ACC Boss Spits Fire

According to Francis Ben Kaifala, the newly appointed Five-Star General leading the fight against the country’s worst enemy that has deterred sustainable development since independence, there is no longer any hiding place for corruption. The no-nonsense battlefield commander said his troops are battle ready and will take the fight fiercely and doggedly to any nook and cranny where they suspect the monster called corruption is.

“The war has been declared and it is winnable,” he affirmed. “There is now a serious siege around the citadel of corruption and the assault of the forces against it is now firmly begun. From Freetown to Koindu, from Kabala to Bonthe, the war bells have been sounded and there can be neither retreat nor surrender.” “No going back…business cannot be as usual,” he stated.

Mr. Kaifala made this declaration of war against the forces of corruption while rendering a keynote address at the 2018 National Governance Symposium organized by the Sierra Leone Institute for Good Governance on the theme: “The Impact of Corruption on our Generation.” He noted that the symposium was timely and extremely relevant to the trajectory of President Bio’s ‘New Direction’ agenda. He started his lecture by asking: What is corruption? He described it as public officers or other persons in positions of trust depriving the people (beneficiaries) of their individual and collective good. As defined by Transparency International, he said, “it is the abuse of public office for private gains.” Thus, to say that corruption has weakened this generation is a complete understatement of the hollowing realities of graft on nation building.

Because corruption everywhere has a corrosive effect on the lives of people, Mr. Kaifala said that all over the world, citizens are rising I protest against governments that are perceived as corrupt as the virus poses an enormous obstacle for economic and social development and the global goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 as projected by the World Bank. Thus he declared: “We must do more. We must act quickly and effectively to deal with the scourge”.

Mr. Kaifala admitted that corruption exists in all countries but maintained that its destructive effects are proportional to how extensive it is in society. If limited to only a few projects, its effect, he said, is marginal and does not jeopardize the welfare of the people. But unfortunately, in Sierra Leone, he said, it is pervasive and has significant negative impact on the people.

Various studies, he said, link corruption and lack of transparency as the two main reasons that have hampered our country’s development as they cause budgetary allocations for development to be lost to bribery and other illegal, unethical activities; adding that extreme poverty, lack of infrastructure and basic services are fuelled by bribery, influence peddling, extortion and abuse of power – all offenses under the ACC Act of 2008.

Corruption in Sierra Leone, he emphasised, is rife, systematic and entrenched at all levels of governance causing a huge percentage of the annual budget to be lost, especially in procurement and implementation and maintenance of projects. In the area of making the country internationally competitive, Mr. Kaifala cited that World Economic Forum Global Competiveness Report consistently pointed out that corruption hinders the thriving of business in Sierra Leone. The reputational cost drives away investors if nothing is done now.

The country, he said, cannot afford to be indifferent to the sight of people displaying wealth that is acquired beyond their means, noting that lack of accountability plays a crucial role in promoting bribery and resistance to any form of reform. This, he said, undermines efforts of governments to bring prosperity as it breaks down law and order leading to violent conflicts, poverty and underdevelopment. In which light, he furthered that corruption lowers GDP, damages economies, political systems, processes and institutions. That is why, he said, fighting corruption globally has moved to the forefront of all national and international development dialogues.

Quoting the then President of the World Bank, Mr. Kaifala said that in 1996, James D. Wolfensohn stated that, “to achieve growth and poverty reduction, we need to deal with the cancer of corruption.” The new thinking, he said, is that an effective campaign against corruption (preventing few people from siphoning for their selfish gains what belongs to the state and its people) reduces poverty, prevents conflict, protects the environment, promotes economic prosperity and guarantees the enjoyment of political and social stability.

Failure to do so, he said, has catastrophic consequences to society. People die en masse from preventable and curable disease; vaccines for immunization are diverted; schools supplies do not reach the beneficiaries; constructions are done cosmetically – worst was the Ebola outbreak. Hungry stomachs, he said, stand on fertile soils. “We suffer from want amidst plenty,” he lamented.

In his tour of the country, Mr. Kaifala said, he has witnessed firsthand the corrosive impact of corruption on the lives of the poor and the reduce trust people have for the political class and the elites. Thus, his goal as the country’s leading anti graft warrior is to help put Sierra Leone on a sustained trajectory of good governance as it is the necessary condition to effectively combat corruption, stating that states that have score high in the fight against corruption have the highest good governance indicators. He cited Singapore and Malaysia that were once collections of fishing hamlets that have developed into metropolises and economic gateways of the Asia-Pacific region.

Good governance, he said, is the unhindered operation of the rule of law, effective coordination, respect for separation of powers, promotion of fundamental human rights and crucially independence of the Judiciary. Its elements are equitable laws; effective institutions; due processes and humane practices that lead to security, enhanced livelihoods and democratic participation. Thus what he wants to do to make the fight against corruption more effective is to take the Radical Transparency Drive approach that will consist of eight pillars: Public awareness; anti corruption strategies; public participation; watchdog agencies; the judiciary, media, private sector and the international community.

To mobilize more troops for the fight against corruption, General Kaifala said he will establish chemical bond between public, private and community sectors to be able to work collaboratively, as well as to participate in decision making. Corruption is the urgency of now, Mr. Kaifala said. Now is the time to turn aspirations to action…time to demonstrate zero tolerance to corruption…time for the nation to take collaborative action against corruption. Thus, he called on public officials, CSOs, the private sector and the international community to use transparency to fight corruption more effectively.

“We have to do this together or perish individually,” General Kaifala ended.