Corruption can be mostly defined as the manipulation or perversion of a system for the benefit of a single party rather than for the benefit of the public or the intended beneficiaries. Isn’t that complicated and hard to pin down? That’s why it is so widespread, so endemic, so engrained and so hard to eliminate. The only way to be fair and just with society is through the complete elimination of corruption from the public and private sectors alike. We have to be ruthless about this.
Western nations honed theories to advance societies through law and justice, through commerce and industry hundreds of years ago and they worked. That is why Britain became a world power and is still one of the leading educators of the world today with a currency which is still extraordinarily strong. The reason being that the society is free, open and easily accessible, and should be mandatory reading for all Government officials, legislators, parliamentarians and the entire judiciary. Sadly, the great majority of those in power prefer to ignore these good advices and in the case of ex-colonial nations blame their continuing political and economic woes on years of British occupation, as in Sierra Leone’s case conveniently ignoring 47 years of independence during which time other countries like Singapore and Malaysia have transformed their social and legal structures to become world class economic powers with minimal natural resources.
So why is corruption harmful? At its simplest level, it inhibits the wealth of the country in favour of the wealth of the individual, at its most complex level, it denies justice and human rights, it creates fear and confusion, it wastes time and money, it inhibits development, it destroys the environment, it wastes valuable resources and ultimately diminishes the value of human life. That’s hardly a trivial list but let’s look at some examples to illustrate these claims:
Let’s start with a very good area to identify: investment fraud. A company gets a license to build a cement factory, liquor or a soft drink making factory, for example with all the appropriate government permits. It borrows Le400M.on the promise that the plant will have a total value of Le800M.with the rest funded by equity (capital).In fact, they only use the borrowed Le400M. and build a much under specified plant. This result in the company suffering losses but because it is an essential industry, the government bails it out and buys 50% of the company for you’ve guessed it,Le800M and imposes a price control on the industries or companies raising prices until the factories are profitable. No one is hurt, but the Country has wasted Le400M,the owners have not spent a cent and now owns 50% of a factory which produces overpriced products which the consumer pays for making the whole economy worse. A brilliant and invisible scheme.
Repeat that over 10 companies and you have a completely inefficient economy supported by a corrupt government with let’s say 5 companies or commercial groups owning 5 industries each paid for by the consumers and tax payers. My imagination? A real scenario in the 60s and 70s and the root of many of today’s problems in ex-colonial countries, Sierra Leone being one of them.
Lets move on to a much smaller-and more endemic-example: commissions. One person gets paid a commission in return for placing business with a certain supplier. Harmless? Right? Wrong? This destroys the selection process based on best performance and steals the profit margin from purchasing company. In the case of public works contracts the country ends up with low quality roads, water systems, airports, education, health, well everything provided by the government. And in the private sector you get lower profits(or actual losses),lower employment, lower wages, lower quality of work, Again the same people pay-the consumer and the tax payer.
Now if the legal system (Courts and the Anti-Corruption Commission-They should be independent and given more powers) are open to abuse, whereby court decisions can be influenced by promised benefits or prosecution avoided by the careful application of funds (which themselves were stolen), then there is little incentive to pursue this course, and even less chance of recovery for those who have been harmed, wronged or defrauded. People are driven by the urge to create wealth for themselves but they must be able to feel secure in the legal system or they will lose incentive even to try, and the only entrepreneurs left will be those engaged in illegal acts. A chilling and yet realistic prognosis.
Then there are the harmless results of corruption: unrepaired roads causing delays(and increased stress, wasted time and wasted fuel)idiotic bureaucracy, over permits, licenses, ID cards, well just about everything: wasted money over badly planned programs such as tourism promotion, health services, traffic systems and well just about everything again. These are not criminal in the strict sense of the word but there is good way of doing things which is ignored in favour of a bad way, this is wasting taxpayers money and worse than that allowing profitable, efficient opportunities to go to other competing countries.
Perhaps that is why Singapore with a total population of 4 million can buy foreign companies with a total customer base of over 10 million, and Malaysia with no better resources has 18 million visitors and Sierra Leone only a few thousands.
So how to eliminate this astonishingly ingrained disease. Pay government officials well-equal to top private sector packages; ensure the legal system is sound again by paying well. Then punish public sector corruption very severely, but that punishment should not just be for the person involved but his entire family. A complete ban on all public office, seizure of ill-gotten wealth and properties (I understand the APC Government wants to give back seized properties to former APC executives under Momoh, and further indict former SLPP executives under Kabba only for the next government to give them back afterwards-Who is fooling who?), all commercial activities, complete social ostracism. No escape. Perhaps when the family also suffers, the lesson will be learnt. Who knows but it worked out well in Singapore.
When a man can live in any house, drive any car, educate his family in any school or college worldwide, have any holiday, any luxury, why should he be corrupt?
Well, one of the answers to that is the fact that so many countries –Sierra Leone as an example have a price of entry system to political parties and getting a contract to do a job which is hard to break. To become a minister, managing director, head of state owned company or getting a contract to perform a job, let’s say construction of a health centre or school as the case may be etc, the price is so steep that the successful applicant has to pursue illegal activities to repay their backers. This is extremely difficult to put an end to since it is like tenured labour but at the highest levels. There should be a halt to this; otherwise Sierra Leone will never be free of corruption. And that means we can never be healthy, wealthy and free from guilt. Anyone ready for the challenge?
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.