By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
One of the indicators of the quality of democratic leadership is how pervasive accountability is in all sectors of the government. Like every other important leadership principle that has become a fad, accountability may be implemented in a genuine way or it may be implemented in a way that shows that our people in social positions of trust in Sierra Leone apply this characteristic to others, but not to themselves.
What Happened to Accountability in Sierra Leone Government?
Over the last four years, we have constantly watched our politicians in the two major political parties (Sierra Leone Peoples Party and All People’s Congress) point fingers, blame others and dodge personal responsibility. Whenever anything went wrong or when we, as a nation, had to go through tough times, an accusatory finger was raised. The endless litany of “Blame Bush” or “What difference does it make”? ‘Demonstrates that both political rulers’ attitude is more focused on trying to deflect personal culpability than accepting responsibility for and resolving issues that face us as a nation. That culture is one of non-accountability. Current political rulers of these two political parties’ example in avoiding accountability is copied throughout the hierarchy since Ernest Bai Koroma took over the affairs of the state in 2007 to date.
Two Observations and Three Dysfunctions
Accountability in Sierra Leone is currently a hot topic. Instruction is plentiful: books, seminars and leadership articles abound. Gurus and thought leaders preach the obligation of accountability. When there is nothing to lose, our rulers glibly preach and support accountability; but when there is blame to be had, fingers are raised and pointed. It seems that risk assessment and careful execution designed to ensure that nothing bad happened on a leader’s watch has now turned to “make sure there is no blame of me on my watch.”
First, before individuals charged with social position of trust in Sierra Leone can be accountable, they must first come to grips with their responsibilities and their obligation to authority. Accountability only exists around responsibility. Accountability can only be genuine if a person has the authority to fulfil their responsibility.
Three dysfunctions occur:
• First, political rulers in Sierra Leone want the “little people“ to be accountable when the ruler is unwilling to delegate authority (yes, you can only delegate authority to act). Therefore, staff who could have done nothing to prevent or resolve a situation are expected to be accountable when things go wrong.
• Second, political rulers in Sierra Leone often act as if their responsibility (and accountability) ends once decisions are made or orders are given. “Once it leaves my office, it belongs to others” is a common attitude. Political rulers do not want to take responsibility for faulty implementation, unintended consequences, mediocre results or mistakes made beyond the reach of their desks. (This would cause my old General to turn over in his grave. He was constantly preaching that the “commander is responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do.” He knew that unless responsibility came first, accountability could never exist by itself. He also knew that if a decision was not implemented it was a failure regardless of intent. And he never took one course in management theory!)
• Third, why is accountability only addressed when something does not fulfil expectations? Does it not ever dawn on anyone within the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All People’s Congress that accountability also occurs when superior results are achieved? (Also called recognition!)
Second, our political rulers fail to understand that accountability cannot be foisted on others. It is a gauntlet each person must be willing to pick up and apply to him or herself. A person cannot choose the situations, issues and opportunities that cross their paths, but they can choose whether or not they will accept the responsibility to act and be accountable for their actions in response to those issues. True accountability occurs when a person accepts responsibility with the attitude of insuring a task is successful regardless of circumstances. Responsibility requires work is done to the best of one’s ability. A person can be lectured about accountability, but words do not necessarily change one’s attitude.
All leaders must answer (that is what accountability means) for how they use their authority (power and influence to fulfil their responsibilities and obligations. The higher the level of the leader, the broader and deeper is their responsibility and therefore the broader and deeper their accountability to answer for actions taken or avoided by them or their subordinates. It is just as much a dereliction of duty to avoid issues and leave them for one’s predecessor, as it is to take a wrong or inappropriate action. That means the leader must be accountable, not only for what they did but for what they failed to do.
Accountability and the Little People in Sierra Leone
In today’s environment in Sierra Leone, a culture of accountability is all the rage. But the emphasis is only on the “little people.” Leaders who are willing to be accountable like Chief Esserman are few and far between. Politicians that refuse to accept responsibility and accountability are the root cause of the employee dissatisfaction and leadership distrust we observed in the Ernest Bai Koroma and the current Bio led governments in Sierra Leone. The “it’s not my fault” mentality is a key characteristic of politicians and others in social positions of trust who are not in their positions to serve the suffering majority through high-quality products and services. Instead, these politicians and others in social positions of trust use their positions to enrich their reputations and pocketbooks and to position themselves for even higher positions and more power to amass unexplained wealth at the expense of their people and the country. Politicians who are untrusted and will not be accountable for past actions should not be allowed to continue in their positions or voted into those positions in the first place.
Sierra Leoneans are forgiving people. When a person fails (and we all do), it is not an unforgivable sin. However, pointing fingers and deflecting criticism by blaming others is inexcusable. Claiming actions were appropriate, nothing illegal has been done is even worse.
It is time for politicians in Sierra Leone to lead. It is time they demonstrate moral courage and decisiveness. It is time our political rulers change to leaders and accept responsibility for everything that happens on their watch regardless of the consequences. It is time they answer for how they use their authority to create and implement solutions to problems that plague us.
Sierra Leoneans We Need To Expect And Demand Better
Right-minded nationals are tired that only the little people are expected to be accountable when the example of our politicians in our two major political parties and others in social positions of trust is just the opposite.