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Accountability Alert – A New NGO in Pursuit of Greater Accountability in Sierra Leone

Accountability Alert – A New NGO in Pursuit of Greater Accountability in Sierra Leone

Some six months has passed since Accountability Alert–Sierra Leone (AA-SL), a new initiative conceptualized to promote NGO Accountability and Transparency. In those time points, we have had several challenges and some good news as well, but overall we feel hopeful the initiative is on track.

As an emerging NGO, we are learning with each passing day, fine-tuning our processes that bear down on credibility and effectiveness, for after all we are an NGO determined to stay and promote Accountability in the third sector on behalf of our people.  

This initiative has been blessed to have Jadranka Foster, a very credible International Consultant. Jadranka is an experienced practitioner, who has continued to provide institutional support and capacity building for a range of NGOs and civic groups working in the Balkans, Asia and Africa. She lives in the UK but has visited Sierra Leone on two separate occasions.

The Accountability Debate

There is a level of engagement by the country’s Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) with the donor community and the government in the critical area of AID Accountability. 

The most visible of CSO’s pushing for government accountability includes the Campaign for Good Governance (CCG), the National Accountability Group (NAG), Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), Campaign for Just Mining (CJM), and several more. These CSOs and others (supported in part by Christian Aid) have networked around the country’s budget process to cater for the poor, through advocacy, monitoring and implementation[1]. NMJD is leading the effort in asking the tough questions at the direction of the country’s law makers and executive branch in their ratification of a mining lease agreement with London Mining Company, which they purport as simply bad ‘business’ for the country. The NMJD Boss, Abu Brima cannot be clearer in his opposition to the bill: “the civil society will also not allow a small group of short-sighted politicians to mortgage the little that is left of our precious mineral wealth for their own selfish gain. This is so because much of it (our mineral wealth) has been depleted without any benefit to the nation. We deserve a full loaf.”

Criticism has been heaved on the donor community in the way and manner local partners get selected. Charles Mambu, the West Africa Civil Society Forum representative had this to say:  “Unless you know someone who selects partner organizations, you will not be chosen.” Not true, says the donors through UNDP Peter Ngu Tayong, “All NGOs must first register with the government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Finance and Development. Secondly, after a competitive process the best is considered for any collaboration.”

The criticism is even sharper coming from Christian Lawrence, Campaign for Good Governance:  “One point I feel particularly displeased about is that donors do not account to citizens. They do not even think that it is a responsibility in their view to account to citizens.” But could that be said of the Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative currently operational in Sierra Leone, that currently stands accused by some sections of the media for the organizations’ apparent lack of accountability and transparency in the use of Bill Gates USD$ 2 million Foundation funds to help tackle poverty in Sierra Leone?

When the alleged corruption news story broke out on the use of UK AID in Sierra Leone, the British High Commission came out immediately with a press release, refuting allegations and making assurances about their organization DFID’s efficient processes in place that ensures UK AID gets to needy and intended beneficiaries. The then International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas, emphasized how UK’s AID in her words, “making a real difference to the people of Sierra Leone and this year will provide healthcare for 230,000 women and one million children.”

In the wake of a new found politics between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats, the question being touted is; how will the British Aid policy shape out to be in Sierra Leone? According to the Sierra Leone Telegraph, a senior Liberal Democrat politician had hinted of the new Governments posture to prioritize major improvement in accountability and transparency as recommended by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the management of British Aid in Sierra Leone?

And there is ENCISS, the new power broker between the state and CSOs, receiving nearly all of DFID’s funding for its in-country civil society related programs. And with the EU also pouring most of its funding for support of civil society into ENCISS, this organization is surely on its way to being the conduit for small grants delivery to local organizations.

Sierra Leone’s former Anti-corruption Czar, Abdul Tejan-Cole prior to his resignation, in an Op-Ed: ACC and the Donors, the Way Forward, challenged the country’s Aid providers to do more in promoting accountability: “Donor support is not just about providing money. It is about leading by example and ensuring that they comply with the same standards they impose on national institutions.”

Our position at AA-SL is that holding someone to account, means one must be accountable as well, a view shared by Burkhard Gnaerig, former director of Save the Children International: “Challenging business and government to be more accountable is a crucial part of our role. If we are to point the finger at others we need to be completely clean in our own back yard.”

These ongoing constructive dialogs with the donor community appears to be paying off with concrete action plans of their own revealing greater accountability and transparency in the way Aid is handled. The World Bank (WB) point man, Sidie Sheriff in charge of programming has pointed to the Bank’s plan to set-up a website for browsing all financial transactions between the Group and the government of Sierra Leone, for as he puts it “…all geared towards greater transparency and accountability, which are the hallmarks of the Bank,” he said. Premiere News: Reporters to Increase Business Coverage

From the point of accountability, we consider the WB’s intent on the website as good news, for a major stumbling block in promoting accountability is lack of information access. One only needs to take stock of the Development Assistance Coordinating Office (DACO) and its work to understand the importance of timely information that drives the publication of its annual Development Assistance Report. DACO, the AID co-coordinating body set-up in 2002 has in place a quarterly request for AID information to the donors. Surprisingly, according to the report: “  Old habits die hard: Aid and accountability in Sierra Leone” some donors like the ADB, WB, DFID, Irish aid, JICA and the EU,  “tend to respond”, and others likes  USAID “sometimes responds”. The report named DFID and the IRISH AID, as the only two bilateral donors for whom information was available on their aid disbursements relative to the amounts committed, with the ADB as sole multilateral institution for which this same information was available in the Development Assistance Report.

When information is scarce, or when development actors themselves are in no hurry to discuss aspects of their operations that borders on program funds, received and for what purpose, then it becomes difficult to hold someone to account. This was how Kadi Jumu, the Policy Advocacy & Civil Society Coordinator, Christian Aid puts it: “…… You have to know someone, you have to beg someone; you have to lobby to get information[2].”

Interestingly, whilst there is some traction and debate to hold government and donors to account, that cannot be said of the NGOs themselves, for there is no sustained level of conversation internally within the NGO institution when it comes to promoting accountability and holding themselves to account?  The deputy Finance Minister, Dr. Richard Conteh made the pitch in 2008, in his quest for a new NGO bill: “We don’t know how much is being spent and what the 300 and more NGOs are doing, for their activities have made little difference at all[3].”

The new NGO bill before its final passage into law was challenged by cross section of CSOs led in-part by the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), who saw the bill as one carefully crafted “to control virtually every aspect of the creation, existence, operation, and activities of civil society organizations included within its purview.” That was then. Now the SDI director, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai has again (in a press statement on 13th May 2010) decried the government on its policies of compulsory NGO registration with the Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (SLANGO) and the Ministry of Finance, Development and Economic Planning, as inducement for status recognition and privileges.  This round of criticism is coming in at the height of growing concerns “as a result of attempts by politicians to intimidate and muzzle the National Electoral Watch (NEW), a vibrant organization that has been monitoring elections and their ramifications in the country, in the ongoing criminal defamation court action instituted against the organization by Honorable Ibrahim Bundu representing Constituency 52 in the Port Loko District.” The SDI director through the press release has urged “politicians to hands-off the operations of Civil Society Organizations as this occurrence stifles the fundamental principles of democracy and good governance.”

In an unprecedented turn-around by the NGOs themselves  during a SLANGO Annual General Meeting in August 2008, participants were in agreement that a good proportion of NGOs were misappropriating donor funds meant for the people, with staff of these institutions (local as well as expatriates) allegedly spending 55% of beneficiary’s money on incentives[4]. A much earlier Transparency International (TI) Humanitarian Assistance report conducted 24th April 2006 by their local partner National Accountability Group (NAG) painted a damming picture of corruption and the risks it presents for humanitarian assistance and support to those in need.

Sylvia Kalley a Sierra Leonean intern (from the US) with SLANGO, following consultation with stakeholders on aid effectiveness, came to the conclusion that “donor aid to developing countries such as Sierra Leone is not an effective way of improving the living standards of people in poor countries, and that donor aids coming into the country are not properly managed.”

The Good News

The good news coming from all of these is that, a good number of the country’s NGOs have best practices and internal standards worthy of emulation. Take the case of Action Aid for example. This NGO has ventured in an area other NGO’s are yet to go, through the use of “Transparency Boards.” The program’s country director, Tennyson Williams was very much enthused on the launch of the country’s first transparency board: “On the board we will display our budget, how we get funding and how we implement our projects. This transparency board is going to bring enormous challenge to other NGOs, he said. (Awoko: Action Aid sets the pace, first transparency board launch.)

Additionally, International AID organizations like Oxfam, Amnesty, Save the Children, Action Aid International, YWCA, WVI, and Tear Fund etc. with presence in Sierra Leone are signatories to the Global Humanitarian and Accountability charter. This charter sets out some basic core values and operating principles for international NGOs. Our expectation is that the local chapters of these organizations have their internal operations shaped around these basic principles. AA-SL is in to generate commitment amongst the country’s NGOs to the values and principles of accountability and ensure that acceptable standards of accountability like those of Action Aid get shared across the board and met by all regardless of funding source.

Building Support

AA-SL recognizes the issue of accountability as a ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ most institutions shy away from discussing. Recognizing the issue as bigger than one institution or individual, the first thing we did immediately following official registration was outreach to 70 plus stakeholders within the development community, introducing our presence, and the need for collaboration in the promotion of accountability.

Over the course of our presence, we have had opportunities to meet one-on-one with Institutions like the World Vision (WVI), Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI), the Campaign for Good Governance (CCG), the Human Rights Commission, to name but a few. Prominent Sierra Leoneans including the Hon. Julius Cuffie has been approached to throw their support behind the initiative.  The feed-back received so far has being positive.

Externally, AA-SL consultant Jadranka Foster is pushing hard for partnership with credible Institutions from around the world.  One such organization she has approached is ProConcept, from Serbia, an NGO with real experience in post conflict transitions to democracy. If this partnership were to hold, it will be a recipe for good collaboration, as the successes of ProConcept with NGO Accountability in other post conflict nations, gets adapted to our own local situation.  Jadranka has extended invitation of support from international organizations with presence in Sierra Leone, including Tear Fund and Christian Aid.

AA-SL will consult with other actors, speak on the issues, and engage with the donor community. We would continue to ask our donors be a part of this initiative, for if the push to have greater accountability is to be won, the donors themselves must do much more to showcase their own accountability, to the government and its citizenry.  

We would continue to seek partnership with institutions designed to champion governance, corruption and accountability in Sierra Leone. For in these initiatives we foresee greater space for collaboration, and complementarity aimed at building a willing coalition amongst the network of organizations considered critical in raising the stake on accountability.

Accountability Workshop

In advancing the accountability debate, AA-SL is planning to conduct a 2-days workshop in Freetown to discuss ways of strengthening NGO accountability. The workshop is being designed to bring together all stakeholders in the same room, together stakeholders from NGOs operating in Sierra Leone, the donor community, the Sierra Leone government, and international experts on NGO accountability, to examine practical ways of improving professional standards in the third sector.

The workshop is aimed at generating commitment from the NGOs to the values and principles of accountability. We would come out of the workshop with solutions and way forward towards a healthy and responsible third sector.

AA-SL is working to attract funding possibilities to ensure the workshop comes out successfully. We are committed to making sure the workshop outcome does not become another talking shop?  


AA-SL continues to derive its funding from a group of committed Sierra Leoneans passionate about the issues of Accountability, Transparency and Corruption within the third sector.

As we develop programs and achieve results, we shall explore funding possibilities. The work we have embarked upon has just started. There are challenges, but with determination, we can overcome. Our work with others will be constructive; one that facilitates the adoption and practical application of an NGO Code of Ethics for all NGOs operational in Sierra Leone to sign up on, and be seen to be held to account. 

Right now, we are just thankful that AA-SL is part of the development efforts in Sierra Leone.  

Edie Vandy, Accountability Alert – Sierra Leone

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[1] http://www.enciss-sl.org / Old habits die hard: Aid and accountability in Sierra Leone

[2] Old habits die hard: Aid and accountability in Sierra Leone

[3] Sierra Leone: Government tightens control of NGOs

[4] NGO’s misdirecting donor funds! – SLANGO AGM reveals

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