the capital city of Freetown. During the rainy season they became even worse resulting in a civil society ultimatum that called for the resignation of the minister of works.
There are many reasons why the roads in Freetown should not be in their current poor condition. Firstly, there is a road maintenance fund which gets a percentage of every litre of fuel that is bought in this country; and large sums of monies are disbursed every year in the name of road maintenance. If the contractors hired to undertake the road maintenances do their work efficiently the way it ought to be done, then our roads would be in a far better form. I read in one of the local tabloids following the sacking of Alimamy Petito Koroma and Munda Rogers, works minister and director general Sierra Leone Roads Authority respectively, that the SLRA received billions of leones for road maintenance, but that little or nothing was done on the roads.
There are several public projects in the country; of which some are completed but in a substandard fashion. There are those whose timeframe for their completion has lapsed. These are the results you get for projects whose contracts are awarded on the basis of the contractor that is willing to pay the highest bribe.
The ill effect of bribery has already started bringing shame to this country. The news was everywhere when the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2013 ranked Sierra Leone as one of the countries with the highest cases of bribery. It was welcome news that the Anti-Corruption Commission was prudent enough to acknowledge the problem of bribery in the country and therefore pointed out the need to find solutions. As the saying goes: You solve a problem half way by understanding its true nature, the Commission organised a symposium geared towards unearthing the causes of bribery, its effects and solutions. The ACC also organised some sting operations in which traffic police and wardens- perceived as notorious for demanding bribes- were arrested.
I want to agree with the views held by many commentators that it was a mistake by the government not to mention corruption among the risks to the implementation of the Agenda for Prosperity. Some components of the Agenda will be implemented in the form of projects, which will need to be awarded to contractors. It will be sad if the objectives of such projects are not met largely because of bribery and other forms of corrupt practices.
The Commissioner of the ACC, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, also cognizant of the solicitation and offer of bribes in projects, recently announced that the ACC will soon start probing into the manner most public projects are implemented. This is welcome news indeed!
However, the elimination of bribery and other forms of corrupt practices should not be seen as the sole responsibility of the ACC. In the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer Report, 99 per cent of Sierra Leoneans said they are willing to join the ACC in fighting corruption. The Commission expressed satisfaction that the people of this country are willing to report corruption. Therefore, we must try by all means to ensure that we serve as integrity ambassadors by ensuring that we desist from acts of soliciting bribes and turn down any offer of a bribe. Each and every Sierra Leonean irrespective of their social status has a role to play in the fight against corruption. I take this opportunity to welcome the support of the government, development partners, including the World Bank, DFID and Irish Aid, who have over the years supported the ACC to strengthen its capacity to deal with graft in the country.