By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
Despite efforts being made to control and stop corruption in the public sector Sierra Leone continues to lose billions of Leones every year through nefarious channels that drain monies meant for public sector investment.
According to the Auditor General’s Report of 2015, ‘over 22.2 billion Leones in revenues is still unaccounted for by various Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as a result of discrepancies in what was recorded in the National Revenue Authority (NRA) cash book, statements in transit accounts and what actually reflected in the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account (CRFA)’.
The report by the Auditor General is just one of many that paint the same picture,but changes nothing in the attitude of public sector officials.
In 1991,the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), headed by the late Foday Sabana Sankoh,cited corruption as the reason for the revolution to free the people from wanton poverty, caused by public officials and their cronies, yet the RUF committed the worst atrocities in the country, destabilized public infrastructures and left behind a nation riddled with trauma.
With the return to peace and stability and democratic rule politicians build their campaign messages around ‘fighting corruption’ and use the issue as magic wands in political rallies to get votes and indeed the people always fall for the bait, hoping their most feared enemy will indeed be tackled and put under control; unfortunately, the expectations are always futile.
Corruption in public sector offices, such as people having to bribe public officials to get access to public services, is endemic and has destabilized public sector engagement with the public. Sierra Leones are no longer confident to demand for their right to public services without considering ‘who to meet and who to bribe’ for a service to be provided on time. People have to bribe to ensure a broken public water tap is reinstalled; people bribe to get the Free Healthcare for their children; Sierra Leoneans bribed to get a national passport; even with electricity supply, communities that refused to bribe remain in the dark for months until they see someone with a bribe; and the trend goes on, the police,teachers, lecturers and nurses, etc.
According to The World Bank Enterprise Survey 2017, a total of 46.1 percent of bribery incidence (percent of firms experiencing at least one bribe payment request)were cited, compared to 23.7 in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, percent of firms expected to give gifts to public officials “to get things done” is 46.0 compared to 27.4 in Sub-Saharan Africa. The survey includes business owners and top managers in 152 firms who were interviewed from July 2017 through September 2017.
However,despite the ugly picture the Government of Sierra Leone could still address the issue by tackling the underlying factors that influences corrupt practices. And one such factor is providing the political will for independent monitoring bodies to operate in the manner that they are created for proper and effective oversight of the public and private sectors.
Using national commissions and public institutions aimed at serving the public as platforms for employment of political supporters not only betrays the goals and objectives of the institutions, but create distrust in the wider public. The practice is a vicious cycle that continues to deny Sierra Leoneans the opportunity to live better lives because year in and year out these groups of selected political operatives only answer to their political masters and not the people.
President Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP Government now have the task of addressing the ills that continue to corruptly plague the economy but if, like the previous governments dance to the same old tunes and leave the masses in the hands criminals; they too will fail the people.
Pronouncing objectives, passing policies and reaching out to the people is not enough but ensuring implementation of the objectives and policies so that every Sierra Leonean could be able to tap into the public sector service, without bribing,to better him/herself.
Now that the Auditor General’s Report is made public, what else is in the offing for Sierra Leoneans? Will there be pragmatic and unbiased reform in the public sector or Sierra Leoneans will again be left in the rain?