It is the fifth week since President Ernest Bai Koroma and his Attorney General assured us that in two weeks gloves would be removed to give corruption a debilitating body blow, if not a knockout punch. If anything it would seem a kid’s glove is what is being provided.
A bill to amend the Anti Corruption Act of 2000 has been “abandoned by parliament at the pre-legislative stage”, according to a source at the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC). The source says the parliamentary committee in charge of advising the Committee of the Whole House on the issue did not give any date for a return to a discourse on the matter. This leaves corruption off the hook, smiling broadly and if anything getting ready to go on the prowl once again.
However, Chernor Maju Bah, the chairman of the Legislative Committee in Parliamentary, says they have neither “abandoned” the bill nor postponed it “indefinitely”. He however agrees that no date was set on when next it would be discussed. Pressed on what the quarrel was with the word “indefinite” if no date was set, Mr Bah assured they would revisit the bill next week. Yes next week!
But why did they leave the bill at a pre-legislative stage, “indefinitely”, having spent over two weeks on it? The MPs say they needed to have all the “stakeholders” in a roundtable among them the head of the ACC and the Attorney General. But the ACC boss, Abdul Tejan Cole was here until just a few days ago. The Attorney General has been very much around! If passing the ACC bill is not serious enough to deserve the time of the Attorney General, as I gather the head of the ACC was present, what else can be?
Chernor Bah, MP, also assured me that they would pass the bill into law but not before September this year. Parliament goes on recess next month and will not reconvene until September. That will be followed by another round of pre-legislative meetings on the matter. Then to the committee of the whole House. That will be one year since the new government was elected. It will be one year before anyone can declare their assets, something President Ernest Koroma had assured in October last year that he would do in weeks. Now he says he and his ministers will do as soon as soon as this ACC bill becomes law.
The trouble in not having this bill into law is that it makes it difficult to track those assets ministers had had before they became so, and what they have acquired in office. It also slows down, considerably, the prosecution of four people the ACC says it now has evidence to prosecute and is only waiting for the prosecutorial powers to be transferred to them as requested by the proposed legislation. Invariably, it also bars the commission from dealing with public officials who abuse and misuse their office as will become a crime under the new ACC Act.
Corruption, in case anyone needs telling, depletes national wealth and undercuts legitimacy. Transparency International says is often to blame for the “already limited public resources being diverted to uneconomic high-profile projects, at the expense of less spectacular but more necessary development initiatives.” It also says that civil society is “finding its voice to demand that those behind corrupt acts are held accountable.” That, in our case, begins with having the right laws in place and civil society helping the president achieve his bull’s eye – zero tolerance on corruption.
Hear what the internet site, Wikipedia, says about graft: “Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency. In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments themselves, the management cost of negotiating with officials, and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting red tape, the availability of bribes can also induce officials to contrive new rules and delays. Openly removing costly and lengthy regulations are better than covertly allowing them to be bypassed by using bribes. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.” This sounds like describing Sierra Leone. All too familiar!
Much starker is that corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. In elections and in legislative bodies, it reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking. In the judiciary it compromises the rule of law. In public administration it results in the unfair provision of services. In short, “corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance”. Tell me who should stand in the way of the fight against corruption!
Chernor Maju Bah, MP, assures that the bill will come up for discussion next week at the pre-legislative stage. We wait with bated breath to see that. I repeat, this is where civil society must come on board in helping the president. It is all too easy to sit in corners and accuse public officials, probably sometimes falsely, of graft and sleaze. Having a law that scolds them and makes them cough up what belongs to all of us, is the first way towards changing our country’s destiny. On this, President Koroma has my fullest support. But he has to show courage to root out any of his ministers who undermines this drive. He should be told that no difference exists so far between him and President Tejan Kabbah, in the fight against corruption. Except that his predecessor set up the ACC. The big difference will be for president Koroma to give that commission the teeth it needs to bite off the flesh of thieves. Those teeth lie in the ACC bill; reason to pass it into law sooner than later. By Umaru Fofana