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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

CORRUPTION: PERCEPTION IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

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“We must not allow other people’s perceptions to define us.” – Virginia Satir

Our Parliamentary Leaders seem to be piqued by the results of perception surveys by IGR and CARL which indicate that the public consider Parliament to be the third most corrupt institution in the country. They are in a state of denial and have gone nuclear with veiled threats made against these organisations. But surely, perception is the combination of one’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and awareness and the way that you perceive the world is uniquely different from anyone else.

On the matter of negative public perception, our Parliamentarians should be relieved they are in good company.

Imagine an organisation in which more than 500 employees have the following characteristics:

  • 29 have been accused of spousal abuse
  • 7 have been arrested for fraud
  • 19 have been accused of writing bad checks
  • 117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
  • 3 have done time for assault
  • 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
  • 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges

Can you guess which organization this is? Give up yet? It’s the 535 members of the United States Congress!

One has to be very careful about perception –Perception, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I recall the story of a cousin of mine in Bo. My mum, a teacher used to have special maths lessons for him, and being no Einstein, he flunked all the tests! When we asked him what happened, his excuse was always- “Dis Mammy lek for gi posin maths test way di san wam!”. What Mathematics had to do with the sun coming out is anybody’s guess. We corrected this “perception” of his by administering the test at night- he still flunked it!

Parliament, the Bronze medallist is not the only group livid. The Office of the Presidency has also joined the fray. The thing about perception surveys in Sierra Leone is that when they are favourable to certain groups, they put out press releases in self-congratulation, but when they are unfavourable, there is always something wrong with the methodology. No sample size is enough. Some spokesman would allude to “illiterate hard-to-reach people in Kurobola” who were not interviewed.

Carl and IGR have defended their methodology. They further stress that the results should be interpreted as perception but not necessarily facts. However, they quite rightly say that if a vast majority of people consistently view you as being corrupt, it calls for some introspection.

The Speaker of Parliament has been spitting fire and waxing lyrical about “sins” committed by Carl, through Ibrahim Tommy and IGR, through Andrew Lavali and the powers of Parliament. There is enough venom in his statements to make these gentlemen quake in their boots and run for cover.

How dare they accuse Parliament of corruption? -“It is analogous to treason”, the Speaker strongly asserts:

“Therefore, for Parliament to be accused of corruption, it must of necessity be viewed as committing a crime analogous to Treason, the crime of betraying one’s country. It strikes at the very heart of our central nervous system and that must never be taken lightly. In such circumstances Parliament must either emerge triumphant or atrophy.”

Strong stuff!

He goes on to make the burden of proof higher for Tommy and Lavali:

“And the evidence they must adduce must be of unimpeachable quality and the standard of proof cannot be anything less than the highest possible standard, that is to say, proof beyond all reasonable doubt……We shall settle for nothing less because it’s time we made it pellucidly clear to all our citizenry that in our present dispensation, there is no more free licence to defame and slander; to curse and abuse……..Enough is enough!”

Wow! Tommy and Lavali should bear responsibility for the views of others?

After the threat he finally points out what they did wrong:

“First, both the so-called surveys lack substance. They are based on public perception and not reality. And we say clearly and loudly that public perception is not enough basis for an indictment.”

Well this sounds strange. They did state that this was based on public perception and it looks like the speaker agrees!

The speaker goes on to steer his argument towards the normal “Kurobola theory of sampling”:

“Second, the perception is that of the very few, some might even say infinitesimal, number of people who mostly reside in the urban areas of our country; not of the multitudes who reside and toil in the rural areas. Moreover, what really do they stand to gain from such inconsequential surveys? “

Just when I thought the Honourable Speaker was not going to talk about any introspection, he put me to shame:

“Upon the resumption of Parliament after its recess this matter will be duly committed to the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges for investigation…….. However, I promised that if ever such practices as alleged are taking place, then I do consider it as an opportunity for self-introspection and for full investigation.”

Thanks you Mr Speaker. So what was all the threat about? So you will investigate?

Let’s come next to the Office of Chief Minister (OCM) whose spokesman went slightly short of calling for the decapitation of Messrs Tommy and Lavali. According to him, Carl and IGR do not even understand the ”complexity” of the governance structure at the wider Office of the Presidency which consists of Office of the Vice President, Office of the First Lady; Office of the Chief Minister and a host of key agencies, initiatives and advisers:

“If you don’t understand the structure, what were they answering to when they said they perceived the Office of the Presidency to be corrupt?, he asks. “It is evidently clear that the IGR is ill informed of what even constitutes the Office of the President.”, he concludes.

Not satisfied with “outing” Carl and IGR on the matter of  “terminological exactitude”, he veers off into exposing the “impertinence” of Messrs Tommy and Lavali for not acknowledging the importance of the Office of the Chief Minister:

“The OCM is informed that the wider Office of the President were not accorded the respect to be served copies of the report nor were they contacted to corroborate the survey findings that touched on the highest office of the land – The Presidency.”

He then sites the “Kurobola theory of sampling” argument and actually calls into question the competence of the two organisations to carry out such research:

“This gross generalization about the office of the President clearly shows that IGR cannot even undertake a credible research let alone a perception survey. This so-called survey was done in blatant disregard of the very basic principle of research information dissemination especially when the Office of the Presidency was a survey target.”

Poor Carl and IGR are being hung out to dry for the views of others! This reminds me of a boss of mine at Sierra Rutile who was a serial liar but always had a witness. He would drop his bombshell of a lie to someone, turn to me and ask- “Andrew a lie?. I would answer hesitantly- “E m em, No Sir, na true Sir”.

It is indeed strange that instead of taking this as an opportunity for introspection, both Parliament and OCM have taken umbrage and resorted to attacking the messenger.

Indeed, as far as Parliament is concerned the repeated accusations of corruption both within its ranks and from outside over the years and recently should be cause for concern. They are in denial and always asking for proof, but as one political pundit told me- ”Who will be the squealer? How will you prove that brown envelopes were given to members? Whoever (whether a company or individual) owns up to having paid a bribe must do so at his own peril. And besides who will offer a brown envelope in the presence of witnesses?”.

But Parliament has a golden opportunity to showcase its constraints. Why else would only 80% of the members in the previous Parliament not get re-elected? How will they fund oversight trips when enough funds are not provided them as per the budget? Are they in fact given enough time to vet appointees or is it always rushed? Do their constituents expect far too much from them beyond their mandate and means? One is not giving excuses but there are many reasons why they must have an introspection on this corruption issue. This matter cannot be resolved by rhetorical flourish and intimidation alone.

As for the OCM, representing the Silver medallist on the corruption perception survey, the preoccupation should be finding out why people perceive the Office of the Presidency, whatever the inadequacies in exactitude of the definition to be corrupt. Could this present a golden opportunity of educating the public on the “complexities” of the office and the onerous job of the Chief Minister?

The bottom line is that we should stop splitting hairs and accept that people have a poor perception about the willingness of our governance system to tackle corruption and believe the system itself is corrupt. Two major organs of government ranking second and third in people’s perception on corruption is worrisome. Berating the messengers would not change people’s perception and it behoves the accused parties to do some introspection and change these negative perceptions.

And, I even forgot to ask who won the Gold medal! I should have asked Messrs Tommy and Lavali but suspect they are probably in hiding!

Ponder my thoughts

By Andrew Keili

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