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'Integrity Idol' Celebrates Honest Civil Servants in West Africa

FILE - Nepali Co-operatives and Poverty Alleviation Minister, Chitra Bahadur, left, hands the "Integrity Idol" trophy to civil servant and district administrator, Pradip Raj Kandel during an awards ceremony in Kathmandu, Jan. 10, 2016.

A reality TV show that celebrates honest civil servants in corruption-plagued countries has grown to reach new audiences in Mali and Liberia and aims to enlist the public's help in fighting graft, the organizers said.

Integrity Idol asks the public to nominate model civil servants and then vote for their favorite by text message after the finalists appear on national TV and radio.

The show launched in Nepal in 2014 and has since spread to Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali and Liberia.

In finals this weekend in the West African nations of Liberia and Mali, a nursing instructor and a teacher were voted the winners from among thousands of nominees.

"There are lots of challenges to being a person of integrity in Liberia," said winner Rebecca Scotland, a nursing teacher in Liberia's capital Monrovia.

Corruption is so common in Liberia and across the region that patients even bribe nurses to ensure they receive the proper medicine and care, she said.

"Sometimes my colleagues push me away because I have integrity. They say I am hard to deal with, that I won't change," she said in an interview with Integrity Idol.

She plans to create a network with other winners to boost honesty and transparency in the public sector, she told Reuters following the award.

Liberia is in the midst of an election to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that has been delayed by allegations of fraud. The Supreme Court cleared it for a runoff last week.

The country ranked 90th out of 176 countries on watchdog Transparency International's global corruption perception index last year, while Mali ranked 116th.

In Mali, politicians are sometimes arrested for graft but avoid penalties because the judges are also corrupt, said Moussa Kondo, who launched Integrity Idol there last year.

"We want to show young generations that there's another way to become famous, without getting rich," he told Reuters.

Mali's winner Mahamane Mahamane Baba teaches at a public high school in Timbuktu and organizes literacy classes in his free time.

The show has grown quickly in both countries, said its organizers at U.S.-based organization Accountability Lab.

In Mali, people made 3,011 nominations for Integrity Idol this year compared to 2,850 last year, said Kondo.

Liberians submitted 4,689 nominations this year, more than three times the number when the show started in 2015, while the reach of the campaign through radio and TV stations has grown eight-fold to over 4 million people.

"Especially given the difficult situation with electoral politics at the moment, it is inspiring to see so many people discussing and voting for government officials with integrity," said Lawrence Yealue, director of Liberia's Accountability Lab.