By: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh

In 1994, almost two decades ago, I found a kid who had made away with one of my rental bicycles. My friends and I dragged him to the police station to get him to return the bike. At around 8pm local time at the central police station in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone, the police asked me to report a statement against the alleged thief. Before I began my narration, the officer told me to buy his candle, pen and paper. I tried to walk to a nearby shop to get him the items but he said no. “Put the money on the table,” he pointed to the table. “I will buy it later myself”. I paid a bribe.

Last week, I inquired about renewing my passport in Germany. I called at the embassy in Berlin and spoke to a young Sierra Leonean on the phone. “Use the account number on our website that ends with 3”, he instructed. ‘Wire 35 Euros to it and come to Berlin with a receipt”.

Splendid. That’s all he said. I had read on the “website”, which by the way is a blog, that the embassy does not issue passports. Excuse me? What do I do? I have three options. Option one is incur the embassy’s cost of making the passport for me in Freetown. The second option is to fly home myself and get a new passport or final option, get someone in Freetown to do it for me. That means, a DHL fee of about 100 Euros would have to be paid to get the booklet here. Also, splendid.

The question remains; why must I pay another 35 Euros to the embassy? I read that my new passport would have to be approved by my country’s diplomatic mission in my country of residence or the mission responsible thereof. On the SL embassy site, I also read that to approve all documents, the applicant must pay a fee of 30 Euros. But I was told to wire 35 Euros. Below the approval fee, I read another fee of 5 Euros for registration forms. What? Is the form a booklet or a mere piece of paper? Super splendid.

The question now in my mind is how is this different from a cop two decades ago that asked me to buy his candle, pen and paper?

For a system as corrupt as ours in the midst of political turmoil and a decade-long unrest that ravaged the economy, I reasoned with a lone cop trying to make ends meet. I believed the country was lagging behind the world’s development pace and no single individual could differentiate between good and bad governance; not even a cop.

I understand that our system then was not capable of making the officer a responsible cop. I would even reason with him now if he would ask me to buy his paper because our economy is still not strong enough to make our men and women in uniforms better officers.

But for the following reasons, I will not agree with Sierra Leone’s diplomatic mission to Germany to pay 5 Euros for a piece of paper:

Firstly, as a matter of principle, I refuse to see reasons why the embassy would require its citizens to buy forms. This is an archaic and outrageous form of revenue collection and one of the indirect reasons why we attained the status of a failed state.

Secondly, let’s do the math. How much does a paper packet cost? In Germany, it’s between 4 and 10 Euros depending on the quality of the paper. Let’s assume they are using a 60g paper. How many papers do they need for a form? I take it that the government in SL pays the person writing the instructions on the paper not by the revenue collected from selling the forms. This is just too outrageous.

Thirdly, for the fact that it is a diplomatic mission representing a country in a foreign land, that is the more reason why its system of operation should be transparent and corrupt free.

Finally, if SL has one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, is extracting unnecessary fees from its nationals the best way to maintain that development?

I am ready to negotiate a 50 percent tax of my income or even pay it without questioning. If I can pay that same amount of tax to my current country of residence, heck I am willing to give the money to my beloved country. But I refuse to pay 5 Euros bribe to the embassy of SL in Germany.

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Comments
  1. Jane says:

    Loved that piece!

  2. suliaman kabba kargbo says:

    Nice man, stand for what you believe in…this is what we Sierra Leonean are against and the president is working hard to put a stop to corruption but let all help in the fight home and abroad.
    Peace to Mama Salone
    Kabba from Freetown.

  3. suliaman kabba kargbo says:

    we all want to see sierra leonean representing this country in foreign land to put up their best performance to let sierra leone have the mark of good will all over the world
    peace to all loving sierra leoneans

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