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Reading: ACC Commissioner Kaifala Addresses Transparency International Corruption Report on Sierra Leone
Reading: ACC Commissioner Kaifala Addresses Transparency International Corruption Report on Sierra Leone

ACC Commissioner Kaifala Addresses Transparency International Corruption Report on Sierra Leone

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ACC Commissioner Kaifala Addresses Transparency International Corruption Report on Sierra Leone
ACC Commissioner Kaifala Addresses Transparency International Corruption Report on Sierra Leone

Francis Ben Kaifala, Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner, recently addressed the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report in an article.

While acknowledging the index’s flaws, he argues that African nations, including Sierra Leone, should focus on improvement rather than dismissal.

The CPI ranks countries based on perceived levels of corruption. African nations often score poorly, leading to frustration among some governments and officials. Kaifala concedes the index has limitations, such as reliance on subjective perceptions and unidentified sources.

However, he emphasizes that these low scores reflect real problems. “We cannot deny that corruption problems in Africa are real,” he states.

Kaifala urges African leaders to channel their energy into reform, not criticism. He highlights countries like Seychelles and Rwanda, which consistently rank well due to recognized anti-corruption efforts.

He also points to Sierra Leone’s own progress. The country climbed from 130th in 2017 to 108th in the latest index, demonstrating improvement.

Kaifala concludes by acknowledging the CPI’s shortcomings but emphasizes its role in pressuring governments to combat corruption. He encourages African nations to use the index as a motivator for reform, ultimately improving the continent’s reputation and tackling the persistent issue of corruption.

His article reads:

Transparency International (TI) released its annual Corruption Perception Index earlier this year. As many readers of this blog are likely aware, the CPI is quite controversial, particularly in developing countries that typically fare poorly on the index. When I was a Board Memberof the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC) and President of the Network of Anti-Corruption Institutions in West Afrcia (NACIWA), it seemed that every time the CPI came up in our meetings, the typical reaction ranged from disapproval to outrage, with many challenging the legitimacy and authenticity of the index. More broadly, many African government officials and business people see the CPI, as well as TI’s accompanying commentaries, as part of a Western-driven smear campaign against African countries.

I do not share this view. I agree that the CPI has significant flaws and limitations, which are familiar enough that they need not be rehearsed at length: the CPI relies on subjective and potentially unreliable perceptions, the underlying sources are not always being sufficiently transparent as to the qualifications of the “experts” who assign scores, and the CPI does not cover some of the crucial issues that antigraft fighters focus on, such as tax fraud, money laundering, and illicit financial flows. I share concerns about the way the CPI is sometimes used by TI and other parties to paint an inaccurate and sometimes unfair picture of how well anticorruption fighters are doing their job. Yet despite these shortcomings, the CPI helps put pressure on governments worldwide to do more about corruption, and the index can be helpful in guiding efforts to combat graft in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, while many African government officials and business elites criticize the CPI, most African civil society actors appreciate it and find it a credible reflection of the situation in their countries, and it gives them a powerful rhetorical tool to call on their governments to do more on this issue.

Therefore, while it is, of course, reasonable to point out the CPI’s flaws and limitations, African government officials—particularly those who work in anticorruption agencies (ACAs)—would do better to focus their energies not on denouncing the CPI but rather on reforms that can present a better picture of their respective countries.

After all, despite complaints that the CPI is unfair and biased against Africa, some African countries—like Seychelles, Mauritius, Botswana, and Rwanda—continue to do relatively well on the CPI. This is not because TI or experts particularly favor them but because their efforts in controlling corruption have been recognized internationally. Also, while CPI scores usually don’t change much from year to year, some countries, including some African countries, have achieved meaningful progress. For example, Sierra Leone has steadily climbed since 2017: In 2017, Sierra Leone ranked 130th (out of 180 countries), and in the most recent index, it ranked 108th – still not satisfactory, but a notable improvement.

Therefore, while it certainly can be frustrating for ACAs and governments when an influential index like the CPI, which relies on desk reviews and unidentified experts, gives our countries low scores despite all the work we are doing, we should not necessarily see it as a machinated attack that should discourage the often good work ACAs and some governments are doing. But we can, and should, take this as an added incentive to improve our countries’ reputations, and that of the African Continent overall, by working hard to adopt better systems of accountability and transparency. We can do so by studying what other countries faring better in the indexes are doing and seeking to replicate or better them in our respective countries. We can review country-specific information and data in the yearly CPI releases to identify areas of accountability and transparency that need improvement. We can do more to publicize our efforts and successes so that international experts’ subjective judgments better match what is actually happening on the ground. We can also constructively engage with TI and domestic civil society groups to assist us in our efforts.

Again, the CPI has significant problems, and I share many of the frustrations that my colleagues and associates express about it. However, we need to recognize that the reason that so many African countries score poorly on an index that measures perceptions of corruption is that many African countries are, in fact, perceived as corrupt. And while those perceptions may be inaccurate or even biased, we cannot deny that the corruption problems in Africa are real. Railing against the CPI’s methodology will not change the negative picture it continues to create of African countries. Instead, we should take the yearly release of the index as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the persistence of corruption on the Continent and the need to take more robust steps to reverse its grip on countries’ development.

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