Politics of Poverty

Open Letter to the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors

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Take note of Sierra Leone’s progress on good governance reforms, says leading human rights lawyer

Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, Founder and Executive Director, Society for Democratic Initiatives, Sierra Leone. Photo: http://bit.ly/1gTbkW6
Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai is the Founder and Executive Director of the Society for Democratic Initiatives based in Freetown. Photo: Awoko.org

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board of Directors meets tomorrow to decide whether to continue to support governance reforms in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was selected as eligible for a compact last year according to the MCC’s assessment of a set of 20 indicators measuring performance on social and economic policy and democratic governance, including efforts to fight corruption. This year, Sierra Leone again passed all but one indicator, retreating slightly on the control of corruption indicator, falling just below the median score. The MCC board must now decide whether to continue to work with the government of Sierra Leone, or to abandon the substantial progress made thus far.

As a civil society activist working in Sierra Leone, it is my strong belief that this progress should compel the United States government not to turn away at this time. The MCC and the government and civil society of Sierra Leone have invested too much time and effort in extending transparency and combatting corruption to give up now. The government has made great strides in strengthening institutions to curb corruption, as evidenced by the MCC’s own assessments. There is still work to be done, but the question is, will the MCC maintain its commitment to carrying out this vital work in partnership with Sierra Leone?

As Steve Radelet of the Brookings Institution noted last month, the MCC’s indicators are the starting point for a decision that must be ultimately based on a country’s performance in implementing policies to reduce poverty and promote economic growth. There is plenty of evidence of performance to justify the MCC’s continued engagement. After ten years of fighting for transparency, my organization, the Society for Democratic Initiatives, celebrated in October when the Sierra Leonean government passed a Freedom of Information law. The law will be a catalyst for action against graft, but its power as a weapon against corruption will depend on early and sustained investment in a strong implementation effort. The independent authority of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate and prosecute graft cases against officials, the public reports of the Auditor General, and public financial management reforms sponsored by the World Bank in Sierra Leone that include civil society outreach efforts to train citizens and media to engage on fiscal transparency, are precisely the type of good governance reforms that are tailor-made for support by a MCC compact. The new Freedom of Information law will accelerate the progress that has been made, ensuring that government officials must be accountable for their stewardship of the country’s resources.

When the MCC Board convenes tomorrow, it should reflect on the advances in transparency and accountability that have been achieved in Sierra Leone thus far, through the dedicated work of honest public servants in the Sierra Leonean Anti-Corruption Commission and government ministries and through the advocacy of champions of open and democratic governance in civil society and the media.

The advocates of change in Sierra Leone are pursuing a reform agenda that embodies the MCC’s commitment to accountable government and sound economic policy. I urge the MCC not to lose this opportunity to preserve and extend the vital work of reducing poverty and expanding democracy in Sierra Leone.

Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai is a human rights lawyer and the Founder and Executive Director of the Society for Democratic Initiatives.

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