From the Editor’s Keyboard

Random Thoughts

By  | 17 July 2013 at 01:35 | 1105 views

The TI Fiasco

I could not help laughing out loud when I read the recent Transparency International report on bribery and corruption for the year 2013. I found it funny that this respected organization can do such a sloppy piece of work on such an important topic.

The TI report says Sierra Leone and Liberia are two of the most corrupt countries in the world where 75 percent or more of people surveyed admitted to having given a bribe to somebody for a social service (Sierra Leone, according to TI, rose up to 84 percent). Incredible, I said to myself. So I went looking for Egypt and Nigeria, two countries I know that have institutionalized corruption and they were way below Sierra Leone and Liberia at about 40 percent for Egypt and about 50 percent for Nigeria. What the hell.

Some "researchers" must have hit the top guns at Transparency International with some kind of cruel joke or 419 masterpiece as we say in Africa. I mean how can anyone come up with percentages like that? Is it because Liberia and Sierra Leone are dirt poor countries with largely illiterate populations? Maybe the TI researchers or survey experts thought they could get away with this 419 report and no questions will be asked? I suspect that they sat in some crummy hotel swilling beer and later manufacture this report. Who wants to go out in the hot African sun among the sweating African masses to do a survey, they must have asked themselves.

Do they know that Egypt is the home of bakseesh, the barefaced and openly public bribery system that is found in most Arab countries?You do not need to ask Egyptians about bribery; all you need to do is to go to any market or souk, or office, or hotel etc, to see bakseesh in operation.Of course if you ask most Egyptians if they had ever bribed anyone they will say no. This is the land of no-no. Unlike countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia where people tend to be more honest, open and frank.

As for Nigeria, the home of 419 and daylight robbery, all you need to to do is get on a plane and disembark at Lagos international airport to see bribery "Janran Janran" as we say in Sierra Leone. On a trip from Accra, Ghana, to Zurich in Switzerland in the late 90s, our plane did a stopover at Murtala Muhammed international airport in Lagos and I saw with my own eyes Nigerian customs and immigration officials entering the plane and announcing to the startled passengers about to disembark that they could change their foreign currencies with them instead of doing that the official way inside the airport.

"Too much hassle in the airport, change your money with us, we have Naira here," one of them shouted, waving a huge Ghana Must Go bag. Most of us laughed quietly to ourselves. Welcome to Naija, a Ghanaian fellow sitting beside me whispered.You cannot compare bribery and corruption in Nigeria and Egypt to that in Sierra Leone and Liberia; it’s like trying to compare life and death. If you ask a Nigerian on the streets of Lagos if he had ever bribed somebody you will most likely get a quick NO if you are lucky or a resounding slap on your jaw if you are unlucky. Haba, na crase yu dey crase?

I suggest the top guys at TI demand a redo of this survey because anybody that knows Africa (just one of the continents surveyed) will quickly realize, at one glance, how ridiculous and nonsensical this report is. TI should demand a refund and look for new survey experts. What a disaster.

UNESCO in Sierra Leone

I have always wondered what the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office in Freetown is doing. No, I am not totally ignorant about that office because I did an interview in the early 90s with their representative in Freetown just out of curiosity. The UNESCO man’s office was a dingy basement at the Ministry of Education, New England.

His name was Mr. Konneh. I actually sat down to do an interview with him but he did not impress me, neither did his office itself, which was rather like a monk’s retreat. But but he was a very pleasant and charming guy, full of jokes. A distraction strategy? Maybe. He was obviously well educated but simply could not communicate well or maybe he was hiding something from me. I wanted to know what his work entailed, what UNESCO was doing for Sierra Leoneans in Sierra Leone apart from scholarships and workshops. He kept mumbling inanities and I quickly put a stop to the interview and left. Phew! What a guy. I hear he is still there, over 20 years in that monkish cell! Some people really have stamina.

Recently I have received reports that UNESCO wants to work with our government on some big projects in telecommunications and our Information and Communications Minister, Honourable Alpha Kanu has even gone to Paris and met with the UNESCO Director-General. Good news. We have a lot to gain from UNESCO, let’s get going and connect with them like Senegal, like Ghana and other countries. But there seems to be a problem here. The Minister of Education, Minkailu Bah, is also deeply involved with UNESCO and even hosts its local office in his building as I stated above. So who is really in charge? President Koroma should step in here and draw a line or these two Ministers would soon clash. Minkailu seems to have a lot of problems running the Education Ministry alone, if you ask me. Maybe he should step aside and allow Alpha Khan to help him with UNESCO.