Government has been saying that they will set up a commission of enquiry on the past government officials to probe certain irregularities. The President was the first to have spoken of that and his statements have been buttressed on a daily basis by some government officials. In view of that the APC government placed stiff travel restrictions on the past officials. First it was a ban and later a police clearance from the Inspector General of Police. Indeed, the former officials faced embarrassment and molestation at the airport.
The threats of setting up commissions of enquiry became loud when the transition report was made public and last week, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abdul Serry Kamal made an official statement to journalists that letters have been sent to some people to serve as commissioners in the commissions of enquiry – I call it the APC commission of enquiry on the SLPP former government officials.
I had so many worries when I heard about the setting up of the enquiry. Worries of political witch hunting silencing of critics and even more worries of the outcome creating or further widening the political divide and possibly leading to chaos in the country.
Bringing to book those who have misused state resources is a welcome idea, but the manner in which it is done will either make it bad or good and one suspicion one will have about the commission of enquiry is the way it has been stressed by government officials whenever the main opposition party is involved in any dispute with them.
It seems the APC have already tried and sentenced the former officials as was evident in the travel restrictions. Their pro organs will always shout whenever a former SLPP official is out of the country that that official has escaped the enquiry.
Commissions of enquiry are bodies set up by government to probe in to certain irregularities, anomalies and controversies in a state. They investigate corruption and abuse of office and even election irregularities and the like.
Specifically, the APC government is just repeating history of commissions of enquiry which dates back to the Dove Edwin Commission of enquiry set up by the National Reformation Commission (NRC) in 1967. That commission among other things investigated the controversy surrounding the 1967 general elections.
Again the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) which over threw the APC government in 1992 set up three commissions of enquiries to probe the activities of the then ousted APC government.
What came out clear from all those enquiries especially that of the NPRC was forcing political opponents to seek asylum in other countries.
It is now very typical in Africa more so with military rule that whenever they overthrow, a commission of enquiry will follow and it has become a new political format used by governments to stifle opponents. I hope that will not be what the APC intends doing.
Government resolve to fight corruption was absent until when former President Kabbah declared corruption as a national security risk and an enemy all Sierra Leoneans should fight against- thus the setting up of the anti- corruption commission. It is wrong for people to charge that corruption in high places reached its highest zenith during the Kabbah rule from (1996-2007). Corruption at a point in time became the order of the day during the APC 24 year rule and there was the saying that a cow grazes where it is tethered (usai den tie cow na dae e dae eat).
If looked at the other way round it could be said that previous measures to fight corruption were all hypocritical given that even now the fight is driven by international threat to withdraw necessary funding if government fails to show the political will to fight corruption. But are these commissions of enquiry just that one bluff by the APC government?
What I am also worried about these proposed commissions is the present political divide in the country and the seemingly unstoppable violence between the APC and the SLPP. Now the APC is setting up enquiries to look into the past activities of the past SLPP officials, imagine what will happen if the findings do not go down well with the SLPP, will they not call it a witch hunt or a means of silencing them, and given the series of alleged attacks on them will this not lead to more political violence and instability?.
Retrieving state funds in good faith is fine and allowing the commissioners solicit information and facts pertaining to the issue of individuals they are probing is also fine. What is not fine is when these facts are tampered with and when the deliberations and compilation of the reports submitted to government for necessary action is distorted. Let us not forget that we are still a young democracy struggling to grasp some of the democratic tenets like national cohesion, tolerance, free expression and association. And we should not do any thing that will create the avenue for conflict or continue dividing the country. The APC should know that today’s winners might be tomorrow’s losers and should not use the commissions of enquiry as a way of silencing the main opposition party, SLPP.
By Ishmael Bayoh