Sierra Leone has been making steady progress in consolidating democracy since emerging from a decade long civil war that spanned the 1990s. Four violence-free elections have been held since 1996 with a peaceful transfer of power starting in 2007. However, significant challenges that remain. Fifteen years after the end of the civil war, the country continues to face widespread poverty and systemic corruption. The political will to fight corruption has been questioned by citizens on many occasions and this is undermining trust between government and citizens. In Transparency International’s 2013 Report on Bribery, Sierra Leone was the worst performer, with 84% of respondents admitting to having either given or received bribes in the last 12 months. Parliament itself has come under strong criticism from the public for accountability of funds allocated for its constituency work and for weak oversight of ministries, departments and agencies.
The weakness of parliamentary institutions has been the subject of analyses which have informed parliamentary strengthening programmes. There has been extensive focus on skills development training for staff and members of parliament (MPs), ethics training, and a provision of equipment for staffers but this has not improved citizen trust of parliament. On the other hand, very little work has been devoted to understanding how the political environment influences the effectiveness of MPs and what reforms are needed outside parliament. For example, both official and unofficial financial expenses, dictated by social and cultural norms, impact on the cost of engaging in politics. The process of competitive politics can undermine the integrity and effectiveness of individual MPs and parliament as a whole. This study explores the electoral model in Sierra Leone and investigates the cost of politics and the approaches that are adopted to maintain positions of power, considering this financial burden.