SPEECH DELIVERED BY FRANCIS BEN KAIFALA, THE COMMISSIONER OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE, AT THE TOWARMA CAMPUS, NJALA UNIVERSITY, BO ON 15th APRIL, 2021
1.All protocols observed, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
2.Former President of the United States, Barack Obama, would say “In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a prerequisite.”
3.The world had known this thousands of years ago. That is why during the start of ancient civilization, knowledge was one of the yardsticks for ascension to leadership positions. The Greek and Athenian philosopher, Pluto, in his book ‘Republic’ spoke of ‘Philosopher Kings’ - people with knowledge and the highest form of education and intellect who should be made to govern. It may look or sound very controversial and outrageous; but that was the kind of importance ancient Greece placed on education.
4.That was why the whole world looked up to them for learning. The mighty and wealthy of the world sent their children there for education in philosophy, economics and other disciplines. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the “Athenian ideal was that of the kalos k’agathos, the “wise and good” man. The teachers were as much preoccupied with overseeing the child’s good conduct and the formation of his character as with directing his progress in the various subjects taught him.”
5.In the Nineteenth Century, that was what Sierra Leone was doing to empower her citizens. The country was the centre for the training of teachers, doctors and administrators for the whole of British West Africa. Many Africans used to throng to this country for quality education. We all know 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. That institution served as what Harvard, Oxford and Yale universities are to the world today.
HOW DID WE LOSE IT?
6.Sierra Leone held that enviable status as centre of learning or Athens of West Africa for quite a long period of time. But things started to go wrong- caused mainly by an era of poor governance that marred the country, beginning from the Seventies. In the Eighties, we started seeing the institutionalization of all the things that were directly the opposite of good governance.
7.Corruption then took the centre stage. All this culminated in gross neglect of public services. Public infrastructure started to collapse. Sierra Leone started making its way into the unenviable league of countries of grim statistics. Poor funding for public projects became the norm. Total neglect of public services crept in. Where meager resources were provided, they were at the same time siphoned by the corrupt leadership at the time.
8.As time went by, educational institutions started experiencing the common problems of today: lack of trained and qualified teachers, lack of educational facilities to accommodate the educational needs of a growing population, overcrowding in classrooms, lack of educational and learning materials, cases of bribery and examination malpractices, among others. The decade-long civil war- partly caused by endemic corruption, as highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission- worsened the situation to near paralysis.
9.So, as we must have known, the problems bedeviling Sierra Leone’s education sector did not start today, as the sector has suffered from decades of neglect, poor leadership and corruption. There were periods in this country when education was never prioritized. Even if we were not yet born at the time, but we are now familiar with inglorious adages of the past like ‘Den say Bailor Barrie, you say Davidson Nicol’. That was also an era when people would brashly say ‘Usai den tie cow na dae e dae eat’. That is why you cannot talk about the challenges of education in this country without reference to how corruption has grossly undermined the wellbeing of the sector – as it has been the case for almost all other sectors.
STRIDES UNDERTAKEN TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGES IN EDUCATION
10.After the end of the country’s civil war in the early 2000s, successive governments made strides to inject sanity into the education sector. This period also coincided with the Millennium Declaration, which saw 189 member States of the United Nations, including Sierra Leone, setting up the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include MDG 2, which is concerned with achieving Universal Primary Education.
11.Achieving these set of goals called for tremendous donor and government support. But what seemed as a donor fatigue meant many countries often fell far short of the funds needed to address these challenges. For example, a UNESCO report in 2007 pointed out that “Aid for basic education in the world’s poorest countries came to only US$2.7 billion in 2007, a far cry from the $US16 billion needed annually to reach education-related development goals.”
12.UNESCO therefore called on developing nations to prioritize education by committing more funds to the sector, as attainment of all the other MDGs is strongly linked to or reliant on meeting the goal on education.
13. For the periods before the Government of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, the highest any Government could ever spend on education, according to World Bank data, was 19.8% of the budget, which happened in 2017, having spent only 12.47% in the previous year of 2016.
PRESIDENT BIO’S GOVERNMENT IS DOING FAR MORE TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE
14.But when the current Government came to power in 2018, it expressed its determination through words and actions to give the education sector the facelift and attention that it requires. If I were to remind you of this Government’s support and commitment to education, this is the first Government to have spent 30.2 percent of its budget on education in the first year of its first term. And according to Ministry of Finance data, Sierra Leone currently spends about 22 percent of its budget on education.
15.These interventions have correspondingly produced many more classroom blocks and associated facilities, and led to a high and unprecedented enrollment rate of children in schools.
16.In a recent article by the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr David Moinina Sengeh titled, ‘Education service transformation in Sierra Leone: Where policy meets the people’ he gave the impressive statistics that “Today, 2.6 million children and young people (approximately 37% of Sierra Leone’s population) directly benefit from the government’s flagship Free Quality School Education (FQSE) program. MBSSE has around 33,000 teachers on the payroll – the largest single workforce category in the government – and a further 50,000 serving as community, volunteer or private school teachers.”
17.The President himself outlined some other outcomes at the State Opening of the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone including; the launch of an “Education Innovation Challenge to test for creative ideas that would help us improve learning outcomes for basic literacy and numeracy.” The Government also “approved many more schools, recruited and trained more teachers; streamlined professional development, teacher attendance monitoring, and grievance-redress processes.”
18.The Free Quality Education programme is also providing bus services for school children, and implementing the ‘Radical Inclusion policy in Education’ that seeks to address legal, structural, procedural, cultural and other barriers that limit equitable access to vulnerable children, in particular girls and those living with disabilities,” according to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education.
19.The Government is putting similar efforts in tertiary and vocational institutions. According to President Bio “Workforce development through basic training, reskilling, and upskilling is the precursor for innovation, manufacturing, and for economic transformation.” So, Government’s “investments in education are guided by two key questions: a) What skillsets will a productive Sierra Leonean need over the next twenty years, and, b) What skillsets do we need for economic expansion?”
20.All these go consistent with the President’s manifesto to adequately provide Free Quality Education for the young people of this nation. For, according to Henrik Edberg, a Swedish journalist and blogger, “Education opens up the mind, expands it and allows you to improve your life in so many ways.”
21.Civil right activist, Malcolm X, would say “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” One thing the Government has been doing, is to prepare the young people of this country for the present and future challenges, through the provision of free and quality education.
22.By this, the Government is making a stack rebuke of Andy McIntyre’s popular saying that “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” This Government does not want the young generation of this country to try ignorance – because that is a path far more expensive for humanity and the nation!
23.The good thing is, all of this is happening at a time when the World Bank has acknowledged “We are living amidst what is potentially one of the greatest threats in our lifetime to global education, a gigantic educational crisis.” The COVID-19 outbreak has compounded the situation to a point that millions of kids across the world are currently not in school, while at the same time funding for education has plummeted to a record low. In Sierra Leone, the Government’s intervention in the fight against the COVID-19 disease, while at the same time addressing developmental issues that are concerned with the welfare of its citizens, especially young people, is truly remarkable.
PROVISIONS OF FREE QUALITY EDUCATION AND ZERO TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION IS A FINE SYNERGY
24.I would say, one of the plausible steps taken by President Bio is now what seems like a fine marriage between the provisions of Free Quality Education and the Government’s zero tolerance stance towards corruption. Certainly, it was this missing synergy in the past that led to the loss of tens of billions of leones and a very poor education infrastructure.
25.The current synergy is possibly due to the fact that, the Government recognised corruption as one of the evil forces against education in the country. In an article titled ‘The Challenges of Education in Sierra Leone’, the current Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education Dr David Moinina Sengeh singled this out by stating that: “…we were confronting a set of other thorny, urgent problems, which were exacerbated by decades of neglect of the education sector and deeply entrenched corrupt practices.” As such, all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans believe something ought to be done to correct the status quo.
26.While the Government, primarily through the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, is concerned with rolling out the packages of the Free Quality Education programme across all the corners of this country, the Anti-Corruption Commission is preoccupied with ensuring that the resources from both the Government and donors, meant for the education sector, are judiciously utilized.
27.Additionally, most of you must have heard about the ACC’s intervention in curbing cases of widespread malpractices in public examinations. We have facilitated the passage of the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act 2019, which now makes such practices an offence under the Act.
28.The Commission has also taken solid steps to assist in the monitoring of public examinations to ensure that the examination centres are free of cases of ‘Special Rooms’ and other malpractices.
29.We have investigated and charged to court educational administrators and teachers who engage in acts of misappropriation of school funds, bribery and extortion, or engage in examination malpractices. Through our Pay No Bribe campaign, the Commission has provided citizens the opportunity to report their experiences in accessing public education facilities across the country, through our 515 toll-free line.
30.Our Public Education and Outreach Department continues to heighten its outreach campaigns in schools and tertiary institutions, targeting school pupils, students, teachers, lecturers and other educational administrators. These education stakeholders have also been targeted through seminars, workshops, quiz and creative art competitions, public lectures, etc. The aim is ultimately to imbibe the values of integrity, transparency and accountability in young people.
31.Through the Commission’s Prevention Department, institutions like the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, colleges and universities, have benefited from systems and processes reviews with the objective to strengthen their systems and procedures to make them more effective and efficient in-service delivery.
32.As I said earlier, these are concrete and systematic steps being undertaken to ensure that, the unprecedented support and expenditures on education by this Government do not go in vain.
THE SYNERGY IS PRODUCING A REBORN SIERRA LEONE
33.As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, once remarked, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. “The Government’s support to education is possibly one of the best investments any Government has ever made in this country. Some of the results will take years to be felt, others have begun to manifest themselves.
34.From the unprecedented high rate of enrollment in schools to the massive recruitment of teachers who are now enlisted in the Government’s payroll; from the provision of additional schools and classrooms to the disbursement of school fees subsidy; from the provision of free educational and learning materials to the provision of bus services; these interventions are providing the foundation for the socio-economic development of Sierra Leone.
35.How do we then leverage this great opportunity on offer to promote integrity, a critical value that I had earlier stated had been scandalously eroded, in schools? Firstly, the pillars upon which the Free Quality Education is being built can only thrive in a teaching environment with integrity. Integrity is the highest standard in human relation and it includes good morals, fairness, sincerity and honesty.
36.The key players in ensuring the programme succeeds - Principals, teachers, pupils, parents and the Government - must play their roles with integrity, sense of purpose and commitment. No nation can progress without integrity ensured!
37.That is why, the ACC, which I head, has made ensuring integrity in schools, examinations and institutions of higher learning a core objective of achieving its overall mandate to control corruption; and will continue to take positive strides to inject and instill integrity in schools.
38.To achieve this, the Commission conducts regular sensitization campaigns in schools nationwide dubbed as, ‘Meet the schools campaign’. The interaction during these engagements by ACC, with pupils and teachers is to enhance their knowledge about corruption, costs of corruption on their lives, and ways of effectively dealing with the scourge. The Commission has over forty-five (45) integrity clubs in secondary schools nationwide. These clubs have the responsibility to disseminate anti-corruption messages in schools, and integrity pupils are to serve as models of integrity and dignity, and as peer educators.
39.Also, the Commission has participated in Community Teachers Association (CTA) meetings where it made clear to parents their roles in the fight against corruption but especially in promoting integrity in schools - as they are equally significant in the equation.
40.More importantly, the Commission through its prevention work, and national strategy, has made interventions in the education sector through reviews of practices and procedures that encourage corruption, development of codes of conduct for teachers, and the establishment of Integrity Management Committees (IMCs). The Educational sector is key in the Pay No Bribe campaign rolled out by the ACC. All these interventions are significant in positioning the school system to be conducive in injecting integrity particularly with the free quality education.
41.Mr. Chairman, the opportunity that the Free Quality Education presents for our children and country is enormous. There may be challenges and drawbacks, but mindful of its benefits, I implore all of us to leverage on its positives to promote integrity in our schools for the good of the country that we love – Sierra Leone.
42.The Anti-Corruption Commission, on the other hand, is providing the required support to the Government’s aspiration of a reborn Sierra Leone - a Sierra Leone that is once again becoming an envy to other nations. A Sierra Leone that we can all be proud to call our own.
43.But what also is of note is that this nation is now building a young generation of people who see hard work, fair play, integrity, honesty, transparency and accountability, as not only key to the attainment of their aspirations, but those of the country as well. Hope is reborn in your eyes.
Long Live Sierra Leone!
God bless Sierra Leone!
Francis Ben Kaifala