The theme of this year’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) is “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a universal push to transform our world." The 17 SDGs take a synergistic approach to tackling the world’s major changes and, with Goal 16 recognising the impact of corruption on sustainable development, we can expect discussions around good governance to be high on the UNGA agenda.
Goal 16 lists among its targets, substantially reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms. To tackle the widespread problem of bribery and everyday corruption within our public services, the Anti-Corruption Commission has been working with the President’s Delivery Team to develop our new Pay No Bribe on-line reporting platform. We know that the burden of this sort of corruption falls disproportionately on the poor, for whom petty corruption in education, public health or the police services can be ruinous. Improving governance within the public sector can therefore have a direct and positive impact on the daily lives of society’s most vulnerable.
Pay No Bribe is part of the President’s Recovery Priorities’ focus on governance. Its new approach to tackling corruption, harnesses technology to collect the first-hand experiences of members of the public. Those who are asked to pay a bribe by a public sector official can report via our dedicated call centre or the Pay No Bribe website. The information we gather will allow us to track trends in the public sector, and provide our ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) with evidence that they can use to implement more effective governance processes. Over time it will spotlight the best and the worst in our public services, and enable us to address systemic challenges on the basis of detailed knowledge of the problems faced by the general public.
Its effectiveness depends on willingness on both sides - the general public’s willingness to report, and the public sector’s willingness to listen and take action. It will be important that the public use the reporting tools responsibly, not wasting our precious resources on spurious claims. Nor can people expect that Pay No Bribe will investigate individuals, other parts of my organisation are responsible for that. It will take time and patience for people to learn to trust the system and time for our MDAs to develop effective responses. Our objective at the ACC is to maintain and develop the engagement of both parties in the process, and we have a range of strategies to achieve this.
Firstly, we recognise that the people who suffer the most from public sector corruption are those who will find reporting the hardest, both because they fear retribution and because they may not have access to the technology. The Pay No Bribe system supports their participation by guaranteeing their anonymity and provides a network of Civil Society Organisations around the country with equipment through which they can report acts of corruption they encounter.
The media plays a key role in investigating corruption and informing the public about the work of the ACC. A series of media workshops on anti-corruption laws and strategies, will present the tools and techniques to investigate and report corruption more effectively.
Our communications campaign is aimed at creating understanding and ownership of Pay No Bribe among the general public and other stakeholders. It uses posters, radio and television to convey the message and explain how the system works. Following the unveiling of the telephone and online reporting platform, there will inevitably be more questions as Pay No Bribe begins to work. Ongoing community engagement and outreach will respond to the these and tackle misunderstandings and we will work closely with Civil Society Organisations to maximise outreach.
We predict that one of the biggest misunderstandings will be watching an increase in bribery and corruption figures as individuals become familiar with the system and start using it to report their experiences. We will only see a decrease in figures when MDAs start to take corrective action.
Fighting corruption is a long-term fight and Pay No Bribe is not a quick fix. It can empower citizens, raise awareness and pressure authorities. In the final analysis, the only people who can change cultures, detect problems, propose solutions or lobby to have laws amended are the citizens of Sierra Leone themselves.