Theme: – “Women Taking Centre Stage In The Fight Against
Corruption In Sierra Leone”
Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies, and gentlemen. I am honoured and
humbled to be invited to this august gathering and to be the Keynote Speaker.
As you may already know, corruption has become an inevitable part of us.
No country, no region, and no community are exempt. It is a dysfunction that
we all must fight to eradicate, to save our souls.
Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to start my speech by giving you some
background information on this “Day” that we are observing today.
- On 31st October 2003, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption and requested that the Secretary-General designate the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as the secretariat for the Convention’s Conference of States Parties (Resolution 58/4 of 2003).
- The Assembly also designated 9th December, as the International Anti-Corruption Day, in a bid to raise awareness of corruption, its deleterious effects on society and the role the Convention can play in combating and preventing it. The Convention came into force in December 2005.
- Governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, the media, and citizens around the world therefore, have joined forces to fight this malaise. The United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are at the forefront of this endeavour.
- Several definitions have been proposed by different bodies. For instance,
- Transparency International and The World Bank (1997) defined corruption as, the abuse of entrusted power for private gains. They went on to say that it erodes trust, weakens democracy, and hampers economic development amongst others.
- Social scientists such as Gaitonde (2016), defined it as “the abuse or complicity in abuse, of public or private position, power or authority to benefit oneself, a group, an organization or others close to oneself; where the benefits may be financial, material and/or non-material.
- Others have defined it as, dishonest behaviour by those in positions of power, and can include giving or accepting bribes.
- It can thus be adduced, that corruption is the solicitation of personal gains overtly or covertly through bribery, coercion, and/or other forms of pressure. Its effects are usually detrimental to society and overall economic development.
- There are two (2) types of corruption as described in independent publications by the UNDP and UNIFEM (now UN Women) in 2010.
- The first type is called “Grand or high-level” corruption. It usually occurs at the policy-formulation phase of a political agenda. It refers more to the level at which it occurs irrespective of the amount of money involved. Grand corruption occurs at the top hierarchy of the public sphere, where policies and rules are initially formulated and effected.
- The second type is referred to as “Petty” corruption and it is the everyday corruption that takes place at the implementation end of the politics (where public officials interact with the public), often taking the form of bribery in exchange for executing existing laws, rules and regulations and duties.
- It is also invariably referred to as ‘low-level’, ‘street-level’, ‘small-scale’,
‘bureaucratic’ or ‘retail level corruption’. This is the corruption usually
experienced by common people, in their daily encounters with public
administration officials, or in social services such as hospitals, schools,
licensing authorities, police, or taxing authorities to name a few.
The questions that arise therefore are, why should women take the centre
stage in the fight against corruption? How does corruption affect women?
- It has been reported, that the limited political and economic power of women, reduces their ability to demand accountability and/or to highlight their specific experiences of and concerns about corruption (UNDP and UN Women).
- Statistically, women have lower literacy levels, which often results in a limited knowledge of rights and entitlements to services and public programmes. This leaves them more vulnerable to extortion and abuses by laws and enforcement officers in regulatory agencies (UNDP 2008).
- Various pieces of research have shown that corruption occurs with impunity, in places, where the systems that hold those in power, accountable for their actions or, that enforce sanctions against wrongdoings, are weak. This is either because duty-bearers are inaccessible, or the state has withdrawn altogether. (UNDP/UNIFEM).
- A 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime suggested that women are disproportionately affected by corruption than men because (i) they have less socioeconomic power and, (ii) they access more public services where corruption is more likely to be prevalent.
- A joint UNDP/UN Women report of 2010 highlighted that petty corruption (when basic public services are sold instead of provided as of right) affects poor women and girls who are often asked to pay bribes including sexual favours. Women’s disempowerment and their dependence on public service delivery mechanisms for access to essential services such as healthcare, access to water, and education) increases their vulnerability to the consequences of corruption in related social service delivery systems.
- For instance, research published in 2019 by the UNDP, highlighted that in anglophone west Africa, the most prevalent corrupt practices were (i) absenteeism of health workers; (ii) diversion of patients to private facilities; (iii) inappropriate procurement; (iv) informal payments; and (v) theft of drugs and supplies. Thus, these forms of corruption led to lower access to, and utilization of health services, which in turn resulted in higher maternal mortality.
- A study also published in 2019 by Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) shows that corruption contributes to poor education outcomes. Diversion of funds meant for proper functioning of schools, and the payment of bribes for educational services, disadvantaged poor students and reduced their chances of equal access to education. The demand for sex by teachers was a major contributing factor associated with girl students dropping out of school.
- A recent publication by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2020) states that “Women also make up the majority of the informal sector workers around the world, and informal businesses typically have to pay more bribes to corrupt networks and the police to stay in business”.
- The above narratives and facts, that Sierra Leone ratified the UN Convention against corruption, in September 2004 are compelling reasons for women’s involvement in the fight against corruption. By ratifying the Convention, the country committed to implement preventive measures, and undertook to put in place, provisions to criminalise corruption offences, and take appropriate enforcement actions.
- Furthermore, corruption may appear to impact women and men differently, women’s perceptions and consequences of corruption, go far beyond the widely accepted financial/material definitions. It includes more diverse misuses of power, such as sexual trafficking and exploitation, illegal actions, and physical abuse, which are usually perpetuated by men and/or are oblivious about.
- Empowered women, who could participate in decision-making, are normally powerful actors contributing to the fight against corruption. Research studies carried out in 2010, established a strong correlation between low corruption levels, and higher women’s representation, among top-ranking public officials, and political appointees (ministers, permanent secretaries, heads of public sector agencies, etc.). Further elucidation in recent studies, allude to the fact, that higher women representation in decision-making structures, take place in already less corrupt environments, where gender inclusivity and mainstreaming are upheld. That is, gender related barriers, have been minimized or eliminated in such circumstances.
How do we get gender equality and the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone?
- Women participation in all sectors of public life, is crucial for greater accountability, transparency and responsiveness from governments and service providers. There is thus a need, for gender mainstreaming in the enforcement of laws and delivery of social services. For that to happen, there is a need for strengthening our laws, and institutions, guaranteeing equal rights for men and women, into policy and rules, making positions, and allowing women, to fully participate in the fight against corruption.
- Thankfully, Sierra Leone has a robust legal and regulatory framework for fighting corruption. Numerous laws have been enacted, and regulatory strategies and policies have been developed. The different organs of Government, that is, the Executive, Parliament, and the Judiciary, in cohort with Civil Society, and the media, contribute to our nation’s anti-corruption efforts.
- Ladies and gentlemen, in view of the above mentioned, I wish to make some specific suggestions for consideration: –
- Disrupting corrupt networks, through the introduction of a wide array of actors, including women from different cultural backgrounds, may be a far greater and long-lasting deterrent to corruption, than simply focusing on the positive influence of women alone.
- Diversity is important, not only in the context of fairness to individuals, and marginalized groups, but also to improving equitable distribution of justice, across the society. Against this background, diversity should be used, as a strategic tool, in combating corruption.
- It is necessary to build women’s awareness of basic governance concepts and challenges. The campaign should mostly be directed to poor women, especially those in hard-to-reach remote rural areas, who are socially disadvantaged, as low-income earners in ethnic, and linguistic minorities, that tend to be excluded from mainstream societal networks, through which they can leverage greater resources and access to services (Iskandarian, 2008).
- Evidence is emerging, that when a significant proportion of, at least 30% of public office holders are women, gender equality and inclusion issues gain more prominence in public deliberations. These deliberations, often include anti-corruption agendas and strategies (Dahlerup, 1988). Efforts to proactively preach, gender equity of, at least 30% of women in all spheres, of decision-making activities, should be re-enforced.
Notwithstanding, the policies must recognize that, effective accountability and oversight systems, are more important than mere inclusion for gender parity, without relevant qualifications and experience, of public sector officials. Ensuring responsive and non-corrupt service delivery should be key in making such appointments.
- Strong social movements, that include transparency and anti-corruption groups, involving women politicians, and women’s civil society groups, should be an important part of efforts, to tackle corruption.
- Moral education in nursery, primary and secondary schools together with public moral education in the media for all levels of society is instructive. An encouragement of work ethic and its long-term beneficial effects on society should also be of significance.
- Gender-sensitive good governance, would ensure that public resources are spent effectively and efficiently on public services, that build human capital in a gender-inclusion way, reduce corruption (sexual extortion), prevent other abuses of women’s human rights, integrate into political reforms and anti-corruption programming (UNDP and UNIFEM).
- Gender-responsive budgeting. Public spending is often managed by men, which is likely to create barriers for women to access information regarding actual expenditures. Gender-responsive budgeting, promotes women’s participation in public sector expenditure analysis, with a view towards assessing the impacts of public spending decisions on women’s rights.
- While individual women, may not be less corrupt than individual men, where there is a critical mass of women (approximately 30 per cent) in decision-making positions, policy and budget decisions, priorities often change in ways that benefit not just women and girls, but communities. This opens avenue for women, to seek redress from public accountability failures, and may in turn lead to reducing the gendered impacts of corruption (UNDP and UNIFEM [ now named, UN Women] 2010).
Can women be agents of collective action in the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone?
- Like in other countries, fighting corruption in Sierra Leone requires a multi-stakeholder’s approach. All actors across society must be involved to enhance transparency, accountability, and participation that is necessary for good governance.
- Women in Sierra Leone should continue to contribute to the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of corruption offences while working for the relevant public bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Director of Public Prosecution, the Audit Service of Sierra Leone, the National Public Procurement Authority, and the Judiciary. This can be achieved by playing critical roles in vibrancy and awareness raising civil society groups, grass root organisations, corruption watch organisations and so on.
- Effective co-ordination is required between like-minded female actors from the public sector, private sector, and civil society, working in collaboration with their male counterparts, to collectively prevent and mitigate corruption.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude my remarks by making five key points:
- Firstly, women organizations should be at the forefront in the fight against corruption. This will minimize the disproportionately menacing corrupt practices affecting their kind.
- Secondly, improvements in governance architecture and strengthening of public probity institutions are necessary to address gender inequality with great potential to reduce corruption.
- Thirdly, gender equality and inclusion should be mainstreamed into anti-corruption efforts in the country. All policies aimed at preventing and reducing corruption should be gender mainstreamed.
- Fourthly, women advocacy for 30% representation together with access to leadership positions in the public and private sectors, without being subjected to bullying, intimidation, and harassment, all in a bid to achieve gender-responsive and corruption-free socio-economic development.
- And last, but not least, and most importantly, female leaders should be treated with respect, dignity, and equity. There is a strong national value in having strong, well-qualified women in the lead. There is quality in the motivation that women leadership provide for young girls in our society.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your attention.