It is widely agreed in Sierra Leone that corruption is one of the main problems holding back the economy as well as limiting the government in providing citizens with good public services. Every sector is involved and it affects people using basic services such as health, education, and police – but the Pay No Bribe (PNB) project is making a difference.
It is hard to tackle a culture of petty corruption and bribery because many people believe that paying is the only way to get anything done. Poor people are hit particularly hard, as it is not just the occasional bribe but regular payments for basic health and education services that should be free. Few people are left unaffected.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) launched the PNB programme to reduce petty corruption. It provides public information on service charges (especially free services to eligible groups) and collects local-level data on bribery and petty corruption across the country in six sectors: Education, Health, Police, Electricity, Water and Justice. It has become clear that a big part of the problem is that citizens don’t actually know which services should be free, so when faced with demands from officials they feel unable to resist payment. People who do report bribery are not convinced it will be taken seriously and acted upon; they also worry about possible retribution or punishment from bribe-takers.
This all began to change in September 2016 when the Pay No Bribe reporting platform was launched. Now there is a way for citizens to anonymously report incidents of petty corruption and bribery through a free hotline phone number (515), a mobile app (that uses no data), or the PNB website. The platform collects data on bribery and corruption in the PNB service sectors, and shares the data with the ACC plus the 6 ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs). MDAs are expected to follow up and take actions in response to anonymous reports from the public of corrupt practices. MDA actions taken are monitored regularly by ACC.
A right to know
Communications is a vital component of the PNB strategy; there is sustained communication and outreach work in the six core districts of Kenema, Kono, Bo, Bombali and Western Area and Kono, undertaken by ACC public education officers and 123 civil society (CSO) animators. ACC public messaging on petty corruption is distributed nationally through IEC, press briefings, and regular radio programming.
PNB animators have been particularly effective. In each core district they introduce communities, individuals, and groups (such as parents or patients) to PNB, reinforce PNB messages, demonstrate how to use the 515 hotline and mobile app, and answer individual queries.
People are starting to believe that it’s possible to reduce corruption, because they’ve had personal success, and so have their neighbours and family members. Success stories have successfully encouraged others to report and take a stand, creating a momentum that PNB is continuing to build on.
Petty corruption perceptions – change through PNB?
The PNB programme has conducted 3 progress assessments during 2018. The second progress assessment on citizen perceptions of corruption in service delivery took place in September, 2018. A questionnaire was administered by 75 enumerators across the 5 core districts using the Kobo Collect smartphone tool. They administered 30 questionnaires each, covering ‘core’, ‘limited outreach’ and ‘only reached by radio’ areas to assess progress in the effectiveness of PNB outreach. The guidelines stipulated equal numbers of female and male respondents, plus a range of age groups.
2250 respondents were asked whether they had noted behaviour change among public service delivery providers in the last 3 months within the Health, Education and Police sectors. If they had perceived a change, they were asked to identify what kind of change and offered a multiple choice listing, with the opportunity to select more than one choice:
- They have stopped asking for bribes
- They demand bribes less often
- They are more secretive when asking for bribes
- They are still asking for bribes but are asking for less money
- They ask for bribes more frequently, or for more money
- Other behaviour change
Change was noted across all the options, but the highest scores were recorded in PNB core areas where outreach and communications efforts have been mostly focused. For example, the data suggests that in the Education sector the incidence of ‘stopped asking for bribes’ has risen from 20% at the last assessment to 40% – a remarkable shift. Overall, around 60–75% of people report that they have noticed changes in the behavior of Health and Education service providers in the last three months. Change among the police was not as great, with about half of respondents reporting change.
These results translate into valuable learning that regularly informs PNB tactics and strategies and its responsiveness in planning and programming.
 Assessment sampling recognised by PNB as not being statistically robust.
 In the first Progress Assessment respondents were asked if they had experienced behaviour change recently, hence the data collection is slightly different but still comparable.
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