By Allieu S. Tunkara
The biggest headache for Sierra Leone’s graft agency, Ant-Corruption Commission (ACC) is who to prosecute as damning reports of corruption against the government continue to make the headlines.
Sierra Leone Police (SLP), Parliament, State House and other important agencies of government have recently come under the spotlight for corruption by perception.
The reports have put the ACC’s neutrality and credibility to the greatest test in respect of how it will handle the investigations to the satisfaction of the people of Sierra Leone and the international community.
As the reports become the hottest topic of public discussions among, large eye-brows are being raised at the ACC about the line of action it would take
A DFID-sponsored Corruption Perception Survey has tagged the SLP as the most corrupt public institution closely followed by parliament which came second.
The Department For International Development (DFID) is a British aid agency that have contributed tremendously to the economy of Sierra Leone.
DFID has poured millions of its Pounds in the areas of human rights, transparency and accountability in public institutions and most importantly, in the campaign against corruption in Sierra Leone.
The study was conducted by three local civil society organisations; Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Restless Development and Christian Aid.
The three CSO’s which form an accountability mechanism framework for government and other public sector institutions have been holding power to account.
The CSOs’ report show that 83.6% of people surveyed says the SLP is the most corrupt public institution and 60.6% indicates that parliament is the second most corrupt.
Spokesmen for the SLP and parliament have responded to the corruption reports challenging the manner in which they have been carried out.
The Deputy Head of Police Media, Samuel Saio Conteh said his institution was not furnished with the report earlier but only later.
He said he came to know about it through social media platforms.
An official at the Communication Unit of the Sierra Leone Parliament also responded Likewise.
Both have portrayed their institutions as those that tacitly do not to agree with the corruption reports, a move that continues to raise a big cloud of suspicion.
As the two institutions battle with the allegations contained in the CSO’s report, another corruption study known as the Afro-Barometre report have accused the same institutions.
But, the report has also included State House, the country’s highest office as one of the most corrupt public institutions in Sierra Leone.
The inclusion of State House as a temple of corruption puts a giant albatross on the ACC neck as the public waits and watches whether the ACC boss would investigate State House.
Almost three months back, Honourable Tawa Conteh, a member of parliament representing one of the constituencies in Freetown was at logger heads with the Clerk of Parliament, Paran Tarawallie who he accused of corruption.
The Clerk of the House also fired back by accusing Hon Conteh as a corrupt official.
The counter-allegations on corruption by the two officials of parliament called for ACC investigation, but the agency failed to investigate.
The two officials went away without facing an iota of ACC interrogation let alone investigation.
They enjoy the political largesse since they are the holders of power and purse.
At the midst of ACC’s failure to rope in officials of the current government, the reports by all indications will have a slice of its own in the ACC failings.
The damaging reports are out at a time ACC is tightening the screws for corrupt officials of the past government.
ACC Chief Francis Ben Kaifallah who has won accolades in the shortest time of his appointment has vowed not to take corruption or audit reports with a pinch of salt.
“Gone are the days when audit reports are treated as mere opinions,” Mr Kaifallah assured Sierra Leoneans.
He made this statement at the Cathedral House in Freetown during the launch of the 2018 Audit report on Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA’s).
The report similarly catalogued strong incidents of corruption in MDA’s amounting to Billions of Leones, money that belongs to the people of Sierra Leone.
The police was also named in the report as one of the agencies that have stashed away a fair share of the billions of Leones.
At the same occasion, the ACC boss also informed Sierra Leoneans that his institution was preparing to rope in any official of the past government that will be named in the ‘White Paper.’
The ‘White Paper’ is a composition of the findings and recommendations that emanated from the defunct Commissions of Inquiry (COI).
The COI was set up by the ‘New Direction’ Government in response to scathing claims of the Governance Transition Team (GTT) report of April 2018 by Professor David Francis and team.
The GTT report shows that the past government of Former President Koroma displayed the most cavalier behaviour to state resources especially finances.
“An astonishing level of fiscal indiscipline and rampant corruption by the former government of President Koroma led to a near-collapse of Sierra Leone’s economy by the time the government of President Bio was sworn into office,” the reports reads in part.
The report further indicates that owing to reckless spending of the past government, the country’s economy was left burdened with external debt of US$1.6Bn and domestic debt amounting to Le 4.9 Trillion the equivalent of US$658M.
The horrific figures put out by the GTT were treated as gospel truth as government immediately reacted by not only setting up the COI, but the seizure of passports of ministers of the former government.
All past government officials saw the biggest humiliation when they were ordered to surrender their passports to Attorney-General’s office from whom permission to travel out of the country must be sought.
Sierra Leonean ambassadors, high commissioners consuls and other principal representatives abroad were instantly dismissed leaving them stranded in foreign countries.
An account owned by former President Koroma at the commercial bank was immediately shut down thereby depriving him of access to it.
Threats and attempts of an arrest and prosecution of the former Head of State were not uncommon as he was perceived as a symbol of corruption.
Almost invariably, the figures of corruption detailed by the report made the ACC to flex its muscles by slamming and investigating corruption allegations while the COI was on-going.
In what it refers to as fierce but fair investigations, the ACC has presented checks amounting to over Le8Bn (US$800,000) being stolen money’ said to have been recovered from corrupt officials of the past government.
Ministers and senior officers of the former government namely the detained former Minister of Internal Affairs, Alfred Paolo Conteh, Commissioner-General of the National Revenue Authority, Haja Kallah Kamara, Minister of Mines, Minkailu Mansaray and the former Vice President, Victor Bockarie Foh and others were immediately slammed with corruption charges.
They have spent months at the law courts and most have walked free owing to want of evidence.
However, many others remain in the court for their fate to be decided while others languish behind bars.
Conversely, the ACC has dragged its feet in prosecuting officials of the current government who have been accused of corruption.
The corruption case of the former Minister of Basic and Senior School Education, Alpha Timbo has been dropped with no clear reason.
Mr Timbo has been discharged by the court although not acquitted implying that he may be brought again for trial when fresh evidence emerges.
The ACC has attributed its failure to adduce the much-needed evidence over an alleged interference from the AG’s office although no such blame emerged when prosecuting officials of the past government.
It is safe to say officials of the current government have been spared although corruption allegations against them are very strong.
Consequently the ACC has been accused of double standards in the prosecution of graft, but it has always defended such accusations.
As the corruption reports against this government remain outstanding, the ACC remains under the microscope to see what it can do at a time the country needs them most.
It goes without saying that subsequent prosecutions for crimes corruption will suffer public backlash if ACC overlooks the current reports to protect the current government.