President Ernest Bai Koroma has insisted there will be “no more business as usual”, promising that even his family will not be exempt from being prosecuted for corruption. In short he has made the fight against official graft the cornerstone of his administration.
His supporters say his broad frame represents his ebullience to fight off this menace believed by many to be the country’s biggest enemy; worse, I think, than even the civil war which lasted for ten years and cost tens of thousands of lives.
Official corruption, at a destructive scale, is much older than the war was. May be old enough to be its father in that it sparked it off. That notwithstanding, it seems to be advancing in age, in menace and becoming rampant as we advance in life.
The war had the majority of the people as its enemy. But corruption has the vast majority as its allies and worshippers. From our leaders to the police and the tax collector. It seems we all suffer from RHINOCERITIS as depicted by Eugene Ionesco in his satire, Le Rhinoceros. The wind of change must be allowed to blow the mess away now. But where is our resolve to fight the scourge as a nation?
How many of us are genuine in our struggle against graft? Parents celebrate when their children acquire wealth even if by the foulest of means. Spouses are jubilatory when their partners ride in a Hummer jeep even if at the expense of the nation. How many of us are willing to behave like Alina Fernández the daughter of the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to say NO! to our parents for doing things wrongly and abandoning them if they prove impervious to change? We even enjoy it more when the vast majority live and suffer in squalor and pestilence while we splatter the crumps for them. Living in affluence with money meant for the sufferers.
Critics of the president say his call for war on corruption is not new. An old recipe into a new sauce! Their scepticism stems from the déjà vu phenomenon in our neck of the hood. Good reason, no doubt. Once bitten twice shy. But twice bitten is third time dead. Testament to that fear is the good-intentioned nature of former President Tejan Kabbah which made him become ambivalent, at best, in his fight against graft.
But maybe people’s uncertainty stems from what Alina Fernandez said in her latest interview with Foreign Policy magazine where she spoke about her uncle succeeding her father as president of Cuba: “I know that power changes people. I know because I saw it. There’s almost a physical effect. With power, you can see the person suffering from a dramatic change of personality…it’s true that power transforms people.” Will President Koroma change or be changed?
Let us wait to see whether his pledge to fight corruption takes a nosedive. Then we will go for his jugular. So far, no proof to prove his intentions otherwise. However, the similarities between him and his predecessor outweigh their differences. Like President Kabbah, President Koroma looks very sincere to me. The implementation where the former failed disastrously is where we await the latter.
But here is his strategy: Two well-respected and apolitical individuals are his apparent arrowhead in this fight: His Finance Minister David Carew, a widely respected accountant I have no speck of doubt about. And Abdul Tejan Cole, the young human rights lawyer who has come out of every challenge with his moral fibre intact, is his tsar heading the anti-corruption commission. My hope for a change is hinged on these two men of proven pedigree.
I hear President Koroma was under tremendous pressure from people in certain quarters who still want to bask in the inglorious past including appointing yesterday’s-men and yes-men to head the Anti Corruption Commission. This makes it our responsibility to put on our armour and join in the fight against sleaze. Finding fault with the president in the fight against corruption just for the sake of fault-finding is in itself a corrupt practice. It can only create a triangle of distraction that will prove further disastrous.
Here is why I am hopeful: The swoop last week at the customs department must make every lover of this country proud of themselves. Obviously not because of the act the people were allegedly engaged in, but the strategy to apprehend them; proof that we are ready to move on as a nation. I wonder who needed to be told about the corruption that goes on there. But who cannot ask why the swoop only happened now?
What will bring dishonour to us as a people is if stupid political or other considerations are allowed to becloud the feat; leading to the wracking of the prosecution of the twelve men and one woman.
The same applies to the letter written to the Minister of Energy and Power, Haja Afssatu Kabbah last week. Guilty or not, the fact the ACC has twisted her ears to respond to pertinent issues bordering on the anti-people contract signed with Income Electrix is a hope for us as a nation. The contract, both its content and the way it was awarded, is a classical reason over which a minister in a civilised society will simply resign. Again we await her response to the queries from the ACC. If, and this is very hypothetical, she is found to have done anything wrong and the case is forwarded to the office of the attorney general, this is where I will start getting worried. Even the thought of that happening makes me develop numbness. And here is why:
I can vividly remember as if it were just yesterday. You remember the Momoh Pujeh case? As Minister of Transport he was arrested by police on allegations of illegal mining transactions. But the initial decision not to proceed with the matter in 2002 was defended by the then attorney general and minister of justice, Solomon Berewa in an interview with me on Radio UNAMSIL.
Fast forward and come to 2007. Another minister, again of transport and communication, Dr Prince Harding was arrested dramatically by police on the orders of the ACC. The ACC spokesman, Dorris Fisher sounded very confident on the BBC about the overwhelming evidence of soliciting and taking by Dr Harding. The case was killed spectacularly.
The most dramatic case of a no-case is the half-hearted and humpty-dumpty approach in the fight against blatant corruption was this: A man called Lamrana Sowe was caught with a smoking gun. A bribe of Le 3 million, I think, he had offered the then minister of trade, Osman Kamara. The well-intentioned minister had recorded all what had transpired between him and Mr Sowe. He called the ACC and showed them the money and the tape. He even called journalists to air the content of the tape. There was the ACC, threatening journalists that it was criminal to air it.
Again the case died and Osman Kamara was subsequently sacked. Many people told me at the time how that singular move dampened their spirit to help fight graft.
This brings me to the request by the ACC to the office of the attorney general for badly-needed new powers to add more ammunition to the arsenal in this battle. They include adding new corruption offences to include misuse of office, as well as declaration of assets by public officials. But most crucial to me in the proposed draft amendment is the request to have the power of prosecution handed to the ACC. As long as the attorney general remains a cabinet minister he is compromised; and with that the fight against graft.
Our hope today is for tomorrow. And that hope is the fight against corruption TODAY for the prosperity of our children and grand children. Lest we remain a laughing stock. By Umaru Fofana