Many studies have highlighted the adverse effects of corruption on a country’s economic growth and development. According to the World Economic Forum, the cost of corruption now equals 2.6 trillion US dollars, which is 5% of global GDP. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the consequences of corruption are evident in our poor road networks, injustice, inability to provide proper healthcare, high illiteracy rate, unemployment and consequently poverty.
Corruption has often been classified in the categories of grand and petty corruption. Moses Montesh of the University of South Africa describes Grand Corruption as one which involves “…heads of state, ministers, or other senior government officials...” Petty corruption on the other hand “…involves the payment of comparatively small amounts of money to facilitate official transactions…”
Heads of government and public institutions are usually the vote controllers. They make the key decisions that affect their institutions, and sometimes, sector. They manage funds and resources in their institutions. As a result of the power they have to control funds and resources, those who engage in acts of corruption, can amass or misappropriate huge public funds and resources. This can possibly explain why acts of corruption perpetrated by them, are classified as Grand Corruption.
Public officers- like nurses, police officers, immigration officers and teachers-who solicit or accept bribes during service delivery commit acts of corruption that can best be classified as petty corruption.
Interpretation of the above definition of Grand Corruption may imply that when an individual in high office steals or misappropriates funds, no matter how small the amount involved, it will still be classified as Grand Corruption because of the position of the person involved. And when a low-ranking public officer commits an act of corruption-no matter how huge the funds involved-we would go on to describe it as petty corruption. Is it time that we redefined our classification of Grand and Petty corruption?
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has in the recent past indicted many public officers for different offences under the Anti-Corruption Act 2008. The individuals indicted can be described as those who committed both grand and petty corruption. The former Commissioner Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, and the current Commissioner Ady Macauley-who was lead prosecutor for a number of cases- always argue in favour of the need to target “ both the tigers [highly placed officers] and the flies [low-ranking officers]” in the anti-corruption campaigns. As a result, we have seen indictments across all levels, including sitting government ministers, a mayor, top civil servants, a chief administrator, aid workers, teachers, police officers and others. The Commission has recorded huge successes in these cases, as shown in the one hundred percent conviction rate secured in 2014.
Members of the public always welcome indictments against top government officers. However, when it comes to indictment of low-ranking public officers, they sometimes make it look less important. Some even ask the question: how much could such officers amass when compared to those in high offices? Such questions could be seen as misplaced for equality before the law should also mean that when a junior public officer commits an offence they should face the same consequence as would a top public officer.
The ACC has indicted junior public officers who have corruptly amassed so much wealth while serving in public offices. A clear example is the case of Solomon Katta, who was indicted by the Commission in 2013 for various corruption offences. Katta was a staff at the National Revenue Authority (NRA). However, his acts of corruption saw him amass billions of leones while working with the NRA. As a result, a High Court judge handed him a custodial sentence of six years imprisonment and fined two billion two hundred million leones following his conviction.
Another case involves a bursar who was embezzling millions of leones of unclaimed salaries in her school. Multiplying the monies she was appropriating by twelve calendar months will total hundreds of millions of leones.
Imagine how many pupils or students that could have benefited from government grants-in-aid had such stolen funds been available. Or you can think of the number of teachers or nurses that could have been remunerated from such funds! The question to ask now is: must we continue to class the aforementioned cases involving huge sums of money as petty corruption just because those involved are junior public officers?
In the words of ACC Commissioner Ady Macauley, there is need to define-or redefine-grand corruption by its form or from the angle of the public resources at stake, and not necessarily who is involved. In essence, when a public officer in the category of “flies” engages in acts of corruption, resulting in huge sums of funds to be embezzled, we should class such in the category of grand corruption. As such, any indictment thereafter should be highly welcomed and be given wide media coverage as it would have been had a top government officer involved.
Members of the public have a role to play in this respect. We should start frowning at all levels of corruption no matter who is involved. I will sum up this piece with the words of former Director of the Intelligence Investigations and Prosecutions Department at the ACC and now Appeals Court judge, Justice Reginald Fynn Jnr., who once told me in an interview that, “…it is not only the prominent cases that we have to be proud of”. Justice Fynn said that the Commission also goes down “… to those smaller cases which affect the lives of the everyday person because the impact on the person from whom you extort five thousand leones is a lot more than the millions which a highly placed official would steal.”