Small steps forward in a lengthy battle
December 10, 2012 - Conakry, Guinea
Fighting corruption in Guinea is nothing short of a necessity on the country’s long and rocky road to development and democracy. Moving forward is going to take an array of criteria, including a legitimate legal framework, political will, massive amounts of capacity building, a greater understanding of public perceptions on corruption, and a whole lot of perseverance…
Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) has been supporting two agencies based in Conakry who and work on the ground throughout the country to help bring about real and long-lasting changes in Guinea’s fight against corruption.
Gauging notions of corruption in Guinea (Agence Nationale de Lutte Contre la Corruption, ANLC)
In Guinea, corruption runs as deep and as wide as the mineral-rich soil that stretches clear across this small West African country. For the majority of the 10 million Guineans, corruption seeps into every echelon of their everyday life. From the few francs needed to appease the police officer who wants to buy some morning bread and coffee, to the school teacher who takes a little extra something for a passing grade, to the mining companies who tweak their mineral extraction figures to keep from paying millions owed to local populations. It is little surprise that Guinea ranked 164th out of 182 on the 2012 Transparency International Index, barely nudging ahead of failed states like Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo and trailing politically-battered nations like Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast.
“We have all fallen into a total state of fatality,” says François Mohamed Falcone, Executive Director of the National Anti-Corruption Agency (Agence Nationale de Lutte Contre la Corruption, ANLC). “Guinea is in the midst of re-finding itself, its democracy and its regime,” he continues. “That’s why we call it the 3rd Republic – everything in this country has to be reformed; it all has to change.”
Falcone is speaking from his office in downtown Conakry. It’s a space where the coffee table and shelves overflow with papers, yet Falcone manages to quickly sift through the stacks to pull out reports, government letters, and year old back issues of l’Expansion, the monthly French business and economy magazine. These hefty piles are no doubt reflective of the amount of work yet to do in fighting corruption in Guinea. And judging by this mélange, a complete overhaul and reorganization is needed.
“Before independence we were exporting millions of tons of local goods every year. But now, we’ve fallen to tears. Even today we are still ten years from making any progress from all the damage done during the transitional period.”
Guinea’s tumultuous transition period – a period of years that includes the death of long-time President Lansana Conte, the ensuing coup in December 2008 led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara and his eventual removal from power a year later – has had considerable impact on the political, economic and social fragility of the country. Long prior to Camara’s rule, the country had suffered through decades of authoritarian and military leadership that left the country in a severely fractured state with immense ethnic and political rifts. Today, with still little more than talk of holding legislative elections political stability remains precarious and ethnic tensions can flare up at any time. Economically, the country’s currency, the Guinean franc (GNF), has been steadily devaluing over the last three decades. In 1986, the exchange was 25 GNF to the US dollar. Today it is 6,950 GNF. Over half the population still lives off less than a dollar a day and purchasing power has plummeted. Staple food prices for items such as rice and the local tapalapa bread have doubled in the past five years, and the cost of petrol is now $1.35/liter – the same cost as a many countries in the developed world. Ethics and morals quickly lose ground when you are hungry, sick or unemployed. And as is the situation across the rest of Africa, the burgeoning youth population in Guinea continues to suffer under skyrocketing unemployment and the lack of quality education mean many young students have limited prospects for work - even if and when they do graduate. In a state where daily basic needs – including food, water and electricity – remain unmet, if not blatantly squandered altogether, corruption finds easy targets and agents for manipulation.
“We’ve simply lost our values,” confesses Falcone. “People are all just interested in money, and won’t even pay attention until you pull out a 5,000 GNF. It’s a reality now…”
In an effort to help tackle corruption in Guinea, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa’s (OSIWA) Guinea office started working with the ANLC in October 2011. Their debut activity was to help organize a two-day strategic planning workshop looking at how lack of capacity and the absence of anti-corruption legislation continue to impede effective progress in the fight against corruption. While the ANLC has been in existence for the last twelve years, as an extension of the Ministry of Economic and Financial Control Division (albeit with financial and administrative autonomy), its mandate to “coordinate, design and develop a strategy to fight corruption, conduct investigations to detect cases of corruption and monitor them in court” has continued to fall short. But this is not necessarily through any fault of their own. There is a serious impediment in the way.
“We simply cannot start anywhere until an anti-corruption law is in place,” asserts Falcone. “And once this is done we are going to give it to the government to use and to enforce.”
While there haven’t been any clear developments in terms of anti-corruption legislation in the country, there is a concerted will to consolidate various sections of the mining, health and education codes – sectors reputedly rife with corruption – and compiling them into a single document that will be used in the forthcoming anti-corruption bill. Falcone says four civil society networks, including the National Council of Civil Society Organizations (Conseil National des organisations de la société civile; CNSOCG), the National Council of Civil Society Orgnizations from Guinea (Coalition nationale des organisations de la société civile guinéenne; CONASOC) and the Platform Civile Unique pour le Developpement(PCU), have signed a pact, and once an anti-corruption law does come into force, Falcone is confident that all the politicians who are otherwise “not interested” in the bill will be legally-forced to ensure its implementation.
Corruption hotline & researching notions of corruption
Another aspect of ANLC’s work (though one not supported by OSIWA) is an anti-corruption hotline; a three-digit phone number (147), which receives about a call a day for everything from medical emergencies to people asking for money. According to the police officer who answers the phone calls, many of the people calling to denounce corruption ask to be paid before disclosing any information. This makes for a tricky situation when trying to fight corruption, and as the officer himself explains, a majority of people don’t use the hotline correctly because they simply don’t understand the essence of what they are denouncing.
“We can’t find something like corruption if we don’t all have the same notions of corruption,” reaffirms Falcone. “We need to know what we’re dealing with before we can know how to set up a strategy to fight it.”
Corruption Barometer – research study
And that’s exactly what’s in the works a few blocks away. At the former Ministry of Economic Control, up a few flights of stairs and in the backroom of a third-floor computer lab, a dozen men and women sit in front of computer screens logging figures into a database. They are working on a project that hopes to shed much-needed light on how Guinean’s perceive notions of corruption in their everyday lives. The research project, funded by OSIWA and carried out by the ANLC with technical support from the University of Conakry and Transparency International, covers all eight regions in Guinea and was carried out by way of questionnaires delivered to some 950 homes and 150 companies. The final results of these surveys are expected to be released shortly after International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9th.
Despite the obvious challenges confronting the ANLC, even just in terms of the sheer immensity of their tasks, their projects seem to be moving forward. While the pace is perhaps slow and cautious, they are at least movements in the right direction.