Sierra Leone has a corruption problem, and Britain is leading efforts to help deal with it. Sometimes I am called a hypocrite for this: how dare Britain criticise corruption here when it exists in Britain too! Not so?
Critics who say this misread our motive. Britain does not judge Sierra Leone: corruption is a fact of life everywhere, a crime that stems from human greed just like theft and fraud. As Tacitus told his Roman readers, all countries have to arm themselves with laws to deter, prevent and detect it. All countries need to work together vigorously to keep it in check.
Corruption is particularly dangerous for Sierra Leone. It diverts development funds, undermines social programmes and distorts government decisions. Winning the battle against it is essential to address the chronic poverty and deliver prosperity to a nation celebrating its 50th birthday.
Sierra Leone has effective anti-corruption legislation and an active Anti Corruption Commission (ACC). I am pleased that the UK is helping by providing encouragement, technical advice and financial support through DFID. But Sierra Leoneans decide priorities, investigate allegations, prosecute the accused and determine their fate: the progress made is entirely theirs.
The passionate response to the ACC decision on the NASSIT ferry issue in newspapers, on radio and TV demonstrates that Salones care deeply about that progress. Bravo: in a democracy it is important that government knows that the public is on its side in such a difficult struggle.
Yet the public know the struggle is not over. A recent survey commissioned by the ACC shows public perception of continuing corruption in some ministries and in the Sierra Leone Police.
While more needs to be done it is an uncomfortable fact that as the ACC gets better, its job gets harder. As it tracks ill-gotten gains through Sierra Leoneís banks, corrupt big fish have moved their money off-shore.¬†
So last week the Anti Corruption Commissioner and I signed an MOU plugging the ACC into the UKís own system for tracking and combating corruption. This allows it to track ill-gotten gains through banks in the UK and beyond.¬† It signals Sierra Leoneís determination to fight corruption effectively and it demonstrates continued UK support.¬†
We are both determined that this MOU will not gather dust on government shelves. Already we are planning how to put it to work.¬† Iíll let you know how we get on.
¬© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.