“YOUTH, THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION AND GOVERNANCE”
A Public Lecture by Francis Ben Kaifala Esq., Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the Republic of Sierra Leone organised by the Kenema District Youth Council in collaboration with Eastern Technical University Student Union Government, at the Kenema City Hall, Kenema, Sierra Leone, on 2nd July, 2022.
_ INTRODUCTION _
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, please permit me to stand on existing protocols. Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, popular American movie actress, Jennifer Lawrence, once remarked that: “ We need to tell each other our stories. We need to show that everyone our neighbors, our families, our community leaders everyone we know is touched by corruption .”
Corruption is defined by Transparency International as “ the abuse of power for private gain.” The organisation goes on to explain the following ways by which corruption can be committed: “public servants demanding or taking money or favours in exchange for services; politicians [or people in position of trust] misusing [public funds or] money… corporations bribing public officials to get lucrative deals.”
For the World Bank, it is seen as “ a form of dishonesty or criminal offence undertaken by a person or organisation entrusted with a position of authority. “
As I have often said, Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019 does not provide a definition of the term. But the two pieces of legislation guiding our work, outlines a list of offences and practices which constitute an act of corruption. They include; Bribery, Misappropriation of Public/ Donor Funds/Property, Corrupt Acquisition of Wealth, Unexplained Wealth, Bid Rigging, Impersonation, Failure to Declare Assets, etc.
Ladies and gentlemen, issues of corruption have been at the fore of governance discourse in the last decades. This is because we cannot maintain democratic good governance in a society where corruption is pervasive.
What is [Good] Governance?
‘Governance’ itself is defined by the United Nations as “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).”
Governance is now synonymously used with the term ‘Good Governance’ or ‘Democratic Good Governance’, which is “ participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law”.
From the aforementioned definition, we know that some of the key features of good governance include accountability, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency and the rule of law.
Accountability is derived from the Latin word ‘computare’, which means ‘to count’. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “to be accountable required a person to produce “a count” of either the properties or money that had been left in his care”.
Transparency is closely related to accountability and it is used to denote openness, responsiveness and honesty. As Kristalina Georgieva of the World Bank puts it, “a lack of transparency fuels corruption, a corrosive force that hits the poor and the vulnerable the hardest.”
The rule of law, on the other hand, as propounded by English jurist, A.V. Dicey, is administration by the law only, where all men are subjected to the same and equal treatment under the law in a way that is devoid of arbitrariness.
Effectiveness and efficiency refers to the proper use of public resources to ensure proper public service delivery.
Ladies and gentlemen, the fight against corruption cannot be won without paying close attention to some of these key features of good governance. It is a must that we constantly pay attention to them.
THE PROBLEMS OF CORRUPTION .
And when it comes to combating corruption, there is no other urgent social menace we must address as a nation. Apart from what we have already read from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report that it was one of the major causes of the decade-long civil war that we experienced in the 1990s,corruption is also responsible for most of the severe social, economic and political challenges we currently face today: lack of proper social amenities, high rate of unemployment among young people, political scuffles and skirmishes, among many others.
The OECD acknowledges the problems of corruption and sums it up by stating that “corruption threatens good governance, sustainable economic development, democratic processes, and fair business practices.”
The organisation goes further to say that “corruption’s damaging effects spread far beyond where the corrupt act is committed, throughout the global economy and society.”
That is why the poor and vulnerable of every society have always been adversely affected by acts of corruption. Perhaps that is why Pope Francis once remarked that “Corruption is paid by the poor.”
Former President of the World Bank James D. Wolfensohn, at the annual joint meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the Bank in 1996, described the scourge as a ‘cancer’ as it “diverts resources from the poor to the rich, increases the cost of running businesses, distorts public expenditures and deters foreign investors”.
The current President of the US Joe Biden, once described corruption as “a cancer that eats away a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity.”
Ladies and gentlemen, President Dr Julius Maada Bio recognised the challenges of corruption since he was elected by the people of this country, which is why he declared this cancer as something that needs serious attention.
I believe some of you have been following the work and activities of the Commission since the President made those declarations. Our decision since then was to take all the steps necessary to defeat this monster.
THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE
The fight against corruption has been hinged on a multi-prong approach of public education, prevention, investigation and prosecution. The first two of this approach is often referred to as the ‘Carrot’ approach in the fight against corruption.
The Commission’s public education mandate is derived from *Section 7(2)(o) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019, which provides for the Commission to educate the public about the dangers of corruption and the benefits of its eradication. With this, the Commission has been able to wage a massive public education campaign targeting schools, tertiary institutions, public and private institutions, communities and every facet of society, using both traditional and social media.
The prevention aspect of our work encompasses the conduct of systems and processes reviews in public offices. This is derived from Section 7 (2)(f) of the Act which mandates us “to examine the practices of public bodies in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices or acts of corruption and to secure revision of those practices and procedures which in the opinion of the Commission, may lead to or be conducive to corruption or corrupt practices.”
According to the International Development Association (IDA), “Countries with strong institutions prosper by creating an environment that facilitates private sector growth, reduces poverty, delivers valuable services and earns the confidence of their citizens – a relationship of trust that is created when people can participate in government decision-making and know their voices are heard.”
The Commission has over the years made tremendous efforts to build public institutions to make them resistant to corruption and at the same time effective and efficient in public service delivery. We have also made revenue-generating institutions generate more revenues for Government.
Part of our prevention drive is our work through the National Anti-Corruption Strategy Secretariat, which is responsible for the coordination and rolling out of the country’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS). The current strategy, which runs from 2019 to 2023, has the establishment of Integrity Management Committees (IMCs) as part of its key component.
The function of these Committees is to identify and address corruption issues within their respective institutions. I often refer to them as mini anti-corruption bodies within these public institutions.
The other aspect of our approach in the fight against corruption is enforcement, which is also known as the ‘Stick’ approach in the fight against corruption.
This involves investigation and prosecution of persons suspected of committing an act of corruption.
Nobel Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu once said that “if impunity is not demolished, all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain.” So this approach is meant to address impunity by making sure that the corrupt are brought to book for their crimes.
We have employed this approach to bring to book corrupt persons irrespective of their region, religion, or political party affiliation. And the statistics are there to show that I -and my team at the ACC- have been able to make the gains we continue to make because of the nondiscriminatory way we conduct our anti-corruption campaign. We cannot be making all the gains we have made as a nation if we continue to target only one set of people all the time.
_ GAINS MADE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE _
Ladies and gentlemen, when we talk of gains we do not talk of things we arrogate on ourselves. We talk of gains which respected and reputable international and local bodies, often after their scientific studies backed by credible data, would turn around and tell us: “this is how far you have come and how much you have achieved”.
In the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation scorecard, for example, we have massively progressed from 49 percent in 2017 to 71 percent in 2018, 79 percent in 2019, 81 percent in 2020 and the current score of 83 percent.
Studies by Transparency International based in Germany have also shown that the robustness we have put into the fight against corruption has caused the country to move 15 places up in their Corruption Perception Index from 130 in 2017 to 115 in 2021.
A local consortium of civil society organisations led by the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL) also undertook a credible survey which shows a massive reduction in corruption prevalence in the public sector from 70 percent in 2017 to 40 percent when the survey was last conducted in 2020.
In the area of recovery, we have been able to recover over Thirty-five Billion Leones of stolen public funds from corrupt individuals through our novel Non-conviction Asset based Recovery system.
We have also been able to recover huge funds for other public and private institutions, and vehicles and a hotel which have been handed over to the State. This is unprecedented. I mean it has never been achieved by any ACC Commissioner before me.
HOW YOUNG PEOPLE CAN CONTRIBUTE TO GOOD GOVERNANCE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN SIERRA LEONE
The United Nations estimates that the current global population is 7.8 Billion, and this is expected to grow 8.6 Billion by 2030. Africa’s population currently stands at 1.2 Billion, with 75 percent of this composed of young people under the age of 35 years.
Sierra Leone’s population is estimated at 7.5 million, according to provisional results of the 2021 mid-term population census conducted by Statistics Sierra Leone. It is further estimated that about 80 percent of the country’s population is made up of young people under 35.
One-third of this is between the ages of 15-35, which is defined as Sierra Leone’s youth bracket.
Ladies and gentlemen, irrespective of the huge number of young population in Africa, the young people of the continent have always been one of the most disadvantaged. This is why I want to encourage you to take advantage of your strength and the available opportunities to contribute to the promotion of democratic good governance and the fight against corruption.
You all should be conscious that you have the means and the power to defeat corruption. You just need to have the consciousness, which the founder of Transparency International, Peter Eigen, spoke of when he said “People should be conscious that they can change a corrupt system”. Get the consciousness that this is a duty! For Kurt Cobain of the rock band, Nirvana, once loudly remarked that “the duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”
With such consciousness and duty you can:
Serve as informants and whistleblowers to expose corruption in your communities;
Set up youth groups to serve as anti-corruption ambassadors in your universities, communities, etc;
Champion the cause of the ACC and stand by the institution at all times; and
Raise awareness about the dangers of corruption in your institutions or communities.
However, one of the foremost things you can do for yourself is to empower yourself with education and the skillsets needed to extricate yourself and your family from poverty.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know the great opportunities this Government has provided for young people as part of its Human Capital Development.
From the education sector, we know of how Government has upgraded certain institutions –including the Eastern Technical University- to university status. This will definitely translate into more support, more facilities and better quality.
We know of the ‘Youth in Agriculture’, ‘Youth in Fishing’, the Car Wash project, soft loans given to small and medium enterprises which are mainly owned by young people, the students’ loan scheme for university students like you, and a host of other empowerment interventions. Grab these opportunities.
In a country currently confronted with cases of examination malpractices, I encourage you to stay away from such practices. Study hard. Work hard. Always play by the laid down rules and procedures.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have endeavored to give you a few ways we can leverage the capacity of young people in the fight against corruption. As it stands, Sierra Leone’s greatest hope lies in you.
On an advantageous note, we have identified corruption as a common enemy; we must now attack head on because our very survival is at stake.
This is a watershed moment in our history.
We should either get it right and prosper as a country or get it wrong and perish as a people.
As a nation, this our generation must take collective action against the cancer called “corruption”. Together, we can win. We should forget our differences and build on our uniting factors and commonality in the fight for the soul of our collective destiny. We should draw from the valour and courage of great forbearers like Bai Bureh, Sengbeh Pieh, ITA Wallace Johnson, Kai Londo, Nyangua, Ella Koblo Gulama, Lamina Sankoh, Constance Cummings-John, etc. and join to redirect our country’s destiny in the right direction.
Now is the time to join the bandwagon of the informed and not the uninformed and reject the chicanery of the uninformed to keep our people in political bondage!
But as I keep on saying, we will continue to fight corruption as if we are losing. But we cannot always fight all by ourselves. We need the people of this country to fight along with us. Be on the side of the Commission no matter the kind of fraternal relationship existing between you and the person that is in the ACC net.
You should not even act indifferent. For as Delia Ferrira, Chair of Transparency International, puts it; “People’s indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow.” So, I encourage you to instead act to make a difference. Be that faithful voice even among the cynical voices.
Like Padme Amidala of Star Wars puts it “there are still those of us who work to overcome corruption and believe it to be possible.” I encourage you to be among those holding that belief.
Every generation has its defining moment; this is ours. Let us wear our girdles, embrace this fight, and together wipe corruption out of Sierra Leone!
God bless Sierra Leone!