By Allieu S. Tunkara-The Watchpen
20th March, 2020 has been set aside for the final evaluation of Sierra Leone under the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in respect of trafficking in persons (TIP), commonly referred to as ‘human trafficking’.
The evaluation would show to the world whether Sierra Leone will qualify for the US$500M in aid or miss the said sum.
The MCC is a US initiative that reviews on an annual basis, the extent to which nations address various governance benchmarks including TIP.
Few years back, the country was at Tier-2 meaning that although human trafficking was occurring but the country was taking concrete steps to combat it, and the country was benefiting millions of dollars in aid from the US.
Quite recently, the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mohamed Haji Khellah, confirmed that Sierra Leone has failed under the TIP benchmark, and the failure costs the country millions of dollars as donor support.
The failure to qualify for the MCC scorecard struck the authorities who are leaving no avenue unexplored to come up with strategies to fight the lingering human trafficking threat.
Currently and consequently, the Anti-human Trafficking law is being redrafted to suppress incidents of human trafficking, to impose heavier punishment to deter would-be offenders.
Previously, prosecutions of TIP offences were done at the Magistrate Courts under the legal principle of preliminary investigations for onward committal to High Court.
The status quo in respect of such prosecutions has been drastically changed with a view to deal with the menace.
Under the new arrangement, all TIP matters are now taken directly to the high court for prosecution.
A seasoned law officer, Adrian Fisher, heads the TIP prosecutorial system at the law office.
As head of TIP matters, Fisher now prosecutes such matters on behalf of the state.
In a bid to secure conviction for TIP offenders, Fisher is entreating investigators in the various specialized units of the Sierra Leone Police to conduct quality investigations during training at AMNet office of which he was the lead facilitator.
“We can secure convictions only when the police investigate well,” Fisher advised.
In spite of all these strategies, Sierra Leone still remains a human trafficking country and has relegated to Tier-2 Watch List, a terrible situation for the country.
The relegation means Sierra Leone reneged on its mandate to stop human trafficking.
March 20 next year, heads of governments will converge in the United States to present their reports on measures they have adopted in their countries to combat the human trafficking menace. Sierra Leone is among those nations.
At the intended conference set to commence, the fate of Sierra Leone would be decided as to whether it remains a Tier-2 Watch List or go down to Tier-3 status, being the worst and most catastrophic for a donor-driven nation like Sierra Leone.
The probable, painful fall to Tier-3 spells an unpredictable, economic disaster for Sierra Leone as the country would be considered to have totally failed, and therefore not qualified for donor support under the MCC.
The failure means, United States would not fund any development activity in the country.
Most frustrating, American companies and investors will have no business with Sierra Leone as US laws do not permit them to operate business in a human trafficking country.
The no-investment ban by the US in an event the country relegates to Tier-3 means no jobs for the youths, no foreign earnings, spiraling of economic hardship, endangering livelihoods and worsening of poverty in banana republic with a fledgling economy.
With the prevalence of such terrible conditions, it is no gainsaying that Sierra Leone sits on the keg of economic dynamite ready to explode at any given moment.
Well-informed members of the public are posing questions as to whether Sierra Leone should be abandoned to its fate. Authorities are now scratching their heads to provide the answer.
To forestall the doom that awaits Sierra Leone, Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet), a local non-governmental organisation specialized in TIP matters, is conducting trainings and public education campaigns to generate and promote consciousness about the TIP evil.
The organisation prides itself with a steering committee that draws its membership from various organisations including state security institutions.
The steering committee provides oversight and leadership as to the effectiveness and efficiency of the campaign.
The campaigns are being financed by the UN International Office for Migration under a TIP project.
The Law Officer, Adrian Fisher, is the legal consultant that is lending a helping to the campaign by gingering Trans-National Organized Crime Unit investigators (TOCU).
TOCU is a unit within the Sierra Leone Police charged with the responsibility to investigate incidents of crime across national borders including human trafficking.
Whether Sierra Leone remains at Tier-2 or relegates to Tier-3 is a matter of utmost concern among members of the public.
By Allieu S. Tunkara-The Watchpen