By Allieu S. Tunkara
Apart from a number of corruption cases lost in court, Sierra Leone’s graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has failed Sierra Leone again.
ACC’s failure is seen in its deliberate negligence to investigate government officials named in various corruption reports: the Department For International Development (DFID)-sponsored Corruption Perception Survey and the Afro-Barometre reports of 2020.
The DFID survey conducted by four civil society organisations: Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Restless Development, Christian Aid and Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) have pointed accusing fingers of corruption against very important state institutions.
Sierra Leone Police and parliament top the list of corruption.
83.6% of the listed groups in the survey indicted the police as the most corrupt while 60.6 percent says parliament is the most corrupt.
The survey data reveled that a great chunk of money earned by parliamentarians comes from corrupt sources.
The allegations are fit subjects for investigation, but that did not happen.
The negligence to bring the named institutions for investigations portrays ACC as an institution that is running for cover from an attack form the air.
The study which was conducted in September and November, 2019 examined perceptions of corruption among Sierra Leoneans, institutions involved, delivery of public services and their role in the campaign against corruption.
Among the listed groups of people in the survey, the group perceived as the most corrupt is the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).
By the time the two institutions reel from the toxic effect of the damning corruption report, another loaded corruption report came out and added insults to injury.
The Afro-Barometre seems to have been the most punchy and dangerous as it did not only indict SLP and parliament, but also touched the country’s highest and most sacred Office of the President (OTP).
The Afro-Barometre report tagged Office of the President as one of the most corrupt public institutions in Sierra Leone closely followed again by SLP and parliament.
The Afro-Barometre report was the most amazing as it is the first time the office of the President has come under the spotlight for corruption.
The poor ratings and rankings of the three state institutions by the corruption reports is repugnantly ironical considering that they should be seen as beacons if not icons of probity.
The reports however were received with sunken hearts by the aforementioned institutions, and have tried to challenge and discredit them.
In their defence, SLP says they have been exonerated by other corruption reports as the agency was never mentioned as a corrupt institution.
Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rado Swarray was also defensive of the corruption allegation against the Presidency.
Mr Swarray based his defence on the broad nature of the OTP.
He pointed out several offices and public institutions which he said operate under the Office of the President.
Public Sector Reform, Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Service Commission and others were among the institutions said to operate OTP’s supervision.
The fiercest defence to the corruption reports was put up by parliament which labeled the allegations made by CARL and other agencies as acts that amount to treason.
The parliamentary Speaker challenged the sample frame used to arrive at the conclusion
In a press conference held last week, Speaker of parliament, Dr Abass Bundu made it clear that parliament would no longer put up with slander and careless talk.
The most frequently asked question is: Are the defences a bar to ACC investigation and prosecution?
Many Sierra Leoneans have also answered the question noting that officials whose agencies mentioned in the reports must be brought in for interrogation is not investigation.
An official in a prominent civil society organisation says the allegations contained in the corruption reports just bolstered some allegations made by prominent parliamentarians of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party.
A feud between the Clerk of Parliament, Paran Tarawallie and the Chairman, Transparency and Accountability Committee, Hon Ibrahim Tawa Conteh, the rights activist went on, brought about allegations and counter allegations of corruption.
“Both accused each other as corrupt but they were not invited by the ACC,” he says.
Another key parliamentarian, Hindolo Ngevao has also accused parliament as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.
Mr Ngevao is on the threshold of investigations and will probably be pushed to the exit door for making such accusations against the party.
Chief Minister, Professor David Francis, author of the Governance Transition Team report was also recently engulfed by a corruption scandal involving US$1.5M.
The said sum was an alleged bribe by an Iron Ore Miner, African Minerals.
The journalist who ventured to investigate the shaddy deal was arrested and detained by order of the alleged corrupt official.
The Chief Minister was neither called by the ACC nor interrogated. He enjoys the largesse of power.
In what appears a complete water down of the war on corruption, prosecutions of corruption matters against public officials have been dropped.
The case of former Minister of Basic and Senior School Education (MBSSE), Alpha Timbo and others is a bright example.
Despite allegations of misappropriating thousands of bags of rice meant for the school feeding programme, Alpha Timbo walks as a free man and still occupies the seat of a minister.
“Where is the war on corruption,” the public asks.
The answer for discharging Minister Timbo and others depicts a blame that has been shifted to the Attorney-General (AG)’s Office.
An Official at the ACC says the prosecution was interfered with by the AG’s office leading to the discharge of the officials.
The corruption reports and the allegations in totality make a strong case for the ACC to come in but it dis not.
The failure to investigate runs contrary to a stance previously taken by the ACC Chief, Francis Ben Kaifallah.
Mr Kaifallah made it clear in a press briefing that the era in which audit and corruption reports are treated as mere opinions was far gone.
The era has no place in a country that wants to ensure a corrupt-free environment.
Angles on the interpretations for the Chief’s statement may vary, but no matter the variance, a unanimous conclusion may be arrived at.
The conclusion is a relentless enforcement of the laws on corruption without fear or favour as seen in the latest ACC slogan: ‘fierce but fair prosecution.’
Several public institutions were named as corrupt agencies by the audit report but action, if any, to investigate such public institutions is weak.
The public is still lost in wonders in respect of why the ACC Chief is failing to investigate.
No gainsaying that the failure to investigate the afore-mentioned agencies has a corrosive effect on the campaign against corruption in Sierra Leone.
The effect is now evidenced by the non-cooperation of officials of the former government including ex-President Koroma who is expected to report at the ACC on invitation.
The late Vice President of blessed memories, Solomon Ekuma Berewa said in one of his public appearances that the tendency to be corrupt is inherent in every human being but the application of the law will produce a restraining effect.
Sierra Leone takes pride in the strongest laws on corruption in Africa, but a restraining effect will hardly realised when the enforcement machine implements the laws on double standards.