Stiff Resistance Awaits ‘White Paper’

By Allieu S. Tunkara

The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) has expressed its determination to resist the pending ‘White Paper’ to be published today.

The ‘White Paper’ denotes government’s position towards findings and recommendations of the defunct Commission Of Inquiry (COI).

The release of the ‘White Paper’ has been considered as another political gimmick to take the people’s attention off from corruption scandals and saga the ‘New Direction’ battles with.

One of the COI findings indicated that the past government could not account for over hundreds of Billions of Leones and that state resources were not properly managed in the interest of the state.

The above finding was the basis for the setting up of the commission upon the coming to power of the ‘New Direction’ Government.

Minister of Information and Communication, Mr Mohamed Rado Swarray made it clear that the recommendation would surely be implemented regardless of the status of anyone who might have borne a hand the suspected loot.

Seizure of assets alleged to have been stolen by officials of the past government is one among many recommendations that would be swiftly implemented.

As the much-trumpeted ‘White Paper’ intends to come out, the main opposition, All Peoples Congress (APC) prepares to fire back.

The APC which formed the previous government is in no mood to accept and cooperate with the ‘White Paper’ saying they would not bow to “unconstitutionality.”

The APC has been quite critical of the COI from its outset owing to what the party referred to its “kangaroo-styled” nature.

In most public appearances of the runaway publicity Secretary of the main opposition, Cornelius Deveaux has always told Sierra Leoneans that the COI lacks legality.

As a result, Mr Deveaux says, none of their former ministers and officers would be submitted to the COI hearings.

The government has been accused of selective justice and protectionism in the handling of COI.

Mr Deveaux has always accused government of sheltering sacred cows as ministers who once served the former APC Government also serve the current government.

The current Minister of Lands, Dr Denis Sandy stands as one of the brightest examples of those ministers who were supposed to have faced COI, but that did not happen.

The combined factors of selective justice, protectionism and sheltering of sacred cows are factors that made the acceptance of COI findings extremely difficult and almost impossible.

Despite arguments advanced by APC, the COI went ahead as the three constitutional instruments that formed the COI were tabled before parliament for vetting and voting.

The voting result did not favour COI as the APC won most of the votes.

Sources in the APC have told Nightwatch that the party would challenge COI findings in the Appeals Court.

The challenge to be posed to the ‘White Paper’ is not unconnected to earlier stance maintained by the party that the COI lacked rules of evidence to regulate its practice and procedure.

The absence of evidence rules infringes section 150 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No.6 of 1991, and it goes a long way to undermine the credibility and legality of COI.

Absence of the rules which was a hot controversy in the well of parliament also came up at Commission Room-1 presided over by the Nigerian Judge, Justice Biobele Georgewill.

In an open encounter between the defence and state counsels, Ady Macauley and Robin Mason respectively, the latter argued that the rules of evidence are not a “condition precedent.”

The phrase: ‘condition precedent’ in legal circles means the COI must have been in existence before the rules are formulated.

Granted Mason’s argument holds, the COI used no rules of evidence from start to finish.

The Supreme Court into which the controversial subject of the rules was lodged allegedly went to bed with the COI.

The court which is the highest temple of justice for and within Sierra Leone never handed down a ruling on whether the rules of evidence are a sine qua non or a condition precedent.

Apart from the perceived devastating blow against the COI on the rules of evidence, it was also seen as a political witch-hunt to shut down the APC, a move that is seen widely impossible in modern and democratic Sierra Leone.

The COI, the APC source says, is just another tactical maneuvering by the SLPP Government to fatally injure democracy, undermine the rule of law and other due processes in Sierra Leone.

As the ‘White Paper’ forms part of the shelves of libraries and offices today, the ‘New Direction’ Government of President Julius Maada Bio is plagued with a number of corruption reports.

The reports, the source, say impeach the ‘New Direction’ government as a relentless and ruthless campaigner against graft.

The COI, after the findings, recommended the indictment of 84 persons out of 126 investigated including former President Ernest Bai Koroma, 20 former government ministers and other senior government officials.

When Justice Biobele delivered the report to President Bio at State House in Freetown, the former made it clear that the latter would find the recommendation useful in addressing graft in public service.

It is also hoped that the report would instill a high sense of responsibility and probity in the use of state resources and exercise of power.

The Nigerian Judge also recommended that properties of persons of interest that is not commensurate with the earnings must be forfeited to the state.

Illegal earnings, the Judge said, which had been acquired must be forfeited and those already spent must be brought back to state coffers.

In the event of failure or refusal by the persons of interest to do as required by law, government shall use all lawful means to confiscate all monies standing to their credit.

A close nexus exists between COI and Sierra Leone’s graft agency, the Anti-Corruption commission (ACC).

At a press briefing at the Cathedral House in Freetown, ACC Chief, Francis Ben Kaifallah told journalists that his institution remained ever ready to investigate and prosecute those named in the COI report.

Mr Kaifallah assured the people of Sierra Leone that he would take serious line of action by way of investigation against public officials named in corruption and audit reports.

“Gone are the days when audit or corruption reports are treated as mere opinions,” he assured.

The ACC Boss made the statements while presenting the forensic audit report of 2019 presented by the Auditor-General’s Department.

However, Mr Kaifallah APC says, lacks the moral grounds to investigate acts of corruption against officials of the former government.

The DFID-sponsored corruption perception and the Afro-Barometre reports on corruption remain outstanding.

The report indicated several public institutions including Office of the President as corrupt institutions.

The ACC Chief, APC says, has done nothing to investigate the offices, and such failure lends credence to the allegations of the main opposition of double standards in the fight against graft.

Whether the APC will accept the COI recommendations and ‘White Paper’ in light of such negative circumstances and allegations is a wait-and-see affair.

The COI came into existence in January, 2019 out of findings contained in the Governance Transition Team (GTT) authored by Professor David Francis and team.

The GTT report pointed out that the past government exhibited high level of fiscal indiscipline that led to a near collapse of the country’s economy that was saved by austerity measures.

Owing to the poor management of state resources, the GTT report alleges that the country saw the worst debt burden since independence.

The report indicates that foreign and domestic debt stand at over US$2Bn and Le4 Trillion Leones respectively.

The report thus concludes that the government of former President Koroma ran ‘an organised criminal enterprise.’

At the time of its launching, the GTT report was widely condemned as one that lacked credibility considering the composition of members.

Most Sierra Leoneans had suggested that the report ought to have been compiled by an independent team of civil society organisations, and not SLPP government which is archrival to APC.

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