By Moris I. Kanteh
Public Relations Unit, ACC
The Transparency International’s Global Corruption Ranking Report 2019 published on Thursday 23rd January, 2020 has seen Sierra Leone register its highest ever score since the establishment of the Global Corruption Perception Survey. Sierra Leone scored thirty-three (33) points --compared to the country’s stagnant score of thirty (30) points in the preceding three years (2016, 2017, and 2018); and jumped 10 places upward from 129 in 2018 to 119 in 2019—It’s biggest ever leap in the country standings. The country’s latest score eclipsed the average score for sub-Saharan Africa; and places Sierra Leone above countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Guinea, Liberia etc. in the global campaign against corruption. In the 2019 Report, one Hundred and Eighty (180) countries were rated; with two-thirds or the World's Countries experiencing a decline or made no progress on corruption control.
The Global Corruption Index (CPI) is an annual index published by Transparency International since 1995 which ranks countries "by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.
It is an absolute certainty that the consistent upward trend by Sierra Leone in indices that measure the fight against corruption, especially in the past two years—like the Millennium Corporation Challenge Scorecard where Sierra Leone registered an extraordinary 79% out of a possible 100%; after coming from a failing position of 49% in 2017; and other corruption indices-- have been as a result of a formula that has been introduced in the fight against corruption by the young Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala, whose result-centered practical approaches to fighting corruption is drawing attention from across the continent and attracting international acclaim and awards.
One would wonder what has been at play that is fast accelerating the fortunes of the country in the fight against corruption in the New Direction. The following may be the key factors that are helping the Francis Ben Kaifala Formula.
A Strong Presidential/Political Will:
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and Former Managing Director of the World Bank, in an article titled “ Strategies to Winning the fight against Corruption”, published on the “Africa In Focus” website stated that the pervasiveness of impunity among the political class— unwillingness to build strong institutions, systems and processes that block wastages; and limited political will to hold accountable and punish those found guilty of grand corruption, is a major impediment to African countries’ quest to defeating corruption and building long-term economic stability. In Sierra Leone, under the New-Direction leadership of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, we have seen major strides taken to break away from the norms stated above which had stifled the growth of our Anti-Corruption credentials. For example, the 2019 Anti-Corruption Amendment Act which “provides for, among other things, increased penalties for offences under the Act; strengthens protection for witnesses and whistleblowers; provides the ACC with alternatives to prosecution; widens the scope of corruption to include that the accused ‘offered’, ‘solicited’, ‘obtained’ or ‘received’ in addition to ‘gave and accepted’ an advantage; reduces the year-long requirement that persons who cease to be public officers have to file a declaration in respect of their assets; provides for administrative sanctions for public officers who fail to submit their asset declaration forms or knowingly record false, inaccurate or misleading information in the forms; introduces trial of those accused of corruption in absentia; limits the scope of public officer to declare their assets and imposes sanctions for non-compliance; and vests in the ACC Commissioner power to direct that contracts with elements of corruption in their processing may not be proceeded with after agreement with the National Public Procurement Authority”; is the biggest demonstration of Presidential and Political will in the history of anti-corruption efforts in Africa. This Act ranks our Anti-Corruption laws among the strongest not only in Africa but globally. It goes beyond saying that the current government’s commitment towards the fight against corruption has been an integral part to our ground-breaking progress made so far as a country.
In a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Centre (OECDC) and the UN Development Programme, “the level of corruption prevalent in any country, and steps taken to address the anomaly is closely linked to the type of government involved.” In developing countries like ours, where corruption in public service is even considered, fatalistically, as an integral part of our political culture; the political elites who are the major proponents of “state capture” owe their careers and status to corruption and few of them, if any, will take a very serious stand against it, either for fear of upsetting their own careers or the political status quo generally. Thus, the role of the Sierra Leone Parliament in passing the 2019 Anti-Corruption Amendment Act, almost unscathed; and the Presidential Assent given to the Bill by President Julius Maada Bio is a monumental step in the right direction towards corruption control.
Similarly significant is the recent establishment of the Special Anti-Corruption Division in the High Court of Sierra Leone by the Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards, for the purpose of trying cases that are charged to court by the Anti-Corruption Commission following investigations. This was also a campaign promise to the people of Sierra Leone by President Julius Maada Bio. This Anti-Corruption Court will ensure speedy and expeditious trial and conclusion of anti-corruption cases.
Moreover, the recent decision by President Julius Maada Bio to have the Minister of Labour Alpha Timbo (former Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education), Mrs. Emile Gogra, Deputy Minister of Education, Charles Kamanda, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education, and Ms. Mamusu Massaquoi, Director of Nutrition, Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education, relieved from their respective positions pending the outcome of an Anti-Corruption Commission investigation in which they are involved, is a major signal of intent from the President that he is truly committed to the fight against corruption.
A People-centered Approach to corruption fight:
There is no modicum of doubt that the greatest inspiration of the leadership and entire staff of the ACC in the fight against corruption is the opportunity to be front liners in a fight that promises to change the story of ordinary Sierra Leoneans for good, who have been victims of merciless pilfering of their resources by successive political gangs. Following his historic assumption to office as the country’s youngest ever Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Francis Ben Kaifala made a firm commitment to making the ACC a “People’s Commission”—a Commission that will always side with the suffering masses of the people; and not a select few. Suffice to say his approach to the job throughout his tenure has lived up to that ethos. The addition of a new Public Relation’s Unit to the existing Public Education structure he inherited aimed at creating an effective interface between the ACC and the public; thereby equipping the public with the right information and knowledge on the activities of the Commission. That unit is currently one of the most powerful public relations outfits in the country.
More than ever before, the fight against corruption has now taken centre stage in the national discourse among citizens. Quite recently, in the commemoration of the International Anti-Corruption Day 2019, the ACC, in partnership with the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) hosted a grand symposium at the Miatta Conference Centre, Youyi Building, in Freetown. The event brought together a body of experts in the anti-corruption space, Government officials, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, civil society organizations, the media, students and ordinary Sierra Leoneans; under the distinguished Grand Chief Patronage of the Right Hon. Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohammed Juldeh Jalloh, with the theme "United Against Corruption to Ensure Quality Education". The symposium created a platform for a national conversation around the standard of the country's educational system which many Sierra Leoneans view as being near collapse; and the biggest emergency issue confronting the country. Before that , the first ever inter-faith prayer session was held at the historic Taylor-Cummings Garden when Christians and Muslims met and prayed together for the country’s progress and success in the fight against corruption.
The Commission is also in partnership with several civil society organizations — that are considered as true and independent representations of the citizens—in its work. These partnerships are also very integral in the public education endeavor of the ACC — all aimed at raising the required citizen’s knowledge on the dangers of corruption and the need to join the fight. The Civil Society Consortium for Accountability and Service Delivery (a major partner to the ACC) was pivotal in rallying behind the different layers of the political class in getting the 2019 Amendment Act (The People’s Amendment) passed. Also, the Consortium on Good Governance, Human Rights and Democracy-SL are currently engaged in a national tour on the popularization of the new amended Act. The public education drive is primarily focused on amended sections in the Act in the area of witness protection which is geared towards encouraging more citizens to now come forward to report corruption incidents as the new Act clearly sets out to protect them. The Commission is also into partnerships with different media institutions that are also committed to helping to spread the messages of anti-corruption. Intensified community engagements by staff is another strong tool that has been used by the Commission to get citizens involved in the fight against corruption.
All these people-centered approaches are bearing great fruits. Recently, the Transparency International Afro-Barometer Perception Survey placed Sierra Leone third (3rd) in Africa on Citizen’s perception on their different national efforts to clamp down on graft. This is remarkable because when it comes to measuring the impact of the fight against corruption, perception is everything.
Innovative Strategies and Approach used by the ACC:
The Non-Conviction Asset Based Recovery has been one of the major successes of the current leadership of the ACC. This approach is a non-coercive practical tool that enables the Commission enter into a settlement agreement with those been investigated for corruption—principally those accused of misappropriation of public funds. An acceptance of guilt from their part is the first process of the settlement; followed by paying back in full the amount that was misappropriated. They are then named and shamed to the public. With less resource at its disposal, the Commission is able to recover stolen assets efficiently without the cost of litigation and the delays and risks associated to it. This innovative approach has not only saved the Commission from the hassle in court; but has also recovered over Twenty Billion Leones ($ 2 million) of funds that were lost to corruption in less than two years. These monies have been presented to the President on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone who had made a firm commitment to using the said funds to construct the country’s first ever ultra-modern medical diagnostic centre.
The Fourth Generation National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2019-2013) which is the blueprint in the fight against corruption has placed enforcement of the laws in the Anti-Corruption Act at its centre while reinforcing prevention and public education. These laws which are among the strongest in the World will deal corruption a deadly blow and help in making corruption a high risk and low return venture. The formula that combines Investigation, Prosecution, Prevention and Public Education is principally what is responsible for the results that are coming in. It cannot be gainsaid that the Commission is now more efficient and value for money than ever before.
This latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International —the most respected anti-corruption perception survey that monitors corruption all through the world – is a massive international approval of our national efforts against corruption; and an expert independent approval of the Radical Transparency approach by the Anti-Corruption Commission, which has inspired a new form of social revolution among Sierra Leoneans who will no longer rest content with the superficial social analysis that nothing can be done about corruption. In essence, these practical and ground-breaking successes made in the fight against corruption over the past two (2) years has created a huge perceptual shift among Sierra Leoneans who are beginning to rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths that corruption should be accepted as a way of life; to the unfettered realm of belief that with the requisite political will — as that being provided by the New Direction Government of His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio so far; a stoic, innovative and focus-driven leadership in the fight against corruption like the one currently being provided by the young Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala, and his team at the ACC; and a sense of common purpose demonstrated by Sierra Leoneans in this national crusade against corruption; our country will rise from the doldrums and darkness of poverty, backwardness, and deprivation; to the sunlit path of hope, progress and sustainable development.