Public Lecture by Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala, Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the Republic of Sierra Leone, at the Solade Adams Lecture, Great Hall, Milton Margai Technical University, Goderich Campus, on 15th June, 2022.
All protocols observed, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, the late President Nelson Mandela once defined Education “ as the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In the words of US civil rights activist Malcolm X, “ Education is “the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
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.”
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, the advanced nations of the world had since the beginning of their advancement put premium on education. It has been the greatest engine of development.
During a similar public lecture in the past, I spoke on the fact that, during the start of ancient civilization, knowledge was one of the yardsticks for ascension to leadership positions. The Greek and Athenian philosopher, Plato, 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.
During ancient Greece, the mighty and wealthy of the world sent their children to Athens for education in philosophy, economics and other disciplines. According to the Encyclopedia 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.”
In the Nineteenth Century, Sierra Leone used to occupy such an enviable position as the centre for the training of teachers, doctors and administrators for the whole of British West Africa. Sierra Leone was Sub Saharan Africa’s own ‘ Athens ’ as many Africans, especially British West Africans, used to come to this country to acquire quality education.
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 - were renowned as “ centres of excellence ” in those glorious years.
THE PROBLEMS BEDEVILING OUR EDUCATION SECTOR
However, during the seventies and eighties, bad governance crept in. Corruption reared its big head in academia and the long process of erosion of the gains and reputation of the educational sector of Sierra Leone commenced. The meager public funds provided for public services like education were at the same time stolen and embezzled by officials of the corrupt regimes at the time.
Our educational institutions then started to experience the problems we all know 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, low wages of teachers, lecturers and education administrators, and more generally cases of patronages and bribery, among others.
Then the civil war started in the early nineties causing the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens and the near collapse of the state. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report later singled out endemic corruption and bad governance as part of the major reasons for the civil conflict.
For most emerging economies, one of the common denominators for their under-development is the high illiteracy rate. Sierra Leone being one of those countries, it will be almost a cliché to repeat that it has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – The literacy rate of the country according to UNESCO remains stagnant at 48.1% of the total population in the global index, with 58.7% for men and 37.7% for women (aged 15 and over). No country will prosper with this kind of unfavourable statistics.
The most recent United Nations Human Development index places the country among the bottom 10 worse off countries. Regrettably, we are at what seems to be a “ point of no return ”, as the standard of education and output continues to take a nosedive - The institutions of higher learning, as their lower counterparts, remain decayed and dilapidated; there is the lack of adequate and proper facilities that would be useful to students in their chosen disciplines; the available faculties and disciplines remain few and mostly unprogressive; most teachers or lecturers do not necessarily teach students well enough; and they examine them with the objective that the bulk of them fails; there is little incentive to attract qualified teachers to help raise the standards of the faculties; the syllabuses do not reflect the educational and job demands of the 21st Century; the level of political interference in admission of students and the recruitment of staff is scandalous; the administrations of the respective schools and Universities seem to have lost control of properly managing and disciplining their staff and students; and above all, majority of students are awarded lower class degrees that inhibit their ability to be awarded serious Scholarships or gain admission into World-Class Universities. The result is that education is in the sepulchers, and we lost “Athens”!
There was a deep sigh of hope when a few years ago the Government recognised the crumbling educational system and established a commission to investigate the reasons behind the poor educational output and offer recommendations to ameliorate the system.
The Commission, dubbed “ the Gbamanja Commission of Enquiry” was established to look into the poor performance of students at the BECE and WASSCE examinations, as well as to ascertain the impact of the 6-3-3-4 system of education. This turned out, several years later, not to produce the desired result and compounded the problem!
As would be reasonably expected, among its many findings, the Commission highlighted poor quality teachers, the lack of textbooks, school fees, overcrowding in classrooms, lack of parental supervision, unprepared students taking the BECE and WASSCE, and above all, corruption in the school system to be the reason for the decline. This, to many, was a mere painful elaboration of the obvious. However, instead of properly implementing solutions to ameliorate the poor state of affairs, the Government simply added another year of senior schooling, making the system a 6-3-4-4 timeline - in a hook-line-and-sinker acceptance of the controversial recommendations of the Gbamanja Commission.
That, with utmost respect, was an unfortunate error of judgment by the then government; and I applaud the current government for rightly reversing it – as the additional year of school merely shifted the burden from the government to parents who were already overburdened with the high cost of education and hands-tied by the high cost of living in an already harsh economy. Simply put, another year of school meant another year of fees, uniforms, textbooks, transportation, etc. for many impoverished parents (who were in the majority). It gets even worse when juxtaposed with another year of an unjustifiable risk of the girl-child getting pregnant whilst still in school with the possibility of dropping out thereafter.
The governments before now needed to invest in free fundamental education for all children and improve the quality of existing institutions and the teaching regime (including the quality of teachers, the syllabus and knowledge delivery discipline) not just at the Primary and secondary levels but even the Universities. Our higher educational institutions and their tutors, for example, only needed (and still need) to consider students as partners; and a consequence-based system put in place to ensure compliance and mutual respect. When those students or pupils are taught well so to pass, it is equally the institution that passes.
When students fail en masse or the educational system is organized so as to fail students rather than ensure that they pass at least in the majority, the educational institution itself would be a failure. What, for example, recently happened at the Sierra Leone Law School; where over 70% failed the Bar Exams, is not just reflective of the poor quality students enrolled, but should also, with all sincerity, raise eyebrows on the overall quality of the institution itself and its tutors.
THE NEW CHALLENGES CONFRONTING OUR EDUCATION SECTOR
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret that our education system has, in the last decade, been confronted with new and unprecedented challenges- that is, the challenges of examination malpractices and fake degrees and honorary titles.
Examination malpractices, based on our findings, often take place in our communities, private homes and worse of all, the places we call schools and educational institutions.
They normally take the form of a teacher or lecturers asking for a bribe (which is most times money, sex or other things of value) in return for grade for the student that offers the bribe. Lecturers sometimes release questions to students for a fee or allow those who can afford, to retake the examinations later in their homes or specified locations. In public exams, teachers, principals, invigilators, proprietors of schools used as examination centres would provide ‘private” or “special rooms” for the candidates to cheat or engage in examination malpractices.
In some instances, persons who have no business with the examinations are hired based on their subject area expertise to help answer examination questions during these examinations. We have also discovered the use of WhatsApp groups and other social media platforms to disseminate and discuss examination questions either before the exam or during the exams. These are existential threats to the provision of quality education in our country.
The “Ye Dominion Ye” Factor!
And there is now the issue of fake degrees. Recently, we all saw on social media when an individual with a fake professorial title was conferring fake honorary PhD degrees on a number of fully grown-up men and women clad in beautiful academic regalia. At first, I thought it was just another Nigerian movie.
But my inquisitive mind told me to probe further. It was then I realized that the event taking place under a mango tree, at the back of a house, to confer PhD degrees, was indeed a ‘convocation’ ceremony by a so-called ‘Dominion Christian University’. And there were chants of ‘Yeah Dominion Yeah’!
Later, we came to know through the Tertiary Education Commission, which accredits all tertiary institutions in the country, that the said Dominion Christian University was never accredited to confer such degrees or honorary titles.
Then the TEC went on to tell us about other such fake institutions – like the Africa Graduate University- and a host of others both within and outside Sierra Leone which have been conferring what is now known to be fake degrees and honorary titles on our compatriots.
WHAT ACC IS DOING TO SANITIZE THE EDUCATION SECTOR?
We clearly know the ‘Dominion’ issue was a clear case of forgery. Section 1(1) of The Forgery Act, 1913, defines forgery as “the making of a false document in order that it may be used as genuine, and in the case of the seals and dies mentioned in this Act the counterfeiting of a seal or die, and forgery with intent to defraud or deceive, as the case may be, is punishable as in this Act provided.”
That was why on the 19th April, 2022, the Commission issued out a press release in which we drew the attention of the Public Service Commission (PSU), the Human Resource Management Office (HRMO), the Public Sector Reform Unit (PSRU) and Cabinet Secretariat …”to provide leadership in ensuring that employees within the Civil and Public Service hold genuine qualifications required for a specific job/position.”
The Commission also called for a thorough and comprehensive verification exercise in all public sector institutions to ascertain public and civil servants who gained “employments, promotions and other benefits in the Civil and Public Service thereby undeservedly conferring an “advantage” on themselves within the meaning of corruption in the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008 as amended in 2019.”
The Commission went further to set up a Task Force “comprising Investigators and Prevention Officers, to progressively do a credential integrity review for Public Officers with the mandate to look into employments, promotions of persons within the broad spectrum of the Civil and Public Service, who would have willfully and knowingly used or submitted what would amount to “fake” Certificates/Degrees to confer Advantage on themselves – as the conduct, once established may constitute a corruption offence as stipulated in Section 128(3) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019.”
As recent as Tuesday this week, the Commission has started informing members of the public about our findings from the credential verification exercise that we have been conducting, and in the coming weeks the public will hear more from us.
In order to curb examination malpractices, we have employed both the carrot and stick approach. The carrot approach involves intensive outreach programmes in schools and tertiary institutions. We have established ‘Integrity Clubs’ in schools and ‘Accountability Now Clubs’ in tertiary institutions in a bid to encourage pupils and students to serve as anti-corruption ambassadors among their peers.
In many of the schools and tertiary institutions in Freetown and across the country, we have what is dubbed ‘Meet the School’ campaign for schools and ‘ Meet the College/University’ campaign for technical and tertiary institutions.
During these campaigns, we teach pupils and students the values of honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability. We tell them about the dangers of corruption and examination malpractices and the need for them to resist the urge to engage in such practices. Our intention is to ‘catch them young’ so that when they grow old, they shall not depart from these values.
Our Prevention Department has also undertaken extensive systems and processes review work on educational institutions, including the Ministries of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Technical and Higher Education, to make them more effective and efficient in public service delivery.
Probably, the country’s greatest interventions are the provisions contained in the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act of 2019, which seek to combat examinations malpractices. The Act provides for a fine of not less than Fifty Million Leones or prison term of not less than five years for individuals convicted of academic malpractices.
The ACC’s elite Scorpion Squad has made extensive use of these provisions in the Act to clampdown on examination malpractices across the country. And as I said in one of my previous social media posts, “If they do not stop, we will not stop”.
GOVERNMENT’S COMMITMENT TO THE PROVISION OF QUALITY EDUCATION
The Anti-Corruption Commission attaches so much importance to education. As the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres puts it, “Education is the key to personal development and the future of societies. It unlocks opportunities and narrows inequalities. It is the bedrock of informed, tolerant societies, and a primary driver of sustainable development.”
That is why Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4 or Global Goal 4), which focuses on the provision of quality education, is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in September 2015. The objective of this goal is to "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".
Locally, the New Direction Government of President Dr Julius Maada Bio developed the Medium Term National Development Plan 2019-2023, which is “a New Direction for improving people’s lives through education, inclusive growth, and building a resilient economy”.
Policy Cluster 1 of the Plan is on Human Capital Development. According to the Plan, “Sierra Leone could only sustainably transform its economy and achieve middle income status with optimal poverty reduction if the government adequately invests in the country’s human capital.”
It says further that “the nation’s most substantial asset is its young and dynamic population, which, like natural resources, must be properly developed to deliver shared economic growth and meaningful poverty reduction and prosperity for all.” To achieve this, the Government of Sierra Leone has committed itself to “ensuring [the provision of] free quality basic and senior secondary education; and the strengthening of tertiary and higher education.”
In its first year in governance, this government spent 30.2 percent of its budget on education. Ministry of Finance data shows that Sierra Leone currently spends about 22 percent of its budget on education.
The government has also upgraded a number of polytechnics and colleges to universities. The Milton Margai Technical University is one of those institutions that have been deservedly upgraded to a university status. Congratulations!
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, all these are planned and conscious efforts by this government not only to develop the human capital of this country but also to sanitize our country’s ailing education sector to enable us retrace the once ‘Athens of West Africa”.
So, I call on us all take advantage of this renewed interest in education by the actors in politics and governance. According to American singer B.B. King, “the beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.
However, it is not just any kind of learning. It is not learning through the backdoor. It is not learning through illegal, immoral and substandard means. It is not learning through the ‘Dominion’ way. We have to resist this dishonest onslaught!
Dominion literally means dominance. But we cannot -and will not- sit by and allow the ‘Yeah Dominion Yeah’ kind of education to dominate our system of education. That is why the ACC continues to clampdown on cases of academic fraud and malpractices from schools to universities.
We want to see our young people learn and acquire skills from established, accredited and recognised institutions. Because we know what this means for not just their own personal development, but the development of the nation and the attainment of its aspirations for greatness. We have an obligation to keep that process clean and free from dishonesty.
Renowned author and management scientist Todd Henry acknowledges this when he once said “Acquiring new skills and adapting to complex, uncertain environments isn't easy. It requires persistent attention and near-constant effort to maintain a trajectory of growth. As such, it's easy to grow tired or lose your drive. However, when you stop growing, you start dying. In much the same way that an organization needs to be persistently innovative in order to maintain market share, individuals must make a personal commitment to lifelong personal innovation through skill development, risk-taking, and experimentation in order to avoid stagnation. The seeds of tomorrow's brilliance are planted in the soil of today's activity.”
A Christian missionary Richard L. Evans made similar remarks when he said: “There are some things you can give another person, and some things you cannot give him, except as he is willing to reach out and take them, and pay the price of making them a part of himself. This principle applies to studying, to developing talents, to absorbing knowledge, to acquiring skills, and to the learning of all the lessons of life.”
Let me end by expressing thanks and appreciation to the Principal, academic and administrative staff of the Milton Margai Technical University for the invitation to deliver this public lecture and for the warm reception accorded me on their campus. They understand that Corruption in education, is a common danger in our lifetime; it must be eliminated. With hope and virtue, let us brave the rains, the sun, and endure what storms may come, but we must fight the “Dominion effect” so that our grandchildren, and their children, shall know that when we were tested we refused to let the dishonest dominate us, that we did not turn our backs nor did we falter. We shall carry forth the fight for future generations – for it is only then would there be said to be quality in the free education drive of the President and People of Sierra Leone.
I THANK YOU!!
©️ Public Relations Unit, ACC