BY: DAVID YUSUF KABIA, PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSISTANT
The envisaged Sierra Leone (Freedom of slaves)
Sierra Leone or better still, ‘Province of Freedom’ as was initially named was founded in 1787 on the hopes of freedom for the many blacks who were held as slaves in England and elsewhere in Europe under miserable conditions, which ripped them of their human dignity that ignited the intervention of Granville Sharp, Henry Smeathman and others to better fight a course for their repatriation to Sierra Leone to a new land where they could be totally independent and live a life of unity, peace and freedom. Needless to state that these people were slaves in their entirety before their repatriation to Sierra Leone. This includes their socio-economic, cultural and political freedom which was deprived them. Governor Clarkson said in his famous prayer for this people that “for thou knowest I brought them here in hopes of making them and their families happy, both in this world and to all eternity.”
When their suffering attained the height of intolerance by the good-hearted few, Henry Smeathman’s plan became the route through which these people could be given the freedom to politically organize themselves; economically build their lives and maintain a socio-cultural lifestyle that portrays their freedom. This envisaged land was established too, on the firm hate for corruption which could disorganize and distabilise the freedom dream born by the abolitionists for the new colony. Governor Clarkson also saw far ahead that among them (whether at the present time or in the future) were going to be people who would indulge in activities (corruption inclusive) that could destroy the fabrics of unity, peace and development when he said, “let not a few wicked men among us draw down thy vengeance upon this Colony.”
This plan for the independence of the new settlers was thwarted and cut short by the Government in England that still wanted to control the economic and other lives of the people through the imposition of the Sierra Leone Company and other structures which deprived the people from attaining political, social, economic and cultural independence.
Corruption, a cause and curse
The origin of corruption may well have been friends with immemorial time but how it ever became a seed sown that later germinated and bore fruits in the new colony remains a mystery. For the new colony, many historians have posited that the imposition of the Sierra Leone Company on the people of the colony as the administrative tool by which the government of England could still hold the reigns of control against the wish of the abolitionists for economic and other independence of the repatriated slaves became the seed of corruption sown. Others have enunciated that corruption commenced with the Agreement for the purchase of land envisaged as the colony which the Native Chiefs, in their estimation and knowledge, did not sell but rented same to the abolitionists for and on behalf the black poor while the abolitionists believed contrarily. Whatever the truth is, one thing is clear-the people felt disappointed and this disappointment caused an up-roar that led to instability in the envisaged Freedom Land when the natives torched the colony. Among the many reasons recorded in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report that sparked the decade long civil war was corruption. It was the tool used by the powerful and rich to subdue the ‘have-nots’ in society. It was not perceived by those in authority as a societal menace rather, it was the reason for being in public service and willing political power.
Politics rubbing shoulders with impunity
Post-colonial era saw the transfer of political authority from the British to Sierra Leoneans. After the first general elections conducted in 1962, corruption boldly transcends different political administrations in our nation’s history. Evidence of misuse of public funds by ministers and other government appointees became rampant and vividly open. The abuse of power and misuse of state institutions in order to hold on to power was a card always on the table. This precipitated several coups which disrupted political administrations. Tribalism, nepotism and cronyism became the tool for ostracizing opponents from the political lifeline of the country. Unwarranted executions and corrupt-led elections were no strange happenings in a country that had just gained independence. Trust in those who govern was lost. The freedoms associated with Human Rights were not recognized. Fear of execution thwarted free speech and it seemed, the entire nation like ducklings following a mother duck in a straight (or probably straight crooked) line was the saving grace to live. Sierra Leone’s healthcare, education, social amenities and more were not anything to write home about. As a result, morbidity was in the increase and public institutions collapsed, leaving those living under acute difficulties. Unaccounted for wealth slept in the reserve of politicians; citizens deprived of the most basic of services; education became a privilege and not a right; opposition voice was stunted to allow impunity reign; public resources were the bread and butter for only those within political corridors; citizens are left with no choice but to rally around in support of their perpetrators leaving them as the pitiful victims every time. Corruption was finely cloth in suit of office, forcing citizens to believe that public servants deserve those resources just by being public servants. Checks and balances to ensure systems are in place to gauge public spending and resource allocation to citizens were completely absent or better still dormant. Justice was a commodity available only for the powerful and rich leaving aggrieved minds sobbing. Due to public resources being amassed and misappropriated by public servants, Sierra Leone continues to depend largely on foreign donors to handle her budget and take care of the needs of citizens. This dependence for example in the area of health is caused by corruption when public servants amassed resources meant to buy drugs, hospital beds, pay medical doctors and nurses and more.
The birth of the Anti-Corruption Campaign
The need, born out of rampant misappropriation of public funds, to establish a public watchdog over public resources came in 2000 when the Anti-Corruption Commission was established. That establishment was as well the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report which pointed out corruption and injustice as major causes of the decade long civil war in Sierra Leone. With its non-prosecutorial powers in 2000 on to 2007, the Commission was perceived by many as ‘a toothless bulldog’ because even though corruption was clearly being committed, the Commission could not prosecute those allegedly involved in corruption. This lacuna was dealt with in 2008 when the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 was enacted, which provided for the prosecution of accused persons by the Commission. This provision was key in the operations of the Commission given that before it, the Commission can only prosecute through the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, a mechanism that was widely criticized and held as the reason behind the Commission’s inability to prosecute government officials. This appalling state-of-affairs no longer defines the Commission. In the last four years of the Commission’s operation under the watch of Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala, the fight against corruption has intensified beyond friendship, party lines, brother and any kind of camaraderie previously known to weaken it. More government officials have been convicted and more being prosecuted for various corruption offences; the Commission through the 2019 amendment providing for recovery of alleged misappropriated public funds has recovered over 45 Billion Leones and still counting; more education on corruption than ever before is being done, allowing Sierra Leoneans to know the mandate of the Commission and how indulging in corruption is destructive.
Sierra Leone has lost many lives to corruption through illnesses that could have been cured but for the resources which have been misappropriated; she has had many drop-outs from school because those in charge of providing for and creating an enabling learning environment for those in schools abused their powers and authorities by syphoning those funds to personal accounts; she has had many of her children left crying for justice because they could not get it from the court system, which many have defined as a market place for the rich and powerful.
We have come a long way since 1961 to attain 61 years. We have suffered as a country from a brutal civil war to other struggles. We are hopeful of being independent after gaining independence. But this leech called corruption has multiplied itself in human bodies working in public spaces and depleting the nation’s resources. When we detoxified our minds as individuals to owning the fight against corruption, we gauge the allegations of corruption from the viewpoint of us being the beneficiaries of public resources and that those who serve in public spaces ought to account for their stewardship; we use a nationalistic lens viewing the operations of the Commission, we would have achieved the kind of independence needed to help build a better Sierra Leone.
This Province of Freedom established on the hopes of giving independence to us is being challenged by this leech called corruption, almost depriving us of that same independence because have largely depended on others to cater for our own. But if we can fight it with one mind, one resolve, one determination, one vision and one aim-to better Sierra Leone, we would enjoy independence the way we never did.