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A pragmatic approach to fighting corruption in Sierra Leone

12 July 2018 at 18:05 | 2288 views

By Jesmed F Suma, Executive Director, Sierra Leone Policy Watch Inc., USA

This document contains a comprehensive set of practical recommendations
on how to address corruption in Sierra Leone.

Preamble:
Corruption takes place in various forms and exist in every society. What may
constitute an act of corruption may vary based on the custom, tradition and other
factors in the society in which it is practiced. Therefore, the solutions would have to
be tailored to suite the realities of the society in which it is to be implemented. It is
important to note that corruption is not only limited to bribery alone. It is a wide
concept also characterized by nepotism, extortion of any sort, fraud,
embezzlement, and patronage. In each case one party has something to offer and
is ready to trade it for whatever interest the other party seeks. Therefore,
understanding the type of act that constitute corruption and the intrinsic nature of
the environment in which it is practiced is crucial to the solutions offered to address
the problem.

In the past we’ve focused more on the legal approach to addressing
corruption, which has in many ways proven to be less effective because we failed to
view it from the perspective of the parties involved and the interest that motivates
them to engage in an act of corruption. Therefore, as a general theme, I focused
my recommendations not only on deterrent measures which is lacking in the
current SL anticorruption act, but I also offered incentives

ACC, the budgeting and procurement department within the Ministry of Finance, as
well as agencies or departments responsible for inspection, monitoring and auditing
within the system of government are all part of this network of systematic
corruption. The institutional culture itself, its norms and expectations are
themselves sick and corrupt. The core missions and objectives of these agencies
have been compromised. Corruption has become such as an endemic disease that it
has infected every fabric of society, every class, every profession and at every level
and has become a norm, part and parcel of the DNA and culture of mostly the
political class? This shows that fighting corruption in its various forms is going to be
a very daunting task. The approach must be different. Words alone would not do
the job. Specific decisive steps must be taken, some of which are explained below.

Proposed Solutions
I am not going to bore you with the details of the corrosive effect of
corruption on our communities including how it has impeded growth and
inappropriately impacted our poor communities. I am assuming that we’ve all had our personal experiences with corruption and its effect in our lives and our country
at large. Now, we should be focusing on solution.

Fighting corruption is a daunting task, it is not easy but it is not
insurmountable. It can be done, however, the solutions would depend on specific
conditions, specific guidelines and specific steps as stated below. I’ve identified three main conditions, underneath each I explained the details of what the
condition means and what needs to be done to meet its requirement. The most
detailed is condition No. 3 that speaks to specific reforms both in terms of changes
to the laws as well as changes to some aspect of how certain sectors of the
executive branch should operate.

Condition No. 1 IT REQUIRES THE RIGHT LEADERSHIP WITH THE POLITICAL
WILL.

The fight against systemic corruption requires a brave, strong and
courageous leadership with the right politically astute who must be strategic in his
approach, without which no other option would work. It requires leadership that
lives by the example he or she wants to see in every head of department in his
government. Someone who says what he means and means what he says. Words
must be followed by decisive action. When he or she says no sacred cows he should
mean it and must enforce it to the letter, starting with the people in his circle.
Therefore, the party we may end up electing to form our next government would
determine our chances of success to address the cancerous problem of corruption.
The details of how to get to the right leadership is explained at the end of this
document.

Condition No. 2 FOCUS MUST BE ON CORRUPT SYSTEM INSTEAD OF CORRUPT
INDIVIDUALS.

I. Systematic Attack on Systematic Corruption.
The type of systematic corruption we experience in Sierra Leone resembles
organized crime, with its own parallel of connections linking one agency with
another, coordinated by key players within the network. Which means, we need a
systematic approach focused on subverting and destabilizing the network. The
question is, who can be trusted to work with? Just as one cannot trust members of
an organized crime network to clean the network, so it would be unreasonable to
expect the very beneficiaries of the systematic corruption to clean up the system.

Therefore, the new leader must bring in a new blood of young lawyers,
accountants, investigators, journalists, prosecutors, police and members of the
public including activist citizens to form “Integrity Pacts” to be the ears and eyes of
the leader. They can provide unique information about where corruption is
occurring and how corrupt systems work. The most important leadership trait to
this approach, is the ability to live by the example you want to see in others, the
ability to mobilize other actors and to coordinate their efforts productively.

II. Neutralizing Symbols of Impunity.

The next most important step is, investigate and punish those who symbolizes
impunity within the system, such as the current and former heads of these
agencies. The heads of the police depart, those in the Anti-Corruption Commission,
those in the procurement sector, those responsible for budgeting, auditing,
prosecution as well as members of the judiciary. Actions that would send a strong
signal of change to these institutions and obviously to the general public.

Condition 3. PREVENTIVE AND DETERRENT EFFORTS, ADOPTING A CARROT STICK APPROACH TO FIGHTING CORRUPTION.
To curb corruption there must be some deterrent effect to the laws and
enforcement that discourages individuals from engaging in its practice. There
should also be some incentives not only to help in the preventive efforts but also
incentives to take away the need for anyone from engaging in any act of corruption.
Finally, the public must be educated about what constitutes corruption and the
consequences they are likely to face if caught in the act of corruption. Therefore,
our focus should be on preventive measures on the one hand and deterrent efforts
on the other hand to include effective investigation, prosecution and most
importantly fair and consistent punitive measures proportional to the nature, extent
and monetary value of the crime. We should also be mindful of the fact that when
the survival of an individual is on the line it is difficult for them to avoid being
corrupt. As a result, we should institute measures that would ensure that workers
are paid living wages commensurable to the value of work they provide including
other incentives that would discourage someone from being engaged in an act of
corruption many of which are discussed below. Condition No. 3 could be divided
into three sections:

I. Reviewing our Anti-Corruption Laws: First we should review our current
anticorruption laws both in scope and content to ensure that those laws are
effective and conforms with general standards in comparison with other
jurisdictions that have achieved some success in curbing corruption. I
personally reviewed the current anticorruption law few years ago and I
identified serious flaws which I brought to the attention of the anticorruption
agency but as expected they showed no interest. We should establish
adequate criminal procedures governing the detection, investigation and
prosecution of cases but structured within our local realities. Therefore, I’ll
recommend the following changes to our laws:

a. Mandatory Imprisonment: Contrary to what prevails now, all acts of
corruption should be treated as criminal offenses subject to mandatory
minimum imprisonment of six months irrespective of who you are,
what your status is and whether you pay the imposed fine or not. The
judge should have no discretion to either commute the mandatory
sentence nor the power to pardon the convicted.

b. Anyone found guilty of corruption should be liable to:
Proportional Punitive Measures: A fine of not less than three
times the value for which he or she is convicted in addition to
the minimum mandatory imprisonment of six months. For
example, if one is found guilty of embezzling say One hundred
thousand dollars or its equivalent in Leones $ 100,000.00 the
guilty party should be:

i.) given a mandatory six months imprisonment.

ii.) a minimum fine of $ 300,000.00

iii.) If the guilty person does not pay the fine, the govt.
should seize any property or asset of value in his or her
name up to, but not exceeding the amount imposed by
the court.

iv.) If there are no assets or property of value available for
impoundment, then the person should be required to face
an additional five years minimum imprisonment, with no
judicial discretion to neither commute nor wave the
minimum sentences.

v.) If the person pays any portion of the fine, he or she
should be given additional prison sentence in proportion
to the balance remaining.

vi.) If the person is a public official, he or she should be
blacklisted and barred from holding any public office for
at least 10 years.

vii.) If the person owns or is associated with any business
either directly or indirectly such a company should be
barred from doing business with government for at least
ten years.

c. Duty of Disclosure: We should include in our anti-corruption law a
clause that requires any member of the public who happens to know
or, ought to have known or suspect or ought to have reasonably
suspected, that someone has committed, is committing or is about to
commit an act of corruption such as offering or soliciting bribe, must
disclose, to the authorities as soon as reasonably practicable. The
manner or ways by which one can disclose such information to the
authorities including what constitute reasonable disclosure should be
defined in the anti-corruption bill. This means, the spouse, children,
friends, driver, secretary, messenger or any other party who played a
role in the commission of an act of corruption would be legally obliged
to report to the authorities. Each should be investigated and if found
guilty of failure to report the act within a reasonable and practicable
time, such a person should be subjected to some punitive action at the
discretion of the judge which could include jail term.

d. Aiding and Abetting an Act of Corruption: Also in the law we must
include clauses that would impose some punitive measure on anyone
who solicits, aids, abets, counsels, incites, procures in the commission
of an act of corruption or offers an advantage for or behalf of another
including that of a corporation or a private business, should be guilty
of an offence and should be liable upon summary conviction to a
minimum imprisonment of six months plus fine. With respect to
corporations, under this clause, the punitive measure should not only
be limited to the executives or officials of the corporation guilty of the
crime but additional punitive measures must be levied on the
corporation on behalf of which the crime was committed.

e. Exemption: This is crucial, we need to also include a clause that
would exempt from prosecution any party to an act of corruption who
reports the act within seven days where practical and reasonable, and
agrees to serve as prosecuting witness resulting in the conviction of
the other party or parties. For instance, let’s say someone gives a
thousand dollars bribe to a govt. official, either party under this clause
could request for exemption from prosecution if he or she reports to
the authorities of the commission of this crime within 7 days. The
party filing the report would be exempted from prosecution if enough
evidence is provided to convict the co-conspirator. This means within 7
days both the govt. official or the party who offered the bribe would be
in a worried state of uncertainty not sure of what action the coconspirator
may do. Such continuous state of panic could be a
deterrent to engaging in an act of corruption.

f. Incentive Clause: We should also consider including in our
anticorruption act a clause that would give at least 10% of any money
or the value of any property recovered from the prosecution and
conviction of parties involved in an act of corruption to the person who
provided the information, report or leak that leads to a successful
conviction. This offer should also extend to even law enforcement
officers. For law enforcement officers, such patriotic act could also be
considered as part of many possible factors for future promotion.
(What this would do is, not only give incentive to increase the chances of
conviction, but it would also increase the stake for the person involved in the
act of corruption in case they want to offer additional bribe or fee as a cover
up to avoid exposure, which may now rise to a minimum threshold of 10% of
the value.)

II. Public Awareness and Transparency: Usually corruption flourishes in the
absence of transparency and accountability which increases the possibility of
govt. officials having monopoly over the information which the public needs
to know such as the rules and regulations that are place. Without the public
knowing the rules and regulations including the official fees to pay for
services at the various department and agencies of govt., they would be at
the mercy of government officials for abuse and malfeasance.

a. E-Government: Therefore, we should adopt laws that increases
transparency, clarifies the rules for the common man or woman to
understand to reduce discretion and monopoly. For instance, we could
require every Ministry, Department and Agency of government to
setup and upload to a website all the rules and regulations stipulated
by law with respect to services provided by such Ministry, department
or agency. Let’s take the Port Authority for instance, if you know in
advance all the fees that you ought to pay for each service you would
not have need to rely on the port official to dictate to you a different
figure.

b. Average Response time: It is a common practice in Sierra Leone for
public officials to force you to bribe them, by delaying or stalling the
delivery of service they are expected to render to you, such as
applying for the registration of a business or clearing goods at the port
etc. These delays results in big drain on our economy and forces
people to bribe even if it is against their core principles. Something
that probably should take a few hours to process, they may delay you
for days, weeks or even months. Therefore, it is my opinion that we
should review the services rendered by every government agency and
come up with an average acceptable response time between the
moment someone applies for service including making full payment
and the time the government official responds. By law, they should be
expected to send a written official explanation, preferably through an
email if they exceed the generally accepted time frame stipulated by
law. Failure of which the member of the public should have a way to
lodge a complaint with clear line of redress which should result to the
public official being reprimanded by the right authority.

c. Service Evaluation Slip: Within the first five to ten years, at least 35%
of those seeking services from a government agency must be given an
evaluation slip to select from a number of options to rate the
performance of the person rendering the service and the agency
providing the service. Or the Public Service Commission should have a
link on their site through which members of the public could share
their experiences and rate the Ministry, Department or Agency. If it is
in a form of a slip, it could be required to be dropped off at the Public
Service Commission. Every year these public evaluation forms could be
one of many ways to rate the performance of every Ministry,
Department or Agency of government.

d. Public Servant Identification: To curb corruption we need to create a
structure by which public sector workers can easily be identified not
only by their names but also by a proper Civil Service Employee
Identification Cards, which must be easy to remembers and connects
to an electronic database. Therefore, all civil servants both senior and
junior civil servants must all carry civil service employee ID Cards.
They must be required by law to display or show their ID whenever
they are dealing with any member of the public particularly so, when
providing service for them. By law, when asked they should always
make sure they show their Employee ID.

e. Awarding Govt. contracts: Fighting the 10% Rule: In Sierra Leone, it is
a general rule that before you are given a contract you are expected to
give a minimum of 10% of the value of the contract to the party or
parties granting you the contract, in some cases you are expected to
pay the illegal commission in advance. Over the years between 2006
and 2016, it is my estimation that Sierra Leone has lost over $ 950
Million to corruption including fraud, waste and abuse of public funds.
Over-inflating the value of contracts awarded by government,
contributes immensely to this loss. To solve this problem, it requires a
detailed examination of the entire contract bidding and awarding
process, to identify loopholes and rewrite the entire process in an
attempt to close those loopholes. Meanwhile, let me offer the following
suggestions which must be included in the said process.

i. Contracting Authority: It is my view that we should have a
single contracting authority perhaps within the Ministry of
Finance with the sole responsibility for evaluating and awarding
every government contract including those for international
bidding. This would ensure that the task would solely be in the
hands of a well-paid identifiable professional team who would be
under the full eye of the public, independent and separate from
political appointees. Whose jobs should be secured through
some legislative measures.

ii. Central Contracting Database. The contracting authority should
be required to come up with very detailed criteria that
individuals or businesses must meet to qualify to bid for any
government contract which must be clearly published on their
website in line with the new e-govt. management system.

Secondly, we must require every individual or business that may
want to bid for govt. contracts to have registered with the
contracting authority at least a year in advance after undergoing
special evaluation process and the list must also be published on
their website. Thirdly, to prevent contracts from being awarded
secretively called “insider bidding” and also to ensure
Competitive Bidding, they should publish every government
contract on their website exclusively for announcing all
contracts. It must include a clear and standardised approach to
the bidding process and every other details about each contract.

Finally, they should publish the name of the individual or
company who wins any government contract, stating the
reasons why they were awarded the contract over others.

iii. Contract Payment Terms: Except in special circumstances, no
government contract should be paid in advance. All contracts
must be broken down into a minimum of ten expected
deliverables and milestones and payment should only be made
for each deliverable after a satisfactory performance evaluation.

iv. Challenging Process: Since the qualification for bidding including
the process, scope and expected outcomes for every contract
would be published, we should also have a clear process on how
an aggrieved party can challenge the Contracting Authority if
they feel that they were cheated or the if the contracting
authority fails to follow defined procedures. This challenge can
be done either through an arbitration process or through the
court system.

v. Contract Administrator: Each contract must be assigned to
personnel within the Contracting authority who should be
responsible for monitoring contract performance. He or she
must ensure that commitments and obligations from contract
awardees are effectively met, by delivering value for money.
They should be held responsible to ensure that compliance,
expected outcomes, inherent risk is managed accordingly for
each contract. Their job performance must be tied to the
performance of the contracts they are required to oversee.

f. Tracking the flow of Money: Money, Power and Influence are the
currencies or main mediums of exchange in any act of corruption.
Setting up standards to control the currency through which corruption
is traded, could create a deterrent to engaging in an act of corruption.

Therefore, we should require that the salary or wages of every civil
servant or employee of both the central and local govt. must be paid
through a bank account which would force each person to secure one,
who must provide both a state ID and employee ID to be able to open
a Bank account. We should also require that every business, agency or
individual doing business with govt. must be paid through a bank
account opened in the name of that business or individual. This would
make it easier to track not only track the flow of money but it would
take away the excuse public official make that they paid so much for
this service or have paid a certain employee when in reality they’ve
not done so.

g. Annual Compliance Training: We should pass a law that would require
every person working for any Ministry, Department and Agency of
government to take an annual compliance training on anti-corruption
ethics and morality including how to Comply with the Anti-Corruption
Laws, Regulations, Policies, and Guidelines. The annual training should
include training on such topics as what acts constitute corruption, the
role and responsibility each person should play in contributing to the
fight against corruption, ways to avoid being culpable and more. The
same rule should apply to every corporation or parastatal that does
business with government. We should insist on proof that each
employee has taken the training and have passed at least 80 percent
of the quiz. This training can be done online which may include video
and audio clips

III. Survival & Fringe Benefit: Now let’s try to get into the world of an
ordinary civil servant in Sierra Leone. The focus here is how to address the
issue of survival, avoid temptations and increase the stake in terms what
they may lose if caught in an act of corruption. Paying living wages is one
option but this is always a challenge for a government that consistently
depends on foreign aid to supplement annual budget. Therefore, I’ll
recommend the following.

a. Minimum Living Wage: Establish a realistic minimum wage for all
workers but with respect to public workers such increase should be
“Annual Bonus” instead of wage increase, which should be tied to the
rate of inflation. This means the increase could fluctuate based on the
performance of the economy as well as the ability of government to
pay. It would be very counterproductive to adopt a general wage
increase that cannot be sustained. With respect to bonus everyone
would expect it to either increase or reduce based on other variables.

b. Other Fringe Benefits for Public workers: Two important facts of life
trouble every worker; particularly senior public workers whose general
family responsibility sometimes quadruples by the mere fact they are
now in senior positions. But paramount to all the challenges they face
are housing and retirement income. No one would want to spend
decades of their lives as public servants especially as a senior official
during which they managed projects worth millions of dollars and
retire without a roof over their heads and no guarantees for a source
of income to sustain them till death.

i. Retirement Income: Therefore, we must look into drastically
reforming NASSIT to ensure that it is effectively managed,
transparent with a structure that gives the very workers who
contributes to its funds, greater influence over the composition
of its leadership. Secondly, the government must increase its
matching contribution to the monthly retirement made by each
worker.

ii. Housing: We should also introduce a special housing loan
program with very low interest rates, available only to public
workers. It must be a housing loan system exclusive to public
servants only. It must have a payment plan that could extend
up to 30 years to ensure that the monthly payment is low
enough to be affordable based on the monthly income of the
public worker. These benefits could be linked to their tenure of
service. If anyone found guilty of an act of corruption, they
should be required to completely lose all benefits. The could lose
all matching contributions made by govt. to their retirement
pension since the date it was established. They could also be
required to retroactively pay the market rate of the housing loan
secure by government since the loan was issued. It is my hope
that with such programs government officials would be less
likely to be involved in corruption to avoid the risk of losing
these benefits.

iii. Performance Review: We should have a clear policy on an
annual performance review of every govt. employee linked to
better pay, promotions, and other benefits.

BACK TO THE QUESTION OF LEADERSHIP AS CONDITION No 1:
As noted incondition No. 1, to fight corruption in Sierra Leone we need the right leadershipwith the right political will. However, the political will must start from within thepolitical party from which the leadership emerges. Corruption as we know it in
Sierra Leone was introduced under an SLPP govt. which was adopted and
institutionalized by the APC party under Siaka Stevens. Over the past decades,
despite the fact that different individuals at different generations have lead the
country from each of the two political parties, the practice of corruption have
continued unabated by every successive govt. The main reason why this is the
case, it is because, the practice of endemic institutionalized corruption in Sierra
Leone starts from within the very political parties from which the leaders emerge.
If the internal structure of a political party is corrupt, the government it would lead
would equally be corrupt as has been the case for over 57 years. If the internal
structure of a political party is undemocratic, unaccountable, not transparent and
not responsive to its members, the govt. it would lead would be undemocratic,
unaccountable, not transparent nor would they be responsive to the needs of the
people as has been the case for the past several decades.

As I noted above, the suggestions I’ve offered here are by no means exhaustive.
There are many possible options I may not have considered, please feel free to
send me your comment or opinion about my suggestions. If there is any way I can
possibly improve on what you’ve read, please feel free to share with me.

Thank you for your time. I can be reached on 908-759-4332 or
Sumatuinc@gmail.com,

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