Barely 16 days to mark his first year in office President Ernest Bai Koroma has made history by becoming the first sitting president to declare his assets.
This was after he had signed into law the new Anti Corruption Act 2008 presented to him by the Solicitor General Mr Tunde Cole.
Before the signing ceremony Abdul Tejan Cole the Anti Corruption Commissioner said that “Civil society groups and the international community have challenged and raised issues about the limitations in the Anti Corruption act 2000.” However he said even though “many acknowledged that it was a very good first step most criticized the bill saying that it was grossly inadequate and there was a need for the Anti Corruption Commission to be further strengthened.”
He commended President Koroma saying “Whilst much has been said and there have been a lot of talk about it very few have done anything about it and so we are delighted that less than a year in office that you (President Koroma) will take the step” to strengthen the Anti Corruption Commission
Mr Tejan Cole explained that “This bill will bring Sierra Leone laws in line with our international commitment,” pointing out that “Sierra Leone has ratified the UN convention against corruption and we will soon be ratifying the African Union convention on combating and preventing corruption.”
He stated “this bill has brought our laws in tandem with these conventions and when we attend these international conferences now I will be proud to say that our laws are up to date and that we are part of the international community and we are ready to fight corruption.”
The ACC boss maintained that “the bill also makes it mandatory for all public officials to declare their assets” adding that “this will be the very first time in the history of our country that there would be a law that would make it mandatory for the Head of State and senior officials of government to declare their assets.”
He admitted that “this is indeed a truly historic opportunity and a truly historic occasion.”
Mr Tejan Cole explained further that “the bill also grants prosecutorial powers to the ACC” pointing out that “before we had suffered a lot of constraints as a result of the absence of these powers and we hope that with the addition of these new powers it would make our job a lot much easier.”
The ACC boss also drew the attention of the audience that the new bill “enables us to enter into an international cooperation agreement.” This he said ensures that “there will be no hiding place for individuals who are corrupt in our country any more they can no longer go to other countries to hide.”
“This new bill” he explained “has an entire section that deals with mutual cooperation and makes provision for the extradition of those who are corrupt not only Sierra Leoneans who are corrupt in Sierra Leone and who go abroad but also for foreign nationals who come into Sierra Leone having committed corrupt acts in other countries.”
Explaining further, Mr Tejan Cole said from nine the corrupt offences have been increased to twenty-nine “and we have stiffer penalties” adding “it will no longer now be left to the discretion of one person in a court room to decide on the penalty – there are now mandatory penalties within the new law.”
The ACC Commissioner also noted that “Adequate provision has also been provided for whistle blowers” and “parliament in its wisdom decided to make specific provision for compensation of informers.”
He thanked the President his Vice some Ministers civil society groups and the Press for their support in getting the bill passed.
After signing the bill into law ably directed by the Solicitor General Mr Tunde Cole President Koroma recalled that when he was opposition leader in the last parliament they were of the view that “the 2000 ACC act was most welcome” but that they “believed that it was not strong enough and it lacked the independence that should empower it to go on its own to carry out their functions in a more efficient and effective manner.”
The President said he was “happy that less than a year in office we have succeeded in not only reviewing the law, not only giving independence to the Anti Corruption Commission, but we have also put in place the Anti Corruption strategy and committee that is charged with the responsibility of implementing the Anti Corruption strategy.”
He maintained that “this is a clear indication of our commitment as a government to fight corruption,” adding “what we are doing today is unique not only within the sub region but even in Africa and it is a clear message to all Sierra Leoneans that this cancer that has taken up our society must be addressed with all seriousness and commitment.”
“I have been moving around ministries and talking to civil servants and from my experience” President Koroma opined “I believe if we can substantially reduce corruption in government and we … reduce the leakages that are happening in our revenue generation I am sure we will have no business moving around begging donors or asking for assistance.”
“we can do it on our own,” he emphasised “but I think we must look inwards first and take a serious fight to reduce corruption in our ministries especially in the ministry of education, the ministry of agriculture, ministry of health and a few others – I am sure if we do that we will have the possibility of increasing social services and we will have more revenue to even increase salaries of public servants.”
The President disclosed even though he had stated during his first address to Parliament that he will declare his assets after discussing with the ACC, it was their view that declaration of assets must be made mandatory.
Although “whether it was mandatory or not I was prepared to declare my assets but to make it mandatory for all other public officials we have now included it in the Anti Corruption act, and we now have an act that has made it mandatory for all public servants including myself to declare their assets.”
Urging Sierra Leoneans to “read the act” and “to be conversant with the act” President Koroma said he hoped that the act “will not only be used to bring to justice those who are corrupt, but it will serve as a deterrent.”
He added “I think when we work more on deterring people from conducting themselves in a corrupt manner I think we will be better off I mean bringing people to justice you would have given them the opportunity to inflict a lot of damage in the society and in the country so let us (limit the) a possibility of damages and let us ensure that we deter people from embarking on corrupt practices.”
The president then invited the Anti Corruption Commissioner and handed over his asset declaration form after which he was given a note of acknowledgment as receipt for his asset declaration form. By Kelvin Lewis