The term ‘Culture of impunity’ refers to a situation in which people in a society have come to believe that they can do whatever they want with impunity (which means without having to face any form of punishment or sanctions).
It is generally evident that the current level of impunity in the country is injurious to the future of Sierra Leone. The culture of impunity which is being described here is that our laws, as they apply to every aspect of our lives, are mostly breached, and the culprits go unpunished.
The most recognizable instrument of state is its LAWS. It is the reason why the most recognizable symbol of the state is its security apparatus, especially the Police. The Police maintain law and order and help facilitate the punishment of those deemed to have broken the law. In many countries, as in Sierra Leone, these laws cover the whole spectrum of human lives and endeavour, and are often shaped by the nation’s history, culture and beliefs. These laws are also based on fundamental human rights which have been generally agreed upon. All these exist in Sierra Leone today.
Regrettably, it is common to see people flagrantly breaking the law at virtually every sphere of occupation, from the top notch executive who blatantly places his own interest over and above that of the state in a bid to get kickbacks from potential investors, to contractors who shamelessly collect huge sums of money from over inflated contracts but invariably end up putting less than 20 percent of the allotted sum in the project which always ends up as the sub-standard and abandoned projects that untidily and shamelessly dot our landscape, to ‘okada’ riders who recklessly prefer to break all traffic rules in their selfish and self-centred pursuits but are quick to form rowdy gangs when they are confronted by outraged road users, to street traders who have callously and selfishly taken over streets, lanes and pavements in the metropolis to the chagrin and frustration of commuters and environmentalists, to the haphazard and criminal way and manner garbage is disposed in drainages, and the rampant corrupt practices of vital state institutions’ operators. In effect, nobody is immune to this distasteful culture of impunity.
So then, what is glaringly missing is the ability to effectively enforce the many laws we have managed to craft over the years. Within that context therefore, the law is meaningless, and if this continues on this present scale, Sierra Leone as we know it will cease to function as a state. Because of power, influence, money and other forms of corrupting vices, justice is increasingly selective and not blindingly applied as it should be.
Every Sierra Leonean knows this is the case with the rich, powerful and influential. When they steal, they go scot free or get off with laughable fines, unless they have enemies in “government”; even thenot-so-rich are able to influence the police or other law operatives and go scot free. In essence, the culture of impunity in the country today is underscored by corruption at every level. Impunity started slowly and in trickles, but it has now grown to such a scale within the system that it has simply become unsustainable for a fit state.
A man’s ability, it is said, is limited by the negative perspectives of his imagination. This is probably shaping and directing the provocative behavior and remarks of some members of the opposition, who would rather dig up archaic muck when money is involved but opt to ignore the plight of Sierra Leoneans which is daily staring them in the face; all in a fruitless bid to score cheap political points. This cankerworm of impunity should be of more serious concern to us as a nation, as it threatens our existence as a capable state, necessitating that we strive in our individual ways to inculcate the true ideals of nationalism. So instead of these daily unpalatable hate speeches that only serve to provoke violence and Behaviourism (Theory that man’s actions are automatic responses to stimuli and not dictated by consciousness), well placed and well-meaning Sierra Leoneans, especially opinion leaders, should instead collaborate with say the Anti Corruption Commission to champion the fight to breach the wall of impunity, by seeking to strengthen the weak judicial system in order to put an end to impunity, which task is made infinitely more difficult by the complex relationship between some elements of state institutions, political parties and the private sector.
In the International law of human rights, impunity refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and, as such, itself constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. Impunity is believed to be especially common in countries that lack a tradition of the rule of law, suffer from corruption or have entrenched system of patronage, (the system by which an important person gives help or a job to somebody in return for their support) or where the judiciary is weak.
The amended SET OF PRINCIPLES FOR THE PROTECTION AND PROMOTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS THROUGH ACTION TO COMBAT IMPUNITY, submitted to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights on 8 February 2005, defines impunity as: “the impossibility of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”
While many, especially Western Donor countries, have praised the absolute political astuteness and maturity demonstrated by Ghana politicians, in the way and manner the swearing in ceremony of an interim President, following the unfortunate death of Professor Atta Evans Mills, was smoothly and successfully conducted without t a hitch; many others, however, have and continue to observe that in Sierra Leone and, perhaps Nigeria, the impunity blood flows from top to bottom and not vice versa.
Frankly, it is rather obvious that those at the bottom take their cue from those at the top and those at the top are not able to punish those at the bottom because they also do it. A more comprehensive, public example by our leaders (more particularly our court judges) will go a long way in reversing this culture of impunity, especially in the capital and big cities and towns in the country.
As the Law of Attraction states: “when you entertain good feelings, good feelings come to you; just as when you entertain bad feelings, you attract bad outcomes”. One sure such way of dismantling this crippling culture of impunity, is for the educated elite to resolve to transfer the relevant knowledge, the techniques, the information needed to craft a very well planned strategy for Sierra Leonean justice system, properly embolden and empower the justice system to the extent of enabling the legal system to withstand external pressure to its operators, and of course eschew dirty politics for the sole purpose of self-preservation. We all cannot ‘kind of mind my own business, get as much as I am able when its available, build my fenced mansion or triplex, send my kids abroad to school, acquire a fleet of sleek cars and strive to become a sacred cow in the society’, sadly, not as accountable a public spirited Sierra Leonean as our dear President Ernest Koroma, who in spite of the expected and accepted norm and status quo - for Heads of State and the inner circle of patrons and party members to first enrich themselves - rather Dr. Ernest Koroma has become the first Sierra Leonean President to succeed in breaking ranks with former Sierra Leonean Presidents and Military Heads of State in my 50 something years of existence in Sierra Leone. He delivered action on all his campaign promises in his first four years in office.
The next step in this dismantling process is for individuals and institutional capacities to be augmented, committed and progressive individuals appointed to positions and the norms and procedures for selection to high-court benches to be improved. Very importantly, our justice system should henceforth seek to demonstrate that the rule of law can be applied to all citizens equally and that no one is immune and shall not be immune from investigation and prosecution. A strong police force will also help. As an agency that is supposed to help ensure that those who break the law are punished accordingly, the police are currently failing woefully. However, this failure is because apart from rogue elements, the average policeman is cut from the same cloth as everyone else, such a policeman is also not protected by the police authority in the discharge of his duties due to political and pecuniary (relating to or connected with money) interests.
Only when that situation changes, will we begin to reverse this culture of impunity in Sierra