Friday, 14 September 2012

AN INDEPENDENT VIEW AND THE POLITICAL AND INDIVIDUAL WILL TO CURB CORRUPTION

Corruption has many faces and being around for ages, it is definitely not new to governments around the world.

A look at corruption could be controversial based on the audience. Social societies, governments, religions and et cetera have different meanings to corruption, but it also depends completely on the norm of a society to what level of tolerance there can be when it comes to the practice of corruption. Liberia has a not-so-different take on this matter as corruption has eaten the heart of the Liberian society so much that it has left the country amongst the world’s poorest nations.

Nitty-gritty wise, many Liberians are not aware of what corruption truly is. It is possible that many practice corruption with innocence, yet they fight it. On the other hand, some are very knowledgeable of the facts that corruption and its harmful effects has on a society and nation; even so, they employ all efforts to keep the wheels of corruption turning by making it a way of life rather than a menace to society.


What is Corruption?

Corruption ‘a public enemy number one’ was in 2006 declared by the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. A journey embarked on by Madam Sirleaf's government without properly identifying a destination, so to speak. Corruption needs to be defined, identified, and contextualized to that of a societal norm to adequately stand a finger against it - lest one fight against the wind.

The conceptualization and definition of corruption into a global standard has proven difficult, so a closer look at the etymology of the word would be considered. Corruption (noun): corrupt (adjective) deriving from the Latin word corruptus which is the past participle of corrumpere, and the adjective is comrumpere which means ‘to break’ or ‘completely broken’ (corrumpere).

Merriam-Webster defines corruption as the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, or inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery). Oxford sees it as the misuse or abuse of public office, or power, or resource for personal interest. With this in mind, a clearer understanding of corruption is captured.

  

Corruption: A Liberian Understanding

Despite the level of educational attainment, the average Liberian considers it corruption, only when public officials make away with public funds.

There is a typical saying that a fish starts to rot from the head, but this does not apply to corruption which gains all of its nutrients from the roots, and from the roots only can it be eradicated. ‘Eradicate’ seems too harsh and unrealistic so we could reconsider ‘minimized’. It is evident that pulling out the leaves from a tree does not kill the tree. When the roots are removed, only then will the tree die. Without understanding these dynamics as they relate to human behavior, we cease not to fight against nature. With this said, corruption goes beyond just the Liberian perspective.

Corruption on a more general platform tends to exist when a person is empowered to make decision on behalf of others but jeopardizes the very interest of those whom he is to protect. It is common in our society that when people want something, most often things they never had, they would do anything, maybe something they have never done to get what they want. The most common means of acquisition in our society is by corrupt means. It is prevalent in our society when people target public offices with the overall objective to accelerate their impoverished livelihood by corrupt means.

The society is a high respecter of wealthy people regardless of how wealth was acquired. Our society does not really frown on corruption. The more the money by corrupt means, so will the respect amass.


Corruption: The political will to curb

The government is doing everything in its powers, and at the same time nothing to curb or deter corruption in the Liberian society. Acknowledgement goes to the President’s insight on the impairment corruption has on our nation that she declared it as ‘a public enemy number one’ but the political will to foster this campaign is lacking, if not, unlikely.

Vice-President Joseph Boakai during this year’s just ended 3rd West Africa Association of Public Accounts Committees (WAAPAC) conference held in Paynesville (SKD) articulated the difficulty that lies ahead to curb corruption when people who are entrusted with the enormous responsibility to make the voices of the citizens heard by the government in making decisions and instituting policies that best serves the interest of the country are they themselves corrupt.

President Sirleaf also in December 2011 pointed finger at the 52nd Legislature for not helping in the corruption fight when they downplayed the Code of Conduct document for public officials. This languid attitude on the part of the 52nd Legislature when it came to curbing corruption was passed over to the 53rd.

Sometime in August 2008, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission bill was enacted into law in order to address issues regarding corruption in the public and private sectors which would in the end help with the fight against corruption. Much is yet to be done when people who should be torchbearers of the fight against corruption are delaying in the declaration of their assets ­­– Legislature and Judiciary.

A big step by the government on improving minimum wage was made, yet not much, but on an overall, it was a huge success with huge significance. More laws regarding minimum wage, labor standards need to be looked into. Liberia is no one’s pepper bush.

  

Corruption and politics

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” - Lord Acton

From times of old till now, politics and corruption have grown to be inseparable cronies. Men have tried to set them apart but with no success. Just as politics breeds corruption, corruption necessitates politics. Much will always be said to curb corruption as a way to keep people thinking that much would be done to alleviate this societal disease.

A timeline of Liberia’s political past referencing corruption only magnifies that the campaign has also met a formidable force, especially when looking at the other faces of corruption in the political arena. One would also notice the ‘widow's might’ on the cramp down on corruption, but to whom much is given, much more is expected in return.

Man is by nature a political animal” quoted by Aristotle is more of a cliché but must gain relevance herein. Corruption on the political scene is when an entrusted person abuses power, or a public office, or the resources of the said for ‘personal’ gain. The misuse of power or public office or resource is not uncommon, and it is accepted in our society. It is normal to see government’s vehicle at non-working hours attending to private affairs of public officials. Private and public vehicles with ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY’ or ‘NO RIDERS’ signs are the ones dropping off relatives and friends. The use of office resources (eg: computers, printers, photocopier, stationery, vehicles, and so on) for personal use is highly practiced in our society without much remorse. The misuse of titles like Manage, Minister, or Police Director to render actions for personal interest rather than the interest of those by which the title was bestowed is very common and people are boastful about these misdeeds.

Faces of corruption

The faces of corruption includes but are not limited to the likes of embezzlement, extortion, bribery, cronyism, patronage, nepotism. These faces have the potential to breed activities that would be criminal in nature. With this said, corruption is in the air everywhere and being practiced by nearly everyone.

Government officials like bosses of private entities embezzle funds entrusted them. Marketeers, wholesale and retail vendors likes ‘yana-boys’ and law enforcement officers are engaged into extortion daily. From grade school students to members of the Houses, bribery is the order of the day. This is where comes the saying, “Where you tie the goat is where it will eat” or “chopping”. Bribery has made the justice system a mockery wherein only the wealthy attains ‘fair’ adjudications. The media is purchased to convey propaganda. Patronage provides a blanket for impunity to people close to those in power. “Do you know who I am?” is an indication of close ties with government officials or some person in high authority.  

Nepotism is one of the few faces of corruption of late sparking controversies as to what the definition of the word actually is. According to Oxford's definition, nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs, while other dictionaries would denoteregardless of qualification’. The word gained prominence during the mid-17th century gradually from the French word népotisme, which came from the Italian word nepotismo, from nipote meaning ‘nephew’. This was done as a way to bestowed privileges on the ‘nephews’ of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons.

Whatever the case, if ‘qualification’ makes nepotism not nepotism, then there should be no problem with any president educating his entire immediate and extended families to occupy governmental positions.


Corruption: an individual perspective

Corruption in an ‘eating-to-live’ (develop/developing country) society will definitely differ greatly from that of a ‘living-to-eat’ (under developed country) society. In some societies, the practice of corruption is discrete so as to preserve integrity of corruption officials. In other places, corruption is practiced openly. However corruption is practiced, it is still bad for any society due to the impediment it has on economic development, democracy, information dissemination, and social justice.

The open practice of corruption in Liberia depicts how chronic the situation has gotten. Liberia is one of those places where non-compliance with corrupt demands means stalling whatever process that should be processed without a cost. Even implementations of developmental projects or concession agreements for the upliftment of the livelihood of citizenry are put on hold if tables are not watered or signature-fees are not paid. The act of corruption in our society is practically regarded as a societal norm because everybody is doing it anyways. Those who do not comply are considered as ‘Christian-Cole’, stupid or a thorn in the group. The society has fashioned itself in such a way that it is either you join or leave the group to rejoin your miserable impoverished life.

When heads of families and ‘don boscos’ awake each day, the main target for them is survival. On an average level, people would do anything and everything for survival (find food to eat). Corruption is more of a survival thing than a wrong doing that it created a new occupation called ‘legal hustler’ and a new ministry called ‘Ministry of Up-and-Down’ with corruption as the appointed minister.


Corruption: The Way Forward:

Liberia has deposits of mineral resource like iron ore, diamonds, gold,...timber, hydropower, and others (I would refrain from mentioning crude oil). It also has lustrous soil for the production of agriculture produces. Considering the resources the country has, the equal distribution of the nation’s wealth amongst its people should not be much of a problem when looking at her under 4 million population.

I think if corruption must stop, it is you and I who must take the first step. The government has done enough and will continue to do enough, but how far can the government go if we the people of Liberia are still harboring the practice in every sector of our daily lives. If anyone is perfect enough to exonerate his conscience from the act of corruption, I still render him guilty as far as ‘aiding and abetting’ is concerned.

We should start breeding a new generation with the thoughts of a corrupt free society. The will power lies with every Liberian to think country first, regardless of educational, social, religious, political, and ethnic backgrounds. The tentacles of corruption have the power to disunite people and withhold them from working together to achieve a common goal. Too much has been preached about corruption and not much has been done by those who preached and those preached to.

If a journey must be made, the first step need be taken. The challenge is ours. Parents need to deter children from bribing teachers and teachers likewise should practice rejecting gifts and money to influence their judgments. Health practitioners should stop asking and receiving tips for providing citizens their rights. Lawyers and judges alike have their responsibilities to uphold the law and not to lift the curtain off the face of Lady Justice. Law makers should best serve the interest of their people and country at large. They should minimize or better desist from enriching themselves at the cost of the people they serve. Presidents have preached too long to not practice what they once preached against. The will to, or to not make the change lies within the people. If the minds of the people are willing but their bodies are weak, we stand no chance at all against corruption.

Corruption is a two-way street between the decision maker who is willing to accept money or favors and the interested party who is willing to offer money or favors for undue decision in his favor. If one party refuses to heed, the process of corruption stops right there. Most times if the interested party has a stake too big to lose, he may as well be willing to give more until it becomes too much to refuse in the eyes of the decision maker.

Until Liberians themselves can be torchbearers of the fight against corruption by refusing to pay any demanded money or gifts to water table, facilitate a process, grease or shake somebody’s hand, etc; not until Liberians themselves can refuse to initiate anything illegally which would lead to corruption, and become whistle-blowers by creating forums at  ‘ataye’ shops to ensure that the government authorities are doing the right things and government officials are liable for ill-decisions with zero tolerance –until all these, the fight is against the wind.

The government on the other hand needs to do more in terms of awareness against corruption. The press should carry ads against the act of corruption and all its faces, just not in English but in Liberian English and all the 16 local vernaculars. If this is a war, then it is also not a play.

We, the People especially, must make the effort to curb corruption in our daily lives or else corruption is here to stay and for a long time too. If we fail to stop this disease in our day-to-day interactions, those of us at the bottom of the societal food chain would only do more harm by trying harder to get to the top of the food chain where all the goodies would be piled up waiting to be shared by a few.  Maybe, just maybe if Liberians consider living within their means and not above their incomes, some progress would from somewhere come.


I Wrestle Against Myself

I tried turning away from myself
But saw me looking at myself
I tried taking away the old stuff off my shelf
But knew it was a wrestle against myself

How could I remove my ancient sleeve,
And put me on a new armor of serenity?
How could I change when I don’t even believe?
And then wrestle against my own integrity?

I cried out aloud from within
Only to put all that I feel out
Looking into a future so thin
I still hope to wrestle me out

Wrestle against my failure,
Wrestle against my ado,
Wrestle against my future,
I vow to wrestle against my ego  - Chrichtian Neal


The wrestle is just begun...

Chrichtian A. Neal

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