Transparency International - Sierra Leone

The Global Coalition against Corruption - Fighting Corruption in Sierra Leone

National Priorities

TISL is combating corruption on several fronts: the public, private and CSO/NGO sectors. To date, as a result of its efforts (individually and in collaboration with other organizations), TISL can record the following achievements in the past five years:

• Increased public awareness of the causes and types of corruption and its negative impact.

• Established the Civil Society Dialogue Forum, which brings major corruption issues (such as the such as the NASSIT Ferry

 Issue, the Morgan Heritage Contract by the Freetown City Council) to the forefront of public debate and political action

• improved record keeping and financial management systems in local councils in Port Loko, Kailahun and Pujehun

• Improved civil society participation in the budget process

• MDAs adhere to the content recommended in the annual budget call circular

• Improvement in the adherence to procurement rules by local councils in Freetown, Tonkolili and Kenema Districts

• Contributed to the enactment of the 2008 Anti Corruption Act

• Increased recognition, especially from the Anti Corruption Commission

• Full Accreditation by Transparency International as a National Chapter in Sierra Leone Challenges

• Limited funding to broaden its outreach and sustain its operations as funding of TISL’s work is project-based and short-lived

• Limited Staff Capacity and high staff turnover

• Access to timely and detailed information.

Governance and Corruption in Sierra Leone

Corruption has long existed in Sierra Leone but it became more entrenched as proper democratic governance was eroded after independence. Sierra Leone gained independence from Great Britain on 27th April 1961 under the leadership of Sir Milton Margai of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Early in the 1970s, the country was a de facto one party state and in 1978 it became a de jure one party state after a referendum. In the succeeding decade there were a succession of corruption scandals known as the Vouchergate, Squandergate and Milliongate Scandals. The corrupt acts which led to these scandals depleted the national reserve tremendously, impoverished the people further and bred discontent among the citizenry. The effects of corruption largely contributed to the decade of civil war which lasted from March 1991 to January 2002. Early in the conflict, the All People’s Congress (APC) party government led by President Dr Joseph Saidu Momoh was overthrown by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) military junta in 1992. The junta handed over power in 1996 to a democratically elected government of the SLPP led by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

During and after the period of military government, corruption continued unabated leading to the passing of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2000, the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the development of a National Anti-Corruption Strategy. In 2004, the Local Government and Decentralization Act was passed leading to the formation of Local Councils, with one of the primary reasons being to devolve powers to a decentralized government in order promote transparency, accountability and curb the corruption which thrived in the centralized system of government. The government also acceded to the African Peer Review Mechanism Process in 2004, which is also geared towards promoting good governance in Africa through a process of self and peer review. According to Transparency International, by 2004 the National Integrity System was not operating well and had been unable to combat corruption. In 2008, a Government Budgeting and Accountability Act was passed and the Anti-Corruption Act of 2000 was reviewed, amended and passed into law and a Revised National Anti-Corruption Strategy adopted. An Asset Declaration Law was also passed to ensure public officials give an account of their assets while in office.

The National Public Procurement Act was passed in 2008 leading to the formation of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) to regulate the public procurement process to which approximately 70% of the government spending is committed and an area very prone to corruption. In 2011, the National Anti Corruption Strategy for 2008 to 2013 was reviewed in mid-term to further promote the anti-corruption campaign.

The fight against corruption between the years 2007 to present has received a seeming boost, largely owing to the Zero Tolerance on Corruption stance of President Ernest Bai Koroma. During this period also Ministers in government and top level public officials that have been found to be culpable have been prosecuted, fined and relieved of their appointments. An Open Governance Initiative (OGI) aimed at enabling citizens in local communities to closely engage the President in a public debate has also been introduced and so also has a Secretariat for Attitudinal and Behavioural Change.

Consequently, as a result of some of the above strides and initiatives, some people and institutions are of the opinion that Sierra Leone has made significant improvement in the fight against corruption and promoting good governance. In the past five years, Freedom House has classified Sierra Leone as ‘partly free’ and noted an improvement in political rights ‘due to the relatively peaceful conduct of free and fair general elections in the absence of international troops, the orderly transfer of power to the opposition, and the commendable performance of the National Electoral Commission’ in 2007.

The 2011 Mo Ibrahim Index ranks the status of governance in Sierra Leone as 9th among West African countries. According to its scoring, Sierra Leone’s governance score increased by 5 points to 46.0 between 2003/4 to 2008/9.

Current Status of Corruption in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone’s history, corruption has led to bad governance which, in turn, has led to increased poverty and conflict. In 2000, 92.3% of respondents to the survey on National Perception and Attitudes towards Corruption in Sierra Leone considered bribery the most common corruption practice, others being embezzlement and misappropriation, abuse of power and fake contracts. Transparency International’s Global Perception Index records these trends for Sierra Leone.

The people of Sierra Leone have strong opinions about corruption in the country. The Anti Corruption Commission’s National Public Perception Survey on Corruption 2010 reports that corruption is seen as the third most serious problem in the country, after poverty and unemployment. The majority (89.6%) of respondents to the survey reported corruption to be moderate or high and 70.8% perceived corruption as a serious offence.

There are many facets of corruption in the public sector. There is limited provision and access to information. This shielding is pervasive and provides much scope for corruption. Public officials breach public procurement regulations and award contracts to the companies and individuals based on interests, who frequently either do not complete the project or do poor quality work or otherwise under-perform on the contracts. The charges levied for many public services are generally unknown to citizens so service users pay much more for the service than they need to. Public financial transactions are very poorly documented, and this leads to non-disclosure, ambiguity, tax evasion, poor audits and disparities between the services provided, the resources used and the revenues due to the state from taxes and service charges.

Inadequate financial management and resource mobilization capacity, embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, limited accountability mechanisms in public financial management lead to a weak national revenue base. Such corruption results in wastage of scarce resources, poor public service delivery, privation of a large proportion of the population, high levels of illiteracy and unemployment, low standards of living and widespread poverty and underdevelopment.

The private sector is commonly associated with bribery of public officials in order to secure relevant documentation such as obtaining financial instruments from the banks or to win government contracts by breaching public procurement rules. Improper record-keeping or the absence of records benefits the private sector immensely. Businesses conspire to fix prices and exploit consumers and as well as breach public procurement regulations and evade payment of tax.

Consumers receive low quality goods and services, which in turn lowers citizens’ quality of life and results in low productivity and low public revenue generation, under-development and further heightens poverty.

Another actor involved in corruption is the non-governmental and civil society sector, which has acquired a higher profile in Sierra Leone over the past two decades. As the state began to fail during the decade-long civil war, various development partners used these organizations as a channel to reach war victims, the disadvantaged and other vulnerable groups. Today, there is widespread concern that few of the results of the work done by a number of such organizations are visible. Many institute policies that they do not practice and spend most of their funds on recurrent staff costs, at the expense of the communities and beneficiaries they claim to serve.

Few NGOs and CSOs consult their purported beneficiaries when they plan and implement development projects. Due to the fact that beneficiaries have realized that most often their needs are not addressed, their participation and ownership is limited. Typically, more than half of their budgets are devoted to recurrent staff costs and the remnant is inadequate for any meaningful development activity. Consequently, neither the civil society and non-governmental organizations outputs nor impact is visible.

National and International Initiatives to combat Corruption

Corruption in Sierra Leone has become very pervasive since the country gained independence in April 1961, to the extent that, although it is naturally endowed with many natural resources to aid growth and development, the country continues to be ranked low in the United Nation’s Human Development Index. It has remained among the least developed nations in the world for the past six years. Corruption also continues to be a major hindrance to development efforts thereby undermining the creation of an effective modern state.

In endeavouring to curb this menace internationally, regionally and nationally, various actors (donors, governments, development partners and activists) have directed their efforts towards ensuring a viable anti-corruption campaign. Over the past fifteen years, there has been an increasing demand for accountability, transparency and Integrity. The enactment of the 2000 Anti Corruption Act established the Anti Corruption Commission as an independent body to investigate corruption in government and the private sector. The Act was amended in 2008, giving the Commission power to prosecute cases, a power which had previously been vested in the Attorney General. The leadership of the Commission has changed several times in the past decade. At the same time the number of prosecutions has increased, as has the number of convictions.

There are several other public institutions responsible for ensuring accountability in various aspects of Sierra Leone society: the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (which implicitly monitors the performance of the Judiciary); the Human Rights Commissions; the Office of the Ombudsman (investigating complaints of abuses and capricious acts on the part of public officials); Parliamentary Oversight Committees (monitor the work of specific government ministries); the National Public Procurement Authority (regulating and enforcing public procurement procedures); and the Audit Service Commission (to audit public agencies).

Sierra Leone is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which obliges it to implement a range of anti-corruption measures affecting its laws, institutions and practices. It is also a signatory to the African Union’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCAC).

The donor community and civil society organizations have also been engaged in various efforts such as regulatory mechanisms and advocacy and monitoring programmes to curb corruption in the society. District Budget Oversight Committees have been set up which monitor local council expenditures at district level and participate in the annual national budget hearings.

The result of so many interventions and initiatives is that accountability in Sierra Leone is reported to have improved between 2006 and 2010.

Strategic Issues

Inspite of many national and international efforts to promote and uphold integrity, corruption has not abated. There is a perceived general decline in the values of integrity, transparency and accountability in the country. To date there are rampant allegations of corruption in key sectors such as education, health, the judiciary where corruption is characterized by bribery and nepotism, misallocation and misuse of resources, abuse of power and selective application of the laws that ensure justice.

This among other factors has resulted in Sierra Leone being ranked 180th out of 187 countries in the world and 8th out of 10 of the countries with the lowest HDI in Africa, in the United Nation’s Human Development Index published in November 2011.

Consequently, the year 2012 is very critical for Sierra Leone in that a multi-layer election for the President, Members of Parliament, and Councillors in the nineteen local government councils is scheduled for the end of the year. The candidates will be elected into office for five, five and four-year terms respectively, into a system in which the overlapping roles and functions in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government erode the checks and balances each provides to the others in ensuring good governance. 2012 is considered to be a pivotal year for good governance (integrity, rule of law, sustainable development) and the resulting quality of life of the people of Sierra Leone. There is potential for grand corruption as a repercussion of any flaws in the forthcoming elections.

Over the past four decades, vertical accountability has become weak and the experience of the past decade does little to reinforce the notion that elected officials must be credible to the electorate. Even the electoral institutions (the National Electoral Commission and Political Parties’ Registration Commission and the respective political parties) are not seen to be very transparent. The outcome of the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections is still disputed, as is the integrity of the National Elections Commission.

Corruption is rife largely because poverty and selfish tendencies are widespread and many people apparently believe that only by indulging in corrupt acts can people survive. There is much scope for petty corruption. This is closely linked to the perception that sanctions for corrupt acts are weak and are thought to be selectively-applied.

TISL itself is confronted with limited capacity in terms of staff and funding to sustain its operations beyond small-scale, short-term projects which also undermine the hiring of adequate staff to ensure sustained, long-term programmes that broaden TISL’s outreach.