Analysis

Debt Cancellation and Corruption in Sierra Leone

21 December 2006 at 00:09 | 460 views

"Instead, paradoxical as it may sound, the country has prided itself in wallowing in graft to the very detriment of the people who would impatiently listen to marathon political speeches aired on national radio but have little or no opportunity to respond thereby constructively contributing to the national debate."

By Abdulai Bayraytay,Toronto, Canada.

Quite recently, there was some euphoria on the part of the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) led government in Sierra Leone over the cancellation of the country’s debt by the international community. The fact that the “good” news was passionately made public by no other person than President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah himself was a grim pointer to how jubilant the government and its stalwarts might have perceived this gesture.

One can only wonder how a cross-section of the unsuspecting public might have also embraced this piece of news punctuated by some political rhetoric. The hoi polloi have every reason to join the frenzy of jubilation, contending with the twisted view that their living standards will improve since the government will ’undoubtedly’ give them a break in preaching the mantra that the state is indebted and also recuperating from a devastating war hence its inability to improve, or rather subtly put, to address the economic woes the country is confronting.

But the government, crafty as it is, has intelligently saved the mass of the people from that trauma by explaining to them why the country in the first place has not been able to repay the honest debts it has incurred from, for instance, the Bretton Woods institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multi and bilateral lenders. This is the thrust of this article, informed by the fact that political corruption is still a rather sordid fact in a country that is supposed to help her neighbours with regards to economic chaos.

Instead, paradoxical as it may sound, the country has prided itself in wallowing in graft to the very detriment of the people who would impatiently listen to marathon political speeches aired on national radio but have little or no opportunity to respond thereby constructively contributing to the national debate.

Agreed that some of the incurred debt was negotiated by successive governments ranging from the then kleptomaniac All People’s Congress Party first under late Siaka P. Stevens, notorious for especially legitimizing corruption with his ill-informed phrase of “wusai den tai cow nar dae e dae eat” (a cow eats from where it is tethered), and then under president Momoh "Tumba" (notorious for publicly acknowledging to have failed the country but yet could not muster the courage to relinquish power, to the nefarious and babyish Valentine Strasser’’s National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military junta that masqueraded as a government and had a field day in the plundering of the country’s natural resources (thanks to their possession of the gun), especially the now famous “blood diamond” mantra that has notoriously gained currency in the vocabulary of scholars and activists by making the neat connection between Sierra Leone’s artificial poverty and the political corruption that has engulfed a country of about five million people but wallowing in unfathomable poverty and squalor.

Unsurprisingly, the United Nations representative in the country unapologetically indicted the government over the lackluster way it was sailing the boat in the fight against official corruption. Angelo’s concern was justifiable in the sense that the government is seen more as a talking drum that lacks the will to confront corruption upfront. No wonder the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission has come under the sledge hammer of critics as only a show-case in response to the demands of the international community for the government to tackle corruption or face disqualification for further assistance. Thank God today the commission is headed by the president’s brother-in-law which further compounds the problem of how serious the SLPP is poised in the fight against official graft. This frustration has over the years generated activists in the music industry who have come to challenge the status quo and the “akata” (criminal) syndicate.

Expectedly, the SLPP government will connect the recent cancellation of the country’s debt to its desire to do more on behalf of the people if voted into office come July 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections, just as how it is using donor-sponsored projects as a political campaign strategy in reassuring the people that more will happen if elected to power. Well, SLPP should not be blamed for this; indeed the field day it is enjoying is as a result of a weak opposition that virtually seems one and the same.

However, with the evolution of civil society and the consciousness therein, and in resonance with what the late reggae legend Bob Marley said in one of his lyrics that “ you can fool the people for sometime, but you can’t fool the people all of the time”, for sure each and every crooked politician, civil servant and accomplices of graft in mother Sierra Leone will one day pay the price, courtesy of Governor Clarkson’s prayer.

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