An activist in Freetown has tagged the ‘White Paper’ as one of the most biased government document ever seen in the history of Sierra Leone. Mr Ibrahim Bangura, a veteran teacher and community activist specialised in human rights issues says several former government ministers should have been named in the Commission of Inquiry (COI).
He said the ‘New Direction’ Government has shielded many ministers who hailed from the south and eastern part of the country who once served the government of former President Koroma.
“The current Minister of Lands, Dr Denis Sandy, former Minister of Gender and Social Welfare, Moigueh Kaikai and Deputy Minister of Justice, Arrow Bockarie were supposed to have been brought before the Commission,” he said.
Almost all the afore-mentioned ministers, Mr Bangura says, once served in sensitive ministries of government.
“Why are they not called by the commission except other ministers,” he wonders. Another source in Britain also made similar allegations in respect of the discriminatory and biased nature of the White Paper.
The source pointed accusing fingers at the former Minister of Agriculture, Denis Vandy and Secretary to Vice President, Baba Fortune as former government officials who should pay back monies they allegedly misappropriated. The source further indicates that the said officials should equally be brought to justice so that the issue of neutrality of the COI would be sufficiently addressed.
The wanted Publicity Secretary of the main opposition, Cornelius Deveaux too has added weight to the argument. In most of his public appearances, Mr Deveaux has maintained that the COI lacked legality and that APC would not bow to unconstitutionality.
He had insistently accused the ‘New Direction’ Government of selective justice, protectionism and sheltering sacred cows. The combined factors of selective justice, protectionism and sheltering sacred cows made the acceptance of the ‘White Paper’ by the APC extremely difficult and almost impossible.
Some Sierra Leoneans however see the White Paper as fair and credible. They based their argument on the grounds that not all government ministers of northern origin were summoned to the commission. Most importantly, the argument continues, some prominent ministers of government who were named by the COI were cleared.
The two former Ministers of Finance, Momodu Kargbo, and Dr Kelfallah Marrah were those whose innocence of corruption allegations was made clear by the commission. Another notable former Minister of Social Welfare, Dr Sylvia Blyden was also cleared of all allegations for which she was summoned.
Secretary-General of the main opposition, All People’s Congress, Ambassador Osman Foday Yanssaneh has reserved his opinion about the white paper. When contacted by this medium, he says the party would issue a press release in respect of its position towards the ‘White Paper.’
In a similar tone, one of the defence lawyers at COI, Ady Macauley too did not accept the White Paper saying it lacks “Functional competence” which means COI had no jurisdiction to investigate the former ministers. Counsel Macauley has been quite critical of the COI from its outset owing to the violation of section 150 Act No 6 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991.
The said section provides that rules of evidence must be formulated to regulate the practice and procedure of the COI. Challenging the COI’s jurisdiction, Counsel Macauley had earlier referred the question of COI’s competence to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone for determination.
The COI had already been in existence when the legal question was referred at the country’s highest court of the land. The question, to date, is yet to be answered by the court and the COI went ahead.
The question of COI’s competence was also a heated one at the COI hearings presided over by Justice Biobele Georgewill. Defence counsel, Ady Macauley raised the question and State Counsel, Robin Mason fired back.
In his argument, Mr Mason said the rules of evidence are provided for by law, but it is not a “condition precedent.” The legal phrase means the commission must have been in existence before the rules are formulated. The argument of Mr Mason seems watertight, but the rules never came from start to finish.
Suffice it to say, the absence of rules would go a long way to undermine the acceptance of the White Paper, and surely formed the basis of appeal at the Appeals Court.
In a televised address to the nation, President Julius Maada Bio refutes the allegation of bias and unfairness although he did not touch on the question of legality of the commission. In what appears a complete dissociation from tribal and regional considerations in the implementation of the report, President Bio informed Sierra Leoneans that public officials and former ministers who appeared before the COI were summoned not because of ethnic and regional affiliations.
The officials, he said, were summoned because they were entrusted with the supreme responsibility to serve Sierra Leone noting that it is their conduct as individuals and their decisions while they served this country that were the subject of close scrutiny by the COI.
The Attorney-General’s office which is charged with the responsibility of enforcing recommendations in the White Paper has been warned to respect due process.
“The rule of law must be fully applied to the recovery of assets and public funds alleged to have been stolen by officials of the past government,” he said.
The Rule of law President Bio says is supreme meaning every step taken by the AG’s office in the implementation of the ‘White Paper’ should be properly guided. The commission came into existence in March 2019 after a heated and controversial debate in the well of parliament.
The debate was the most lengthy and tense in Sierra Leone’s contemporary political history. The position of the main opposition was clear: The APC parliamentarians were not averse to the setting of the COI, but pinpointed that rules of evidence must be tabled in the well of parliament for debate.
The law prescribes that the rules of evidence must be brought to parliament in the form of constitutional instruments. In the absence of evidence rules, APC maintains, the COI should not hold.
The controversial debate resulted into APC securing the majority of votes, but could not get the two-third majority needed to stop the COI. The genesis of COI could be traced to Governance Transition Team report of 2018 authored by Professor David Francis and team.
The report accused the past government to have engaged in an “organised criminal racketeering.” It says the government of former President Koroma exhibited an unprecedented level of fiscal discipline that led to a near collapse of the country’s economy.
Owing to the Mismanagement of state resources, the report further alleges, that the country saw the highest debt burden ever seen since post independent Sierra Leone.
A local and external debt of Le4Trillion and US$1.6Bn respectively was said to have been accrued in the koroma regime owing to mismanagement of state resources. The high debt burden, into which the report say the country was trapped, no doubt, became the main reason for the setting up of the commission.
But, and the but part of it, the commission is without rules of evidence.