By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR, Nov 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Featuring contestants from a caretaker and nurse to a lawyer, a reality television show in Liberia is on the hunt for a different kind of star – a civil servant who embodies honesty in a country often blighted by accusations of corruption.
Integrity Idol is asking the public to vote for the most honest civil servant in the West African nation, as part of a drive to promote greater integrity among bureaucrats and tackle a perception of graft and mismanagement within the government.
Ebola-hit Liberia, which recently announced three new cases more than two months after being declared free of the virus, has been dogged with reports of state corruption as it recovers from years of civil war and the world’s worst known Ebola outbreak.
The country has stabilised, secured debt relief and attracted billions of dollars in investment under the rule of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has been in power since 2006, but her opponents have accused her of corruption and nepotism.
Rights advocates say many of the country’s resource deals are marred by fraud and do not give the state adequate revenue, and Liberia’s anti-corruption watchdog said in April $800,000 spent on the Ebola response was not properly accounted for.
“Too often the approach to issues of accountability and integrity is naming and shaming – which has proven ineffective,” said Lawrence Yealue from Accountability Lab, which organised the inaugural Integrity Idol in Nepal last year.
“Instead we are naming and faming those officials who are serving the public good honestly,” he said.
More than 1,000 nominations were submitted and whittled down by a panel of judges to five finalists, including a court clerk, a nurse, a lawyer, a district education officer and a caretaker.
Each contestant will appear on national television and radio, and have their performance posted on YouTube and social media sites, before the public vote for the winner in December.
Finalist and lawyer Seorweh Dlayee Jaycheneh said corruption and mismanagement were behind a lot of Liberia’s problems and needed to be discussed to prevent the country being held back.
“I feel very proud to be nominated… because I give people justice, everybody likes my business and respects what I do.”
Liberia ranked 94th out of 175 countries in watchdog Transparency International’s global corruption perception index last year, down from 83rd in 2013, and the political will to fight graft in the country is limited, analysts say.
“Some progress has been made in recent years in establishing legislation and policies… but the challenge is to implement these laws and secure prosecutions,” said Anderson Miamen of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia.
“There is still a long way to go and many Liberians are sceptical about the state’s sincerity in fighting corruption.” (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)