Speech Delivered by Francis Ben Kaifala, Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the Republic of Sierra Leone, at the Canadian College of Modern Technology, Mile 91 at 24th June, 2021.
1. All protocols observed, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
2. It was famous author and Inventor, Jason Lemkin who once said ”Play to your strengths. If you aren’t great at something, do more of what you’re great at.”
3. Mr. Chairman, Sometimes, people outside Sierra Leone, often see the country as the nation of grim statistics, especially in the areas of poverty, diseases, maternal and infant mortality, poor infrastructure, among others.
4. But in the midst of all these, the country is also famous for its religious tolerance, peace and stability, huge mineral deposits, natural and mind-blowing touristic sites, the once declared ‘Athens of West Africa’, among several others. And also remarkably, we have recently become known and respected globally for our robust and measured actions in combating the monster of corruption.
PEACE AND STABILITY
5. In the area of peace and stability, Sierra Leone is now known to be one of the most peaceful and stable nations on earth. According to the 15th edition of the Global Peace Index released last week by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Sierra Leone is ranked 46 out of 163 nations featured in the Index. This means only 4 countries in Africa -Mauritius, Botswana, Ghana and Zambia- are ranked above us in the Index. In fact, the index shows Sierra Leone is even more peaceful than advanced nations like France (ranked 66), South Korea (ranked 48), Greece (ranked 57) and even United States of America (ranked 121).
6. Sustaining peace over the years does not mean we have not been recording internal skirmishes. In fact I prefer to use the colloquial, ‘CHARM MOT’ to describe some of those skirmishes. But as Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Air, puts it; “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
7. In settling conflicts, we do not only look at the bigger picture, but we also often find things we share in common. For example, we may not come from the same region, but it may be possible that we attended the same school or university and even sit in the same class. Politicians may belong to different political parties, but it is possible that they attend the same place of worship. The intermarriages, which we normally have across different tribes and faiths, make our story in this country unique and amazing to tell others.
8. Development experts attach a lot of importance to peace and stability for the attainment of sustainable development.According to the United Nations, peace and stability and sustainable development are interwoven; this means one cannot do without the other.
9. In the area of education, the provision of quality education in Sub-Saharan Africa is one thing Sierra Leone was renowned for during the Nineteenth Century. In a public lecture I delivered at the Njala University in April this year, I told my audience that; the country was hitherto the centre for the training of teachers, doctors and administrators for the whole of British West Africa; and that many Africans used to throng to this country for quality education.
10. I went further to explain “the important role institutions like the Sierra Leone Grammar School, the Annie Walsh Memorial School and Fourah Bay College - the first institution of higher learning in Sub-Saharan Africa- played to the education of Africans, especially those in the sub-region.” But this is something we had lost over the years due to unchecked corruption and gross neglect of the education sector.
11. However, we are gradually beginning to see a restoration of those past glories, through the introduction of the Government’s Free Quality Education programme and other serious interventions the Government has made in the education sector.
12. In the first year of President Dr Julius Maada Bio’s term, the Government spent 30.2 percent of its budget on education, the highest any Government had ever spent on education, according to World Bank statistics. Currently, the country spends about 22 percent of its budget on education.
13. These expenditures and interventions have resulted in 2.6 million children and young people (approximately 37% of Sierra Leone’s population) directly benefitting from the Free Quality Education program, according to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education.
14. In addition, about 33,000 teachers are currently on the Government’s payroll.
15. The Government has ensured that buses and free school learning materials are provided for kids across the country.
16. Tremendous supports to tertiary and vocational institutions are also being provided in a bid to enhance workforce development through basic training, reskilling, and upskilling; which the Government has identified as the precursor for innovation, manufacturing, and for economic transformation.
17. As part of its Human Capital Development, that is why the Government is supporting and providing the enabling environments for the establishment of many more universities and vocational institutions. In addition to all these, the Government is also introducing a students’ loan scheme and grant-in-aid, to help students with the required financial support to complete their education.
18. Citizens of Sierra Leone have for a long time enjoyed religious freedom and tolerance. People of the two dominant religions- Christianity and Islam- have lived in harmony and shared many things in common. In a world where religious intolerance has often led to bloody civil conflicts, our own amazing example is something worthy of celebration.
19. In 2018, President Bio, while meeting the Ahmadiya Muslim Mission when they paid him a courtesy visit at State House noted that: “Religious tolerance is the pillar on which we stand as nation. It is a quality that we have been able to keep and this is something very difficult to maintain in other countries. We are proud of the leadership qualities displayed by both Christians and Muslims in their various missions and we must consolidate that unity,” he said.
20. Our religious tolerance is also evident in our intermarriages. People of the two dominant religions also show respect for the religious festivals of each other.
AMAZING VEGETATION AND LANDSCAPE
21. People who have travelled to many parts of the world often describe Sierra Leone as a country with an amazing vegetation and landscape. A friend of mine from Denmark, Jakob Lund, was once swimming with me at the Lakka beach and he asked “why did anyone choose to set set up a country in cold Scandinavia when there is Sierra Leone?” When you tour the length and breadth of this country, you see the beauty that lies within. The country is home to exotic white sandy beaches, especially along the Freetown peninsula. The Savannah grasslands, bush vegetation, rainforests, swamplands, hills and mountains, among several others, beautify the country and make it a very fine destination for tourists.
HUGE MINERALS DEPOSITS
22. Precious minerals have always been with us and it seems the story of their presence is getting nicer with the discovery of more deposits following the first ever airborne geophysical survey.
23. President Bio at the launch and exhibition of the Geodata of the survey said:”The outcome of the airborne geophysical survey confirms the occurrence of more Kimberlites, Bauxite, Iron Ore, Gold, Rutile, and Nickel. It also provides high-resolution geological information with untold potential for targeting rare earth elements such as Cerium and Neodymium; battery metals such as Lithium and Graphite; Base metals; Platinum Group Metals; ethically sourced Coltan, and a range of other internationally desirable commodities for low carbon and digital technologies.”
24. Following the launch, an online news outlet, The Sierra Leone Telegraph, had this to say: ”It is expected that, if these new discoveries are properly managed, and corruption and poor governance kept at bay, the people of Sierra Leone should come out of poverty by 2030, with each region having its own state-of-the-art hospital, good roads, modern educational institutions, high growth industries, good quality housing, clean and safe drinking water, as well as access to reliable supply of electricity.”
OUR GAINS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
25. Another area which I feel very proud to talk about as one of our greatest strengths as a nation is the gains we have made in the fight against corruption. In April this year, the Acting Executive Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission led a team to study and learn lessons from the success stories of the Anti-Corruption Commission Sierra Leone.
26. The Head of the Liberian anti-corruption agency, Counselor Kanio Bai Gbala, was not under a magic spell, but he was spellbound by the massive achievements Sierra Leone has recorded in the fight against corruption.
27. These were his words:“I believe that if you look around Africa, Botswana used to be an example when we talk about progress in the fight against corruption. Rwanda has also done quite well in controlling corruption. But currently, the key example that is being cited is Sierra Leone. Many people across Africa have been closely following the work of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission and they have been looking at the results. I believe you can argue your opinion, as we, lawyers, often do, but you one cannot argue with the results or matrix or rubrics. When you look at the transparency indexes, Sierra Leone has improved dramatically. If you look at the results for the MCC Scorecard, Sierra Leone has quadrupled their results in the last few years. If you look at the qualitative evaluation around the fight against corruption you see the massive improvements Sierra Leone has made. So, we want to learn or draw lessons from countries with a successful anti-corruption drive, it is good that we are here in Sierra Leone.”
28. As he rightly said, the gains we have made in the area of control of corruption are mind-blowing. The statistics are startling. In the Millennium Challenge Corporation Scorecard of the United States Government we have progressed from a percentage score of 49 percent in 2017 to 71 percent in 2018, 79 percent in 2019 and 81 percent in 2020, which is the last rating.
29. This has helped make the country compact eligible for the first time since the MCC was created in 2004. This means Sierra Leone could win hundreds of millions of dollars in grant.
30. In the Transparency International Index, we have moved 12 places upwards from 129 in 2018 to 117 in 2020.
31. All these emanated from the fact that, the Commission has in the past few years heightened its public education and outreach activities by the use of traditional and new media and community meetings. We have also intensified our engagements in schools, vocational and tertiary institutions. These activities are helping citizens learn about the scourge of corruption and its consequences on their livelihood; and more importantly, how they can also play a part in controlling the scourge.
32. The prevention drive often undertaken by the Commission is another area that has produced remarkable successes in the anti-corruption campaign. Through systems and processes review exercises, this helps in strengthening internal control measures in ministries, departments and agencies of Government. They also help in creating policies in the use of public funds and assets and the conduct of public officials.
33. These prevention interventions have not only ensured transparency, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in public offices, but also significantly boosted revenue generations in revenue-generating institutions of government.
34. Connected to the prevention drive of the Commission is the establishment of integrity management committees in almost all public offices. These committees are made up of staff of the respective institutions and they are there to identify corruption-related issues within the place of work and escalate them with the leadership of the institution in a bid to address them and ensure improved service delivery.
35. In the area of enforcement, through our robust investigation and prosecution regime, the Commission has maintained over 95 percent conviction rate on all the cases charged to court in the last three years. These cases involve petty and grand (or high profile) acts of corruption committed under the Anti-Corruption Act 2008, as amended in 2019 by members of the past administration but more so by members of the current administration.
36. The Commission’s rigorous Non-Conviction Asset Based Recovery has produced the recovery of over 30 Billion Leones in less than three years of my administration. This amount does not include court fines and other interventions made on behalf of revenue-generating agencies like EDSA.
HOW CAN WE RECLAIM THE STRENGTH OF SIERRA LEONE?
37. Mr. Chairman, when confronted with the question ‘How do we reclaim the strength of Sierra Leone?’ I will again repeat Jason Lemkin’s words that say:”Play to your strengths. If you aren’t great at something, do more of what you’re great at.”
38. Clearly, we know that Sierra Leone is now a great example of post-war country that has maintained exemplary peace and stability. We also know that the country continues to enjoy enviable acts of religious tolerance.
39. Our huge mineral deposits and fine vegetation and landscape have made other countries to marvel at the things God has blessed us with.
40. In the past few years, we have also become a model for our robust fight against corruption.
41. I will advise that we continue play to these strengths.
42. Let us learn to do things rightly, as dictated by the laws and policies of the land. For example, when state authorities warn us not to cut down trees or build in prohibited areas in order to protect the environment, rainforests and vegetations, we must take heed to those warnings.
43. Young people should also refrain from acts of violence that have the tendency to disturb the peace and quiet of the country. Do not allow rogue politicians to use you as a conduit for mayhem.
44. If we want to reclaim and maintain the things that make us outstanding as a nation, we must have faith in ourselves. Rights advocate and Author Helen Keller used to say: “Having faith in ourselves and in the goodness of the universe allows us to see life in an optimistic way and to act confidently in any circumstances.” We know that a solid foundation for the nation’s development is being laid under the current Government. We cannot get everything at the level we want them to be immediately. But we can certainly achieve greatness from the things we now perform exceptionally well at – particularly, but not limited to, the robust and exemplary fight against corruption that continues to attract international admiration and global acclaim.
45. Finally, Sierra Leoneans must also be the change that they want to see. As Leo Tolstoy puts it, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” The change we all want must start with us. We must learn to show hate for the things that tend to put us aback -and apart. We must eschew corruption. We must be seen to support the fight against corruption. Be an anti-corruption ambassador in your class, institution or community. Support the fight against corruption so that the country continues to be the model that it is today in the fight against corruption.
Long Live Sierra Leone!
God continue to bless Sierra Leone!
I THANK YOU!