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Sierra Leone News: Fighting corruption and illicit financial flows is crucial for poverty alleviation

It is stated in the medium term National Development Plan (MTNDP) 2019-20123 that evidence abounds to show that a genuine fight against corruption and illicit financial flows at all levels is crucial for alleviating extreme poverty and boosting private sector growth and development. Speaking on Cluster Four –‘Governance and Accountability for Results’, Senior Economist Eugene Sawyerr said that the lesser the incidence of corruption in a country the greater the likelihood for steady economic growth, as investor confidence will increase significantly and some obstacles that often stand in the way of foreign direct investment are removed in the process of fighting corruption. He extensively discussed the country’s challenges in fighting corruption and illicit financial flows during the validation of the MTNDP 2019-2023 recently. “Leakages and extra-legality in revenue generation sectors have contributed immensely to these dismal rankings over the past few decades.” In 2017, Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranked Sierra Leone 130th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. This ranking has been consistently dismal over the past decade reaching an all-time low of 158 out of 175 in 2008. In fact, the country’s record high on the transparency barometer was recorded in 2003 (113 out 174). A critical lesson learnt over the years is the fact that the fight to eradicate corruption requires the buy-in and ownership of the general public. Furthermore, public education and awareness raising on corruption and corrupt practices have the potential to severely cut down on corruption, especially in communities that hitherto have zero knowledge about corruption. Several challenges he said have been identified in the MTNDP as being responsible for the persistence of corruption and illicit financial flows. These challenges range from limited/non-implementation of the recommendations of the Audit Service Sierra Leone, lack of commensurate reward system in public and private sectors, fall in ethical standards, weak staff capacity, scarcity of strong evidence and credible witnesses to gain conviction, absence of a Whistle Blower Policy; weak collaboration among partners, and lack of political will and commitment to the course of fighting the malaise that is posing real threat to the socioeconomic fabric of the society. In the MTNDP Strategic objective and targets, it ultimate objective is to reduce corruption significantly through the empowering of the Anti-Corruption Commission to prevent, investigate and prosecute corruption in all its forms and scale up the fight against illicit financial flows in Sierra Leone so as to increase domestic revenue to finance development programs. The specific targets to be achieved during the implementation timeframe of the plan are to substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms and significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime as required by the SDGs. To establish a Special Anti-Corruption Court within the High Court of judicature, strengthen Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) and District Budget Oversight (DBO) by citizens and recovery of stolen wealth increased by 50 percent relative to 2017/2018. Additionally it will enhance the capacity and operational efficiency of the Financial Intelligence Unit, improve ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Mo Ibrahim Governance Index, World Bank Governance Index, World Bank Doing Business Report, and World Bank CPIA (Governance Cluster). As required by Africa Agenda 2063, at least 70 percent of the public acknowledge that public service should be professional, efficient, responsive, accountable, impartial and corruption- free, and demonstrate that awareness in their day-to-day service delivery functions. For instance, the annual revenue loss caused by illegal fishing (illicit financial flows) to Sierra Leone is estimated to be in the region of US$29 million and to the West African region, the loss is put at a staggering US$1.3 billion. This money is crucially needed to finance social services, such as health and education. These low rankings he said have been persistent despite the promulgation of potentially strong legislative instruments such as the Anti-Corruption Act of 2000 which established an independent Anti-Corruption Commission, as well as the 2008 Anti-Corruption Act (2000 Act amended) which further enhanced the powers of the Commission including the power to prosecute. The Financial Intelligence Unit was established to coordinate the fight against illicit financial flows. In spite of these interventions and others (such as the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy; the introduction of Systems and Processes Review as prevention mechanism that targeted mainly Government MDAs; as well as smart public education and outreach strategies notable among which is the widely acclaimed ‘’Pay No Bribe’’ campaign), corruption continues to ravage the fabric of the Sierra Leonean society. This has significantly undermined the country’s revenue generation capacity, destroyed the reputation of the country in the international community and posed a significant threat to the country’s development potential.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Wednesday December 19, 2018.

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