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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 00:13 GMT
S Leone 'riddled with corruption'
By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Freetown

Photo of the secret Sierra Leone report
Will the report bring change?
Widespread corruption and mismanagement are revealed in a confidential presidential audit in Sierra Leone exclusively obtained by the BBC.

Newly-elected President Ernest Bai Koroma commissioned the report.

It catalogues grave inadequacies in key areas such as health care, tax collection and the security services.

And it provides a unique and searingly frank insight into the sometimes opaque business of running a poor African nation through years of war and chaos.

One arm of government, for example, is alleged to have lent more than $1m (480,000) to an unspecified recipient in the few months before the recent handover of power.

"We would advise," the report says coldly, "an investigation into the reasons for the loan".

'Miserable state'

At one ministry, the report seen by the BBC says, a project worth almost $500,000 was apparently financed by an international donor - but the money never reached the intended recipients.

Ernest Bai Koroma at a rally
I'm not saying that nobody should increase their assets but when it goes beyond magical proportions then an explanation should be given
President Ernest Bai Koroma

The Sierra Leonean Ministry of Agriculture is described as having "almost zero productivity" at the lower levels of employment.

Financial accounts are reported to have gone missing from many ministries and the culture of record-keeping is generally said to be "in a miserable state".

These findings might not be surprising to anyone who lives in Sierra Leone or any number of poor nations that have been through such chaotic times.

But what is unusual about this report is to have the problems set out so clearly - and in a way that may ultimately put the credibility of the presidency at stake.

In the 10 years I have been visiting this beautiful, friendly, but exasperating country, I have lost count of the number of times decent and honest Sierra Leoneans have told me corruption was their greatest problem.

Huge challenges

The confidential presidential report obtained by the BBC acknowledges corruption as "the greatest impediment to the country's development".

Newly-elected President Koroma has said dealing with corruption is his mantra; Sierra Leoneans may now take him, and judge him, at his word.

Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, is very slowly recovering from a decade of brutal war that ended in 2001.

But it still faces huge challenges.

The war started in 1991 when rebels crossed from Liberia and took Sierra Leone's diamond fields.

The rebels initially benefited from widespread dissatisfaction with corrupt government in Freetown - which they successfully used as a rallying call to unemployed, frustrated youth.

More questions

After years of widespread atrocities, the rebels were eventually defeated by a United Nations peacekeeping force and a separate intervention by the British army.

This year the country held elections that were seen as fair and were won by the opposition.

There has been a peaceful handover of power to President Koroma.

The transition was, by Sierra Leonean standards, a model of tolerance and fair play.

APC supporters celebrate victory in Sierra Leone's presidential election
The recent polls won by the opposition were seen to be fair

But President Koroma has inherited a bankrupt nation which is riddled with corruption.

This report shows what a mountain he has to climb.

It is common for African politicians to accuse governments of corruption when they are in opposition.

But they often fall into the same habits when they take power.

President Koroma's toughest test will be to show Sierra Leoneans not only that he is different, but that he can change the decades-old habits of almost everyone in government.

The confidential audit obtained by the BBC must make sobering reading for President Koroma. It is a picture of an economy in crisis.

But the report also raises more questions than it answers.

These questions include:

  • Will those responsible for past corruption be prosecuted?
  • Will any prosecutions be seen as a "witch hunt" - and potentially backfire?
  • What safeguards could stop future corruption?
  • What was the role of donors, especially the largest donor, Britain, while corruption flourished?
  • How will the new government address the twin problems of an impoverished countryside and a corrupt capital city - which was one of the original causes of the war?
  • A frank report on corruption is one thing, Sierra Leoneans may say; solving the problems it highlights is another.

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