It may seem to Liberians as though everyone in their civil service is corrupt, but it’s not true. There’s at least one honest man. He’s Richard Karyea, a former customs officer at the Roberts International Airport. Two years ago he refused a bribe from a drug smuggler worth more than 1,300 times his $15 monthly salary.
He was offered a $20,000 bribe by the owner of a DVD after finding cocaine hidden inside. Instead of looking the other way, he turned the man over to the police. For his trouble, Karyea was fired by the customs department; the drug smuggler was allowed to board another plane that day for Nigeria.
But there’s a happy ending. In January, Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has vowed to fight public corruption, pinned a medal on Karyea. At a ceremony in Monrovia (pictured above), she named him the Civil Servant of the Year. He won a $1,000 cash award and landed a new job — Deputy Chief Examiner at the Ministry of Finance. And he’s become a national hero. Comments to the Liberia Post said some people might consider him stupid for turning down the huge bribe, but he actually deserves to be a minister in the government. “You are a mentor for all [civil servants] to learn from. Bravo.”
Liberians needed some good news. Last year, their country ranked 138th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, tied with Paraguay and Tonga. That sounds awful, but its better than 2007, when the country ranked 150th on the CPI, tied with Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe. That’s a tough neighborhood no one would be sorry to leave behind.
At Karyea’s award ceremony, President Sirleaf said he demonstrated “honesty and integrity in support of the Government’s determination to fight corruption in all sectors.” For his part, the new hero told the BBC, “It wasn’t difficult to turn down the money. If it took me 50 years to earn that money, I’d want my conscience. I will always want my conscience.”
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