I have read the proposed legislation that aims to amend the Anti Corruption Act 2000 (Anti Corruption Act 2008) which is at present at the pre-legislative stage in Parliament. President Ernest Bai Koroma, who has shown extraordinary earnestness, at least in his utterances, in the fight against corruption, has been advised on the bill. It was against this background that he told this country, and by extension the world, that he would recommend that Parliament should pass it into law. That was last month. Almost two months on, the bill is in a state of flux.
I have also spoken with the chairman of the Legislative Committee in Parliament, Chernor Maju Bah, a lawyer, who says “the bill is a very good bill”. Apart from a few individuals who seemingly want to politicise the fight against graft, every other person I have spoken wit that has GENUINELY READ the bill is supportive of it. And it is a proposed legislation in whose detail there is no devil.
But for a few whose real argument against it is yet to… well… be made really clear other than using a whitewash on it, those who are not supportive of the bill are not proud to say so publicly because they know what that means: they are not proud of their “convictions” because it is anti-people and they want this nation to continue basking in the notion of filth and corruption and to remain the least-ranked by the UN so long as they get ill-gotten wealth for themselves and their inner circle.
It is the moral and nationalistic responsibility of every well-meaning Sierra Leone and friend thereof, to ensure the fight against graft is given service beyond the lips. And that fight will never be won as long as the power to prosecute corruption suspects remains in the hands of a cabinet minister, namely the Attorney General.
If anyone needs reminding, have we not seen the case dropped by the ACC against Dr Harry Will the former Agriculture Minister who was apparently framed by the Tejan Kabbah regime if only to get him out of contention for leadership of the then ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party? What happened to many other cases that you and I never heard about because they were killed in the office of the Attorney General? I have to say this again, I can vividly recall as if it were yesterday, when I interviewed Solomon Berewa (Attorney General at the time) on the case involving the then Transport Minister Momoh Pujeh. It was shocking how Mr Berewa defended the ostensible dropping of the case against a man accused of shenanigan involving our diamonds. How Mr Berewa would say to me live on air at the time that an issue involving the illicit acquisition of our minerals did not necessarily fall within the remit of anti-corruption commission still flummoxes me. Cases abound of files disappearing under the regime gone! But has that changed? NO!Under the current dispensation, I can authoritatively say that at least three cases have been referred to the office of the current Attorney General whose files have disappeared. If this is not reason enough to remove the power to prosecute from the AG’s office, I wonder what can be.
Once that prosecutorial power is secured, which the president has expressed no misgivings about, the ACC adds the powers of a high court; hence it needs as its head, someone with a legal background. Why have we not complained about the Speaker necessarily having to be someone qualified to be a high court judge? The reason is that Parliament can serve as a court.
The current ACC bill is modelled, however domesticated somewhat, to the United Nations Convention against Corruption and that of the African Union. Those countries that have sought to implement parts of these conventions or had made moves even before the conventions came into being, have something to show for it today. If you need mentioning take Botswana which is a middle-income country, but also Singapore which joined the rich man’s club in 1995. In other words a developed nation now.
The same ACC bill recommends that because a commissioner and his deputy could be faced with the possibility of going the extra mile and racking cases if only to appease the President, they should not have a limitless tenure as is the case in the existing ACC Act. Therefore, the bill recommends that they have a maximum two terms in office. Again if you need a reminder, look at the petty reason given by Parliament for refusing to renew the term of Val Collier as anti corruption chief in 2005. And the APC, in opposition then, were furious.
Now, the new bill calls for security of tenure such as is enjoyed by judges and superior court judicature and that any reason to remove them from office must be referred to a special tribunal. If this is a dangerous thing to recommend, to enable the anti-corruption tsar to do their work effectively, then I wonder what law is not.
Article 51 of the UN convention against corruption and Article 116 of the AU one give authority to investigate the extent of liability if there is a loss of or damage to public property. They also call for the institution of civil proceedings against such person to recover the damaged property or compensation be made thereof. Who needs telling about how much people destroy public property under the pretext of “nor to me daddy in property” or not my father’s property?
Before I even mention the issue of gifts, we probably need to know that Sierra Leone is fully committed to joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). This is a good thing for government which, according to mining expert in the mines ministry, “is rooted in a fundamentally sound process.” It opens the books of not only mining companies, but also of government and threatens the existence of corruption which characterises the awarding of government contracts.
Now, since these companies part with a lot of money which they probably give as bribe to unscrupulous Sierra Leoneans whoever they are they cannot disclose payments. Even when they default and smuggle our precious minerals, are those officials not compromised by the kickbacks or inducements; hence tongue-tied to criticize or even arms-twisted to arrest them? The investors will spill the beans f they are forced to comply.
This negates the idea of gifts to public officials or anyone having sway over such officials. If you are offered such a gift, declare it and give it to the state. Or leave the public office.
Imagine a public official that builds a house for a girlfriend or buys her a car, as I strongly believe has been the order of the day in this country for a long time, does that car, or house not belong to the people whose money was siphoned?
Such “gifts” if I should call them that, have made criminal elements in our country flourish at the expense of the ordinary man or woman. And it is not just ministers or the all-too-familiar civil servants. No less than the United States embassy has expressed concern over the apparent league in which the Sierra Leone Police and the 419ers work. They have made this known to the security apparatus and to the government who are keeping sealed lips over it until it turns us into a pariah. So you see to what extent corruption can take us? The answer lies in President Ernest Koroma swimming against the powerful lobby that is resisting his call for zero tolerance on corruption. The president should sign a certificate of urgency to fast-track the passing of the ACC Bill that is before it. Written in plain and simple English, if anyone has problems with that bill to the extent of generalising on it and calling it a trap for innocent people, then the word “innocent” must have had a new meaning last night. This is a bill that seeks to target only one category of people: those who bask in our wealth while the masses wallow in hunger and poor health. Those are the people that are afraid of the ACC Act 2008.
By Umaru Fofana