Salone: The politics of under-development

29 December 2009 at 04:17 | 1573 views


By Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria, Bergen, Norway.

Corruption as a word, concept and even social behavioral attribute has been a key word used anytime issues of political economic consequence are mentioned in the case of African and most other third world countries. In the case of developed economies it is used with absolute caution and sparsely.

There have been several researches, recommendations and even bold moves to get anti-corruption commissions with judicial powers to stop this, seemingly incurable cancer especially in the African region.

As these institutions seem to be gaining grounds so also is it that more reports of corrupt practices by public and well as private sectors functionaries seem to escalate. The question is why and don’t these guys who are in these offices care?

If one is to get an answer to this all important question then it is but necessary to look at the present politico-social dynamics from both the present and past political economic infrastructures and institutions.

Infrastructure, in this case is structural in both the physical and mental perspectives and is more of who society thinks than what laws are in place. For practices of corruption to be put under control there is need for a universally accepted structure, norm and code of ethics that replaces those in place now.

This universal moral framework must be accepted and adhered to by all the stakeholders in the affected society irrespective of status, gender, political opinion and role. It must not be mere pronouncements that are exclusive and protectionist.

This is why recent moves by the President Koroma Administration to give a free hand to the Anti Corruption Commissioner are a good step. Also credit must be given to the previous Tejan Kabbah Administration for putting in place a lot of institutions that will in totality assist in the processes of controlling corruption. The question posed by the actions of this Commissioner and the parallel continuance of stories of corruption poses a big question about the effectiveness of such institutions with regards putting a stop to corruption. Also it indicates that there is more to corruption than making it illegal.

It clearly signify that corruption is not an issue that can be curtailed by laws alone as the root of it may be more social than administrative and for it to be put under control there is need for an examination of the social psychology that promotes and drive such behavioral dynamics in society. In other words the various parameters that create and sustain such acts of corruption have to be examined as without an understanding of why and how there will be little or no success in putting corruption under control.

First we have to look out of the political domain and see why and how functionaries in public and private institutions get corrupt. First, it is necessary to examine our social structures in terms of family, region and blood lineage and see how these instigate corrupt practices. Unlike western and other societies where family is unitary and relations are independent as each unit is more or less independent of each other, the African structures is such that there is still an over dependent factor and members of any family ,region or lineage has to the brothers keeper. With this and coupled with the high un- and underemployment rates in these economies, the few who have jobs have to be the caretaker of those not in gainful employment.

In such circumstances and given that the jobbers have limited incomes; there is always a pressure on the income earner to act as the sustainer of the others. Given that this jobbers have their unitary family to take care of and that the other relatives also have their needs to be looked at then the first root cause of corruption is instigated by the very society that wants to stop corruption. In such circumstances, the “eat your cake and wanting to have it syndrome” comes into play and this is the beginning of the breakdown of policies as social demands over rides and takes precedence over policy.

There had been a few functionaries who had tried to adhere to policy and at the end of the day have become ostracized or blamed by the very society that wants to stop corruption. These few “upright” functionaries have been given every negative social tag available and most have even died broken hearted as they are looked at as failures by the society they have tried to protect and improve.

On the other hand are those who have used their offices not only to sustain their relatives but have used such offices as power brokerages to impose themselves over other members of their direct and indirect relations communities. These are the ones society considers as success cases and so comes in the contradictions of wanting to stop corruption vis-à-vis hero worshiping those who actually share the loots of their corrupt acts.

In this confused state there is normally the tendency to attribute success from such corrupt practices as from the hand of God, which God? Has always been the unanswered question.

In an attempt to answer to this question, an examination of the psychology of social growth and change that obtains in our society. In this regard it is worthwhile to look at the social psychology and philosophies the society is founded upon. What constitutes progress and who and how does one make progress is a very important factor that needs some analysis and may be reorientation if corruption as a social behavior is to be adequately addressed and contained.Inotherwords, the culture of gifts and predestination must be examined.

In as much as these will continue to be a part of the social thinking yet certain questions with regards which gift is legitimate or what form of progress is by merit or predestination has to be addressed by members of society for the syndrome of eating our cakes and wanting to have to be contained.

When this is contained and when merit takes precedence over patronage then society will be taking the first positive step towards containing corruption and the job of the Anti Corruption Commissioner(ACC) will become easier as those who continue to be corrupt will then become the elements wanting to see non a wrecked political economy.

However for as long as the social thinking of wanting to have someone in some office that can cater for to the needs of affiliates and for as long as some members of society still see power as a channel for self aggrandizement the work of the ACC will be marred and by default the person of the ACC and his staff will always be at risk as shadow power groups not wanting to let go and getting support from their affiliates will make the task of ridding society of corruption very difficult.

On the other and higher level, the socio-political infrastructures that run parallel with the relations infrastructures in terms of party ,regional and even ethnic affiliations has been another bottleneck to stopping corruption. At this level corruption becomes an instrument used for several reasons and purposes but all with one aim, to create the ultimate political and economic advantage for that social group/party that the members in focus are affiliated to.

At one level it is a way of securing funds and sustenance for the group. If institutionalized this transforms into the instrument of carrot and stick and patronage overtakes any policy that may stop corruption. Hence corruption becomes the order of the day. An example of this was seen in the 24 years of rule of the APC and the calculated mistake by Siaka Stevens to hold on to power by declaring a one party state. He, in his quest to unnecessarily hold on to power created a system that assisted in the development of both institutionalized corruption and a powerful shadow state simultaneously.

On another dimension, the institutionalization of corruption creates room for shadow power groups to amass wealth whilst casting the blame on the group that has the legitimacy of rule. This is more so the case in a situation where regionality, ethnicity and political affiliation overrides patriotism as is the case in Sierra Leone. Though this cannot be justified by any data yet there is the element of political sabotage and this is one reason why political affiliation always supersedes merit in most appointments made by governments in power.

There is also issue of the struggle for power between the traditionalist and modernist governance institutions in the Sierra Leonean context leading to a compromise that had very devastating effects on the development of the political economy. Whenever these two come into play the consequent compromise is always a situation that instigates corruption. For political parties to maintain power they have to provide a power base for the traditional institutions and in the process minimize accountability from these institutions.

Stevens’ attempted “on extending patronage to a small but shifting group of ‘insiders’ whilst intimidating any ‘outsiders’(Keen ,David,2005) was his own method of attempting to create this compromise with party affiliates including the baseline traditional institutions. He brought some like the trade unions into parliament whilst giving a free hand to others who cooperated with him. By and large it became a key to the institutionalization of corruption during the 24 years of APC rule.

In co opting opponents he created room for the politicization of corruption as a way of rendering the economy weak, defaming the party in power whilst wrecking havoc on the political economy that was to subsequently lead to a social crisis that brought mass poverty and war.

Also the forceful co-opting of opponents led to the “if you cannot beat them join them syndrome”which had more far reaching consequences than has ever been researched or recorded. This as a result accelerated the rate and level of corruption which in those times was seen as a modus oprandi and ethically accepted by the society. In turn this undermined social thinking and institutions to the extent that if one cannot demonstrate the trappings of wealth and /or office then you are an outsider and nobody. Hence the axiom “dem say Bailor Barrie you say Davidson Nicol” meaning silver and gold is better than education and ethics! This was one factor instigating corrupt practices thus institutionalizing corruption.

Another social attribute of the Stevens era was the social thinking that the easiest way to wealth and power is through politics or political affinity. This by the use of patronage for party affiliates and sympathizers more or less institutionalized corruption as protectionism became a parallel attribute to patronage and sacred cows were created and protected for as long as their patrons were in authority. In the process those who were not politically sympathetic to the APC sought to by becoming “unwillingly” party associates with membership. Some of these did so with a hidden agenda and used the atmosphere of legalized corruption to enrich themselves and consolidate their power base. For most of these who are still alive, they are now in their party of choice and some are even acrimonious enough to be heaping blame on the Stevens’ APC when they were as a matter of fact key players in the same corrupt regime. In effect these are the ones who are deviating public attention from the real factors of why and how corruption is and using it to make political waves of self righteousness only to do likewise when they get hold of power.

So if after the war that is basically a result of a breakdown of state institutions and mass poverty then it is worthwhile to finds answers to certain social questions.

First is how individual members of society can outlaw corruption? Do they have to put the onus of doing that on the ACC alone or should every member do something about not being a party, directly or otherwise, to instigating corruption? If that is to be the case how fast does society need to act?

Secondly, what can be done at institutional level, especially in the public sector, to stop corruption? Is there not a need for legislations that will create more accountability and transparency of the functionaries and more so public sector functionaries? Empowering the ACC alone cannot do the work as there will always be loops that corrupt officials use to siphon funds and above all some do this with impunity as they feel their tenure of office is not well outlined by law. For example senior public servants may want to use their office corruptly because they either feel they are untouchable due to their political affiliation for as long as their party is in power or in contrast may be corrupt simply because they are always hunted by some insecurity of tenure and so may want to make as much as they can for themselves for “an unforeseen rainy day ahead”.

Whichever way if certain levels in the administrative set up is made contractual and subject to performance for continuity, then performance will improve whilst corruption will see drastic reductions. It will also reduce social friction as merit will obtain with certain, if not all, appointments. This applies more to public sector institutions.

If one is to look at the issue of accountability on the lines of collection and use of revenue then there is need for a total overhaul of the present system. This is important as corruption continues to be a cancer because of the loopholes in the accounting systems in the public sector.

The simple fact that the public sector lacks the ultimate capacity to collect revenue makes it vulnerable to blame where there should not be one as it cannot service itself properly.

In lacking this ability alongside the improper accounting system in place a lot goes on that the government may not be in a position to control. Also if this system is overhauled leakages in the accounting for ghost workers, unfulfilled contracts etc will be contained.

It may be an expensive exercise and cannot be completely done in one or two terms by any political party but at the same time is a project that must be embarked upon to get the system completely digitalized, electronic and safe with the appropriate skills of database development experts who will be able to develop a rational database system that will be secured enough not to be hacked.

Along with this must be a law making it illegal for any transaction above a specific amount to be done be cash. Through this a lot of check on transactions will be put in place and whenever transitions take place there will be traceable records of who, when, from where and why the transaction took place.

Finally, the democratization of institutions must be given topmost priority. The foreseen consequence of this will be confidence building within and without the society and this will attract much needed investment that will allow the private sector to take off. With a functioning private sector that accounts to the state, the much needed jobs and revenue will be created. When jobs are created in abundance that will minimize dependency and this consequently will minimize pressure on the few jobbers and make wages more realistic.

Belated Merry Christmas and wishes for a happy and progressive 2010 to all readers!