The Many Faces Of Corruption In Sierra Leone

As I write this, I silently mourn for Sierra Leone. I have never been a country where people in all walks of life actively fight against progress for all. This year has been heralded with the revealing of woeful state of the Public Accounts of various ministries and other government bodies who were audited by the Audit Service. Just last week 29 people were charged to court by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Although, people have been angry to see so much misappropriation of funds, many of those responsible will still be walking free and in THEIR respective posts by the end of this year. Such is the system here, that it beggars belief!

Accusations that will cause people to resign in other countries only cost alleged perpetrators here a few nights of lost sleep. Yes corruption is everywhere, but countries like Sierra Leone CANNOT afford it!

13 Examples Of Corruption

So how do we encounter in our daily walk in Sierra Leone? Let’s get down to what ordinary Sierra Leoneans are likely to encounter:

1. For instance, you go to buy a bag of charcoal, be warned: the seller might put only good ones on the top and the rest of the bag filled with poor quality stuff so that instead of lasting 2 weeks, it may last for just one week, then the cycle repeats itself.

corruption tummySellers of palm oil or anything local may mix it with something else inedible in order to save and make more profit. Be warned. Watch what you eat!

Measuring tins used to measure out flour, rice etc may have tampered with so they measure out less than they are supposed to.

For those who eat cooked kebhabs on the street, beware; vendors being arrested for selling dog meat is not uncommon. Yes DOG meat! Some of the stray dogs they use may actually be riddled with diseases such as rabies. But what do they care so long as they are making money!  This is similar to the horsemeat scandal that has recently engulfed Europe. This shows the human heart is the same.

2. Taxi and Ocada drivers complain all the time that everyday they have to pay the police some amount of money to be able to ply their routes. In fact, if you wish to start such a transport business, you have to pay a bribe to some police of high office so that your driver will not be arrested for no reason. This is not hearsay, I know someone who was affected this way eventually he gave up. Too much hassle for little profit. Who wants to die young?

3. You go to  some restaurants, you may find that your bill has been inflated because the menus have been taken away and you probably don’t remember how much your order cost anyway so you pay up.

4. If you are a restaurant owner, chances are if you don’t keep a strict eye on your staff, they will be selling their own drinks at your restaurant! YES! the day I heard one guy complain of that, I nearly fell of my seat. Whiles your stock of drinks remain…shocking!

5. If you are a hairdresser, watch out, your staff will be poaching your clients for home visits at a cheaper rate. So if you don’t see some of your regulars, it’s good to follow up and find out why.

6. You want to register a business? Good just don’t be in a rush. Now that the prices are available for all to see, the new trick now is for the employees at the Administrator General to drag their feet in everything they do. It’s painful to watch –  I mean how long does it take to look up a company name on the computer? Few seconds right? But in Freetown, it can take 2 hours – of which 1 hour 59 minutes is for waiting. (This is post computers being installed)

Now why would they do this? They want you to pay them to do their job – a job which they already receive a salary for! So for instance, instead of paying X amount they want you to pay them double so that they will now do the same job with alacrity and pocket the rest of the money. Unfortunately many people give up and pay them so the practice is becomes a culture.

7. You want a mining license, right? Come prepared. Officially,  it’s supposed to be about $3,000 (not sure of this figure). Just over the weekend, my Ghanaian friend confided in me that they paid over $100,000.00 to secure one! [mostly private handouts] And that’s before you start digging! What if you don’t find anything useful? Now this is mind-boggling right? BUT it is happening.

I have heard similar stories from foreign or Ghanaian companies that have tried to come here. Some succeed to establish themselves initially only to fail later. Now supposing you are a mining company and you succeed to find minerals, would you want to pay tax after paying all this “unofficial” and unnecessary money? Is it a surprise, some of them pay little or nothing in terms of taxes  hardly benefitting the ordinary people of Sierra Leone?

8. You import perishable goods into the country, some port staff may deliberately process the clearance slowly. Perhaps you haven’t “paid them” what you ought to or your competitor has gone to pay them money to slow things down for you so your goods perish – money lost, business folded, what can you do? You probably have no evidence.

9. Bidding for government contracts is almost useless, of course, unless you are prepared to pay some money in advance (called prepayment) to the right people or offer sexual favours if you are a woman. I have been at a bid opening where the company that won the bid did not have a representative that day! This is all in spite if the fact that the NPPA exists to make things more transparent. And I am sure they are trying.

As recently as February, after attending one bid opening, I met one of the bidders who was bidding under a different category and he asked me if I knew anybody at the Purchaser’s office. I said “No” He told me unless, I knew somebody, I am wasting my time. I was told the same thing by some bank staff when my Bid Security was being processed. Officially, the laws are there and the government seems to be trying but the people are not interested in the law. In the boardroom, it looks good but outside the boardroom before & after the bidding process is a different matter.

10. There’s also the rampant inflated invoices that happen across the business world. Signed cheques can be inflated 10 fold. For instance, a cheque can be signed for Le100,000. If spaces are left at the right places on the cheque, this can be upgraded to Le1,100,000 by the time it reaches the bank! Subordinates are refunded the difference and they feel very happy with themselves.

11. I have had an encounter where the procurement manager at one NGO told me, he will give me contracts if I give him 10% of the total invoice. As a business person, what are you supposed to do? You either give in and be part of the system or find a way to be outside but still successful. I have chosen the latter but it’s not easy.

corruption tummyYou are literally forced to compromise just for MONEY? I mean what if I gain the whole world but loose my soul? God help us all. Once you give in the first time, it’s easier to do it again and then it becomes normal to the point that when someone tells you the right way to do things, you look at them like they are from Mars. It has become NORMAL to you and to the next person and to the next. It’s now endemic, it’s a culture, people expect it, they don’t see anything wrong with it anymore.

People say, that’s business, I say that’s CORRUPTION! Unless we acknowledge the deed for what it is we can never be free of it. Let’s call a spade a spade! When consciences are seared to that point it becomes a sad situation.

12. Let’s bring it home, you have Nanny to help you look after your children. You ask them the get some fresh ingredients at the market…they get it alright but much less than is expected for the amount of money given. Most likely they’ve kept some of your money. The Nanny stories are endless…

13. You want a job? I have heard of cases where people have had to surrender half of their salaries every month for 6 months to the “person in the company through whom” he got the job. Some jobs are not by merit but by who you know. If you are a man you must have money to have job, but then you need a job to have money, kinda catch-22 scenario. As for women, I  personally know some who have left the working environment due to sexual harassment and started their own businesses.

Updated: 14. You think you have hired security guards to keep an eye on your property? Think again, most thefts are committed by the so-called security guards whether business or personal. SLPA and many other institutions have been plagued by thefts which you know will obviously have been committed by the security guards otherwise what were they doing when it occurred? Unfortunately most victims will never recover their goods. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. The guard(s) may be put in jail and released after 3 days: back to his klepto ways.

Just imagine you own a security company? I know personally know someone who does. You vet the people, you take guarantees etc you do your best but they still steal and it becomes a liability to company. How much insurance can you take up against theft or how many times can you reimburse your clients before the company folds up?

As a business or individual, you may change companies but it’s the same people with the same mentality. The cycle repeats.

If your “security” is in the security guards you have hired, then I’m sorry for you. Personally, yes, we hire them and we do all the bits we can humanly do,  but I am  proud to say, we remain under the shadow of the Almighty, that’s where our trust is(Ps 91) and we have not been disappointed since we took that step!

These stories are endless… I could go on….

Transparency International

corruption tummyOut of 176 nations, Sierra Leone ranks 123 in the Transparency index – See here(http://www.transparency.org/cpi2012/results It’s interesting to note that Lebanon ranks 128 below Sierra Leone. Nigeria, Togo, Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire  also rank below Sierra Leone. Ghana ranks 64. According to TI over two-thirds of all the nations scored below 50%!

So what am I saying? Change will have to start from the heart. All systems can be in place on paper but if the people are bent on shady dealing, “get-rich-quick” super wheeling and dealing, there can be 1000 official laws but the country will keep going backwards because the people will find ways and means to circumvent the law with impunity.

Also most of this type of corruption is not something the Auditor General’s report will uncover, it is up to the people giving the bribes to refuse to submit to this sort of oppression. Otherwise, the cycle continues and come 5 years from now, the poverty levels will be more astonishing than it is today.

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