The ‘New Direction’ Government is confronted by a number of crises that have rendered it less capable of delivering on the mandate for which it was voted in power by the people of Sierra Leone.
The crises government faces emanate from series of scathing local and international reports most notably human rights and corruption-based.
The DFID-sponsored Corruption Perception Report of 2020, the Afro-Barometre Report, 2020, The 2019 United States Report on Human Rights, 2019 and the United States Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2019 among others are reports that bash at government.
The reports come at a time the ‘New Direction’ Government is on the verge of taking action against former government officials accused of corruption.
Many Sierra Leoneans have made it clear that in light of the corruption scandals into which government has been trapped, it lacks the moral standing to fight corruption in Sierra Leone.
The reports are compounded by appalling socio-economic realities which many Sierra Leoneans continue to grapple with every passing day.
Economic hardship caused by low investment, inflation, abject poverty, poor health situation, abysmal agricultural investment, poor infrastructure among others.
The country’s appalling situation has been worsened by the recent visa ban slammed on Sierra Leone by the United States owing to a diplomatic row between the two countries on mass deportation of Sierra Leonean citizens.
According to the ban, those winners of the Divergent Visa Lottery for this year will not travel to the United States.
The DFID-sponsored corruption perception survey was conducted between September and November, 2019 by three local civil society organisations: Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Christian Aid and Restless Development.
Institutions meant for the protection and promotion of the country’s justice system notably, Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and Parliament were seriously indicted by the report.
The SLP is the country’s principal law enforcement agency within the state of Sierra Leone while parliament is the supreme law making body in the country.
The report shows that 83.6% of the respondents say SLP is the most corrupt while 60.6% indicate that parliament is the second most corrupt agency in the country.
Government officials are less satisfied with the report considering its potential to permanently smear the image of government and weaken its capacity to fight corruption and deliver on its mandate.
By the time government reeled of the effects of the DFID-sponsored corruption report, another devastating report came out tagging the police, parliament and State House as the most corrupt public institutions.
In less than one week when the DFID report came out, the Afro-Barometre Report of 2020 was let out within public domain.
The report similarly indicated that 61% of the respondents say the police is the most corrupt, 41% says parliament is the most corrupt and 38% indicates that State House, the seat of power is the third most corrupt public institution.
The indictment of State House as the most corrupt public institution raised large eyebrows among the public considering President Bio’s stance towards the campaign against corruption.
When President Bio came to power in 2018, jingles on radio and television were rife portraying the President as the most relentless anti-corruption campaigner.
However, government spokesmen have defended the Afro-Barometre report saying the Office of the President is wide and includes many offices.
Some have even challenged the credibility of the report casting doubt and aspersion over the methodology used to get the data.
But, Afro-Barometre stands as a vibrant and credible institution that has published a lot reports that have been accepted by many countries that have made positive reforms.
Afro-Barometre is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experience and evaluations of democracy and good governance.
Rounds of surveys have been completed in up to 38 countries between 1999 and 2018.
Afro-Barometre, according to the report, conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondents’ choice with nationally representative samples.
The team in Sierra Leone is led by the Institute of Governance Reform, one of the vibrant civil society organisations.
It interviewed 1,200 Sierra Leoneans in March this year adding that a sample of that size yielded country-level results with a margin of error plus/minus 3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.
Round-8 surveys are planned in at least 35 countries.
The weight of the two damning reports have been further bolstered by the the United States Report on Trafficking In Persons (TIP), 2019 and the United States Human Rights Report of 2020.
The TIP report also severely smeared the image of Sierra Leone as it indicates that the country is transit point for human trafficking.
The report further accused government of failing to take serious actions to curtail incidents of human trafficking in Sierra Leone.
Consequently, Sierra Leone relegated to Tier-2 watch-list which means she missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in aid by the American government.
The damaging allegations made against the Sierra Leone police to have engaged on sexual abuse and exploitation of TIP victims is the most frustrating aspect.
The report shows how female victims are sexually harassed and abused by police officers while in safe police custody.
The arrest and incarceration of two police officers in a state correctional centre in Bo for alleged sexual abuse of prostitutes testifies to the credibility of the TIP report.
Almost invariably, Government of Sierra Leone has not been spared by the United States Report of 2019.
The report picked up significant human rights issues notably harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, official corruption and child labour among others.
The report however indicated that government took some steps to investigate, prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity persisted.
“Prison and detention centre conditions were harsh and life-threatening because of food shortages, gross overcrowding owing to an efficient justice system and lack of sufficient correctional facilities and personnel, physical abuse, lack of clean water, inadequate sanitary conditions and lack of medical care,” the report reads in part.
The report further notes that the country’s 20 prisons designed to hold 2,055 inmates held, 4,559 as of August this year, and the country’s main correctional facility being the most severe example of over-congestion.
The male correctional centre, the report says, designed to hold 324 inmates held, 2,089.
According to the report, some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates.
The NGO, Prison Watch and Sierra Leone Correctional Services reported that 13 prisons and detention centres were moderately overcrowded.
The report equally does not lose sight of arbitrary arrest and detention embarked upon by state apparatus.
The report notes that the constitution and the law prohibit arrest and detention, but human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Commission Sierra Leone accused the police of carrying out unlawful arrest and detention especially opposition politicians.
“Government allows SLP and chiefdom police to hold suspects in police cells without charges,” the report further alleged.
The NGO, Campaign for Human Rights and Development International reported cases of illegal detention at several police stations and correctional centres.
Apart from the damaging reports, the socio-economic realities also add to an already worsening and polarised situation in Sierra Leone.
Economic hardship caused by low investment, inflation, abject poverty, poor health system, abysmal agricultural investment, poor infrastructure and a corrupt judiciary among others are factors that continue to weigh down on the country.