An Uncomfortable Truth
I am positive that the government and the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), with an eye to audience-applause, would expect us to give a standing ovation to the theatrics of its fight against corruption, following the well-publicised reports of the recent spate of alleged graft cases involving Sierra Leoneans in and outside the country.
But amidst the shocks and tempests, our world sails serenely on. Why? Because people have learnt to deal with the issue of graft in high and low places, with contemptuous ease.
While our gladiators suck the oxygen of publicity into their puffed-up lungs; like a man pulled out of a smoke-filled room, the people have developed a healthy sense of perspective; knowing fully well that there’s corruption at the very heart of government itself and such hysterical announcements are just like a witty scene that makes you chuckle in the stalls.
They know, unlike our leaders who bore you stiff and leave you dozing with their latest machinations, that for this state of affairs to persist, there must be something wrong with our system, which those in authorities have not bothered to resolve, except to cloud over the salient truth, because it suits their own ends.
Believe me, even if it is not that obvious, the general populace are aware that the addiction to political popularity can be so potent; so demanding of control and spin; as well as so expensive as to defy restraint. So they play the role of a hostage falling for her captor, as they watch those meant to lead, saying one thing and doing another; erroneously believing that no one notices.
Let me refresh your memory. How many so called cases announced with fanfare have ended up nothing but a farce? Lungi coke haul; Fisheries’ mania; Timbergate; Mayor’s-fete etc. The only successful ones are those without undertones or which are used as a bait to sate the thirst of expectations and even among those notched up as hits; the sentences have never been commensurate with the so-called severity of the offences.
Amidst our growing pains, the blatant corruption, incompetence and maladministration, while enraging a generation of people that can see and feel, even if the compromised media cannot, has turned out to be as ego-massaging for the ruling elites as it is stomach-churning for the impoverished lower strata.
The past cavalier and negligent attitude to corruption by those in authority has become an eloquent testimony as to why most people’s reaction has been one of derision and tosh. They have suddenly realised that when it comes to corruption, rather than force the government to question its own values, it is turning those in power into demi-gods who ask, like Pilate, “Which of these men should I release to you?”
This is why the people are no longer delighted in government’s default position of depthless melancholy for the high-rising graft thermostat; as well as official pretence of striving for truth under the same flattering colours; because it is beginning to border on the drivel.
To them, it is no longer enough for the government and the ACC to trumpet the broken-record refrain of bad apples being weeded out, when the entire institutions of government already smell like a rotten orchard.
Such warped bid to deflect the awful underlying truth has become as much use as a candle decoration at a fireplace. Infection cannot be a cure to an ailment.
Having shielded some of its more powerful allies from exposure and humiliation, the grandstanding of these latest revelations and the resultant halleluyah chorus accompanying them, which also coincided with the disclaimer of a government-appointed Ambassador plenipotentiary in Canada (after months of eerie silence from the same leadership that appointed him in the first instance), underline a hypocritical, brazen and tactless, as well as contemptuous indiscretion of the battle against graft.
The staggering leniency akin to wilful blindness; the media fantasy and inane blanket coverage of government’s relationship with grandeur; the perpetuation of myths; as well as our ability to opt for mild filleting of bungling and corrupt leaders instead of slaughtering them, means that time and time again they are free to scalp us.
And as honesty, especially in the very upper echelon of government, seep into a puddle, because of the deliberate underplay of the greed and madness within it, all that the new revelations have done is to raise questions: Is there a coincidence in the timing of the news of the wave of fraudulent activities? Are we due for another round of checks by donor organisations; like when DFID was due and a spectacle was created with the Afsatu Kabbah road show as smokescreen?
Is a bubble about to burst somewhere and diversionary tactics being put in place ahead of this? Has it got to do with the recent global junketing; or the flat-lining economy in the real sector; as well as the dwindling economic investments? Has the Commercial Bank drama got anything to do with political witch-hunt and payback time? Oh! One could go on and on…
Whatever it is, the pretentious, incoherent, inconsistent and implausible attributes of the fight against corruption from an ineffective anti-graft commission, a meddling executive and the pathetic and inadequate judiciary, may be a fantastic sleight of the hand every time they are being played out; but they never really shoot the lights out and hit the target.
Consequently, as ‘stupid’ as he appears, the common man still has what I jokingly often refer to as ‘native intelligence’ which helps him to decipher what tales he is being spoon-fed. This is not to say however, that corruption is being tolerated or accepted as a way of life; even though it seems so in our society.
However, as long as nepotism, cronyism, tribalism, titanic desperation and little affinity for truth remains the mantra of our governance and day-to-day life, the watchman watcheth in vain, no matter the blow-me headlines and other harebrained homespun equivalents.
The insincerity of purpose that have characterized some of the previous high profile cases makes the recent announcements, as well as any outcome of these new revelations, doomed to interpretations; while the judicial handling of some key cases of the past is giving ethnic colourations to these new ones.
However, let’s turn the issue on its head and we see another world.
The uncomfortable truth is that: if those in power cannot resolve to tow the path of honour; if they cannot show by their words, deeds and actions that they are squeaky clean, the battle against corruption will remain a disoriented and flawed initiative.
President Koroma might appear as one with the courage to dare, but behind his charismatic demeanour lies the complexities of a man whose exceptional abilities are torn between the devil and the deep blue sea of our corrupt socio-political and economic environment.
His simple pledge to ensure a radical change in the way the country was being run, struck an initial chord with some of us who had become disillusioned with the reputation of deceit and arrogance associated with the political class, especially when we talk of corruption in high and low places.
Unfortunately, his dilemma creates a weak leadership which then reinforces bad management and encourages corruption as a reward for submission. Having failed to move beyond sterile rhetoric and selective tokenism, his fight against the high thermometer of graft is the equivalent of putting someone with lung cancer on a treatment plan of one hundred cigarettes a day.
So, an era that promised so much is fast turning into a trigger for another bout of navel-gazing as a result of the activities of morally bereft office holders and lieutenants who run after the gild when the gold is right under their noses.
As a result, these set of circumstances therefore represent another red mark against the good-governance credentials of the present administration, especially the one involving ambassador plenipotentiary, Arthur Porter, (the government can deny him all they want but it cannot airbrush the truth already in public domain as well as its association with him) and also, the incident at the Revenue Authority, NRA.
I repeat without apologies, that people can continue to challenge with some justification, the continued criticism of the government; but like I’ve always maintained, you cannot have a tumour and continue to massage it. (We all cannot continue to be forced to see only the good. There are enough people doing the cheering of that already.)
We cannot continue to have courts that are not traditionally, institutions for the dispensation of justice and the protection of society, but which have become instruments of manipulation in the hands of power wielders; and expect to checkmate corruption.
We cannot continue to have our political leaders and their cohorts in the different facets of society above the laws of the land, because they hold the strings of power and think that spring-cleaning the deck, will be a stroll in the park.
With the herculean task facing us, those hypnotists charged with leading us are trying to convince us that selective and regular announcements made with flourish are the root of our underdevelopment.
No doubt, bad, inept management and corruption are not only rife across board in the Sierra Leone of today, but they stand as a testimony to the inter-connected loop of our predicament.
Sadly, along with the plague of sudden, inexplicable wealth, which mocks those racked by destitution, it is this morbid truth that also ensures that the vicious circle of poverty keeps the people in check and in awe of those in the corridors of power.
This is why the display of conspicuous consumption by the rich in the face of the poor; increased inequality, exacerbated corruption and the prioritisation of infrastructures over public service and poverty, continue to make people struggle to class whatever is happening now, as the authentic path to marinate ourselves in prosperity.
I can hear the collective sound of hearts thudding to the floor as you glance up and see the latest jeremiad by those who are far from being the paragons of honesty.
The government may be making a pig’s ear of actually lifting the people out of poverty but credit to it; it sure has spin sorted out.
By: Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon
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