Combating Corruption - A Holistic Approach
By K. Koiquoe Wilson
Liberia’s perennial approach to combating corruption could be viewed as a futile vicious cycle. It usually originates with political aspirants vowing to stamp out rampant corruption. Upon assuming office, these demagogues eventually embark upon the grotesque preoccupation of feathering their own nests. They give a wink and a nod to similar corrupt practices of those of their autocratic clique, and vilify those dissenting few whose own voracious appetite for corruption are not congruent with their depraved philosophy. Doe’s indictment of Taylor for embezzlement is exemplary of this perverse phenomenon.
The practice of corruption is indelibly inculcated in the very fabric of our culture such that our typical phlegmatic approach to its eradication will always culminate in an abortive fiasco. This often leaves the country more severely disenfranchised and in a deeper state of penury, a debacle worst than its condition prior to the promised comprehensive effort to stamp out corruption. The usual threat of dismissing culpable office holders as a panacea for combating this intractable problem has thus far proven remarkably hapless. In order to completely decimate this parasitic practice, it will be necessary to make a concerted and robust effort at addressing both the latent reasons for its existence as well as its salient symptoms.
Paul C. Collins, in his very erudite article entitled “Confronting Corruption - An Effective Approach” published in The Perspective.org, argues very cogently that for civil servants in Liberia, their paltry wages do not defray their minimum cost of living thereby rendering them susceptible to corruption. Among other circumspect observations, he makes the compelling argument that addressing the very rudimentary issue of adequate remuneration will go a long way in curbing corruption.
Also in his sage article, “The Vaccine for Corruption in Government” published in the LiberianForum.com, J. Patrick Flomo very eloquently proffered a historical perspective of what might be the genesis of the epidemic of corruption in Liberia. He succinctly explores said from the Tubman administration through the recent dismissals for corruption in the incipient Johnson-Sirleaf administration. He advocates the use of Draconian measures in the fight to make our society impervious to this pernicious disease.
To prudently address this very deleterious problem, a holistic approach must be embarked upon. It must appeal to the very values that we hold important to us as human beings, be it those that were instilled in us via our upbringing or those that we consider requisite elements of our journey of personal self enlightenment. As an example, Liberians profess to be people of high ecclesiastical principles, but for the most part, this affectation is restricted to two hours of worship on Sundays. Thereafter, we set aside our ecclesiastical covenant and take liberty in cavorting with the world, the flesh and the devil until the following Sunday. I will argue that such dichotomy in our outward behavior, as benign as one might deem it, tends to weaken our inner resolve in other aspects of our lives. For those who do not directly partake of these reprehensible practices, we are still complicit in that we tacitly countenance these untenable behavior in our environment.
Even the pastors are not exempt from this indictment as we have seen some of the most duplicitous characters in their lot. Piousness seems to be a sanctimonious game that we play on Sundays. In our twisted minds, we might rationalize these degenerate behavior, adultery, bribery, boozing, for example, as being negligible as compared to the behavior of a common thief or a murderer for that matter. But do we truly hold that power of distinction that we employ to justify our decadent behavior. All unsavory practices, no matter how miniscule one might see it in his mind, are equally self destructive from a cognitive perspective and predisposes one to other forms of corruptions. In other words, corruption begets corruption. The trick is to develop the intestinal fortitude to reject all forms of corruption, irrespective of how peripheral one might construe it.
When one’s value is bereft of a strong sense of self, in terms of self-awareness, self-esteem, self-worth, etc., in order to compensate for this void, there becomes a need to adorn oneself with the material accoutrements that give one the superficial, but transient semblance of a consummate human being. This is manifested through our hedonistic self-indulgence in materialism and ostentatious living. Flamboyant clothing, luxurious cars, the grandest house, the biggest parties, multiple girlfriends, lots of booze, etc., at the expense of our family of course, become perceived symbols of status. As these debaucheries are financially demanding and require a profligate disposition, susceptibility to corruption lurks and is promptly effectuated when the opportunity presents itself.
This is why monks, in their practice of self-abnegation, are never accused of corruption. On the other hand, a narcissist like Charles Taylor will stop at no length to seek superficial adulation and is driven by a constant pursuit of material wealth and status. Nelson Mandela altruistically surrendered a substantial portion of his life in his pursuit of freedom for his people, rebuffing numerous overtures of attaining personal freedom and enormous status and wealth in the process. In diametric opposition to this altruism, Charles Taylor heinously murdered an innumerable mass of his people in his pursuit of status and wealth. Envisioning Charles Taylor sitting ever so regally in his gold embroidered chair, wearing his embroidered garment with his embroidered cane in his hand, all in a specious ambience of aristocracy, often leaves one with the nauseous impression that materialism was the sine qua non, the true essence of his very megalomaniacal existence. Whom would we say is a man of uncompromising values and has a strong sense of self, Mandela or Taylor? The answer to this rhetorical question is unambiguously incontrovertible.
Exhibiting the frailties of human emotion, Liberians tend to gravitate towards and extol persons of materialistic achievements and are inclined to rebuff those of ascetic orientation. We warmly ingratiate ourselves with such people and hold them in the highest esteem. They are elevated to the highest societal status irrespective of how their affluence are acquired, be it through ill-gotten avenues or through due diligence. We tend to be covetous of their sumptuous lifestyles and deem their trajectory to such lifestyle alluring. As a corollary, we strive to replicate such paths for ourselves. If corruption is the means to such a revered end, we hold no compunction whatsoever in our pursuit of said unconscionable end. Ironically, while we indulge in this paradox of embracing manipulative leaders and rejecting their more ascetic counterparts, history tends to be much kinder to the latter.
Corruption can thus be seen as a dyed-in-the-wool cultural phenomenon in Liberia. To attempt to remove this dye will entail an effort of mammoth proportion. Dismissing a few people from office only leaves us addressing the tip of the iceberg. Fundamentally, combating corruption must commence with the comprehensive introspection by individuals and the answering of the existential questions of why are we so acquisitive in our nature and why do we need an over-abundance of wealth. There is no precedence of anyone ever taking his acquired wealth beyond his sojourn on this earth, yet we often ravenously seek, at all cost, more then we could ever consume in one lifetime.
Today as we speak, the two richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have come to this realization and are philanthropically giving away the bulk of their billions, an act worthy of the highest approbation no less. But as laudable as their largess may be, one may have a problem reconciling this immense generosity with the number of people they gratuitously, and misanthropically one could speculate, bankrupted in the process of acquiring this monumental wealth. We are cognizant of Microsoft completely bankrupting myriad competitors in their hegemony of the computer operating system market, employing the most vicious artifices at their disposal. Does this end of redistributing their unneeded wealth justify all of the iniquities visited upon others in the acquisition process?
From a leadership perspective, eradicating corruption will entail the unyielding devotion of a very charismatic leader who is truly solicitous of its debilitating effects on our nation. This entails a leader of the highest water in terms of his ethics and integrity, who genuinely views the obliteration of this epidemic as a singular life purpose. His commitment to this issue must be palpable to the population to give it the requisite credence. Such leader must employ the bully pulpit of his office at every juncture in the proselytization of Liberians into this noble cause. To the massive extent that corruption is inexorably woven in the very fabric of our culture, its eradication will require the infusion of an enduring and overwhelming effort of proportional magnitude. Only then will this reprehensible practice be preempted with the necessary sustainable virtues. In the interim, we pray that President Johnson-Sirleaf is that leader.
Indeed, cynics may deride this argument as quixotic on its face but such nihilistic sentiment is debunked by demonstrable human experiences. When John F. Kennedy declared that America would be the first to put a man on the moon, by every barometer such declaration seemed utterly quixotic. But because of his magnetic and inspirational leadership, even subsequent to his demise, America pursued this audacious goal to its successful conclusion. Nelson Mandela inexorably held to his demand for freedom for his people from the subjugation of apartheid in spite of his enormous odds and the inordinate human suffering he had to endure. Similarly, Martin Luther King, against insurmountable odds, was unwavering in his demand for equality for Blacks in the United States. Gandhi was the embodiment of all of these qualities. These men are the apotheosis of brilliant leadership and have set the precedence for the caliber of leadership to which I refer.
Eliminating corruption is a daunting prospect and should not be seen as the obligation of any one government administration. To bring this momentous undertaking to fruition, it will require the concerted and steadfast effort of all Liberians, beginning with individuals unflinchingly clinging to those values which we all proudly call “Liberian Values.” It will also entail the confluence of various strategies including adequate recompense as championed by Collins, austere punitive measures as prescribed by Flomo, an appeal to the higher self as advocated in this paper, as well as other novel strategies. Leaders must profusely and effusively denounce this debilitating practice ad nauseaum. Only when corruption is viewed with the most stringent antipathy by society in its aggregate to the point of stigmatization will it begin to abate.
Having witnessed the tremendous vicissitude that corruption has visited upon Liberians, for posterity sake, we must commit to a renaissance that will finally and permanently render this dreadful disease moribund. With profound dubiety though, not whether corruption can be overcome, but whether Liberians can be galvanized into such action, I ask what are the chances???
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