from The Economist, Baobab Africa..
July 19, 2013 | Freetown
BEFORE Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war erupted in 1991, its seaside capital, Freetown, was home to around half a million people. Since then, urban migration has seen that figure more than double. The city’s services and infrastructure have been overwhelmed, and much of the city is almost permanently congested. The most efficient means of transport is therefore a motorbike, usually cheaply imported from India.
Baobab’s investment in just such a machine has afforded him several near-death experiences on Freetown’s terrifying roads, and a privileged insight into the rampant petty corruption that last week saw Sierra Leone ranked bottom in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer. More than four in five of the Sierra Leoneans surveyed said they had paid a bribe in the past year.
Motorbike-riding in the capital results in almost daily conflict with the notoriously corrupt traffic police, who attempt to solicit “fines” for a bizarre range of offences. On one recent such occasion, two policemen on a motorbike forced Baobab to the side of the road. “You are plying the streets in your underwear,” announced one, gravely. “You will have to come with us to the station; there will be a fine.” Baobab considered this an unfair description of his attire—jeans, a sleeveless shirt, shoes, and a helmet—and told him as much; the men duly went on their way.
But for the thousands of drivers of motorbike-taxis, or okadas, struggling to make a living in the city, bribes can take a heavy toll on the day’s earnings. “The police give us serious problems,” says Kanneh, an okada-driver. “Sometimes it’s 10,000-20,000 Leones ($2-$4), sometimes it’s more.”
Corruption exists at all levels of society. Last week, the managing director of Sierra Leone’s largest commercial bank was charged with fraud, along with dozens of other bankers and tax-workers. A travel ban has been placed on all revenue officials and bank employees. In another recent scandal, the country’s chief medical officer was charged, along with other health-ministry officials, with misappropriating over half a million dollars in grants.
Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commission appears to be coming of age, and has this year stepped up its activities. Even the traffic police may have to clean up its act: on July 18th the commission indicted four policemen on bribery charges, following a wave of complaints from motorists. But with each new case that is brought to light, the scale of the challenge ahead appears ever more daunting. That is a point vividly illustrated by President Ernest Bai Koroma’s chief of staff, Richard Konteh, who in responding to the Transparency International report, explained that it is “part of our culture to show appreciation to people for good things that they’ve done to you, that is not bribery”.
Link to the article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/baobab/2013/07/corruption-sierra-leone