By Cocorioko Man in Freetown Daniel Nbompa Turay - The end of the civil conflict and the reintroduction of multi-party democracy ushered a very significant chapter in the development of this country. It punctuated the end of centralized governance and an even worse military junta that have been steering governance for years. As we continue to hammer the very naked causes of the war including poor leadership, bad governance, endemic corruption, inept civil service, high unemployment, etc, this moment must be seen as a decisive moment in the pursuit of our national development agenda.
In this piece, I’ll focus my journalistic sword on corruption stretching from the restoration of democracy to present day. Since post conflict Sierra Leone has been ruled by the SLPP and APC, it becomes extremely important to assess how the fight against corruption has fared under the auspices of both parties – their varied approach has just caught the attention of my analytical pen. As a citizen, this is a legitimate disposition. Now get this right, it is only such careful analysis of such desperately needed campaign that will revitalize and intensify our resolve to stamp out this national malady.
Corruption has incontestably been one of the leading factors for the war in Sierra Leone. Politicians siphoned millions of state funds into overseas account with utter disregard for moral conscience, public officials adore bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, corruption became a culture, as the corrupts were admired and the non-corrupts demeaned. When people are given public appointment they are expected to build houses and own fleet of cars in the shortest time, though such luxury might be far from their salaries. As they flourished in corruption, ironically they are seen as serious persons. If they are out of such jobs without those corrupt goodies, people will mock them for being unserious. – We were sick.
The fight against corruption is more important given that about 70% of government expenses go towards procurement – that is the supply of goods and services. These monies go into the hands of several service providing institutions and suppliers. Over the years, the outcome of massive corruption in government expences has been terrible. It has predictably produced entrenched poverty, poor standard of living, fewer opportunities and short life span.
As we turn these ugly chapters behind us, post-conflict governments should be vigorous and committed about humiliating this deadly monster – CORRUPTION. They should be in the forefront with a top-bottom approach so as to win the moral legitimacy of society and the confidence of the poor masses. As a people, this is not only important in rewriting our corrupt-free-value with a life-style befitting a country endowed with enormous resources, but also to comfortably operate in the globalised economy where multi-national and donor confidence are inevitable if an upward economic surge is to be realized.
Established that corruption is one of the major problems confronting Africa, the international community demands that anti-corruption agencies should be set up to effectively promote transparency and accountability now that democracy has been restored and peace attained.
Delivering a paper in the US a couple of days ago on the challenges against corruption, former ACC boss Abdul Tejan Cole revealed that the setting up of the ACC in 2000 was not the quest of the Kabba Government to rid corruption, rather, it was a donor demand – “You either establish an anti-graft institution or we withhold funds, period, ” donor speaks. As Kabba badly needed funds there was no alternative. Hence, the birth of the Anti Corruption Act 2000. So, the ultimate way we can assess SLPP and APC disposition in this noble campaign is how serious the leadership of both parties have been in the effective implementation of the anti-graft campaign.
To satisfy donors, Kabba set up the ACC with lot of political interference which makes it non-independent. Prosecutorial powers were withheld – all prosecutions were subjected to the approval of office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice hence, an ACC with no teeth to bite. So, if you are in the good books of Kabba’s government a field day in the pool of corruption is guaranteed. On the other hand if you are in the bad books, wahala. Many believed that all corrupt cases prosecuted during Kabba’s era were people who fell out with him, particularly those who were threats to Solo B candidacy, such as Momoh Pujeh, Harry Will, etc. Many also believed that Charles Margai then Minister of Internal Affairs smell-the-rat and quickly resigned. Smart guy! Rumours rocking the waves were that the ACC was about to commence investigation into the supply of goods to the Prisons Department as it was also rumoured that Margai’s wife and relatives were the main contractors. Smart guy but lucky indeed. This is because any attempt at roping Margai by then would have been chaotic. I believe physical confrontation would have ensued. (Margai’s support base with spokesman Banja Tejan-Sie at that time which metamephors into the PMDC was at its peak.) No wonder, only 30 cases were charged from 2000 to 2008. Ridiculous!
Also during the 2002 presidential elections Kabba promised he will declare his asset if he wins. He won, yet he could not declare his asset to date. He never spoke about this though the media continued to bash. Well, many including myself believed that Kabba’s refusal to declare his asset was a deliberate ploy to swim in the ocean of corruption unchecked. Among other things he was desperate to raise funds for Solo B 2007 presidential bid. NACSA, NRA, Decentralization were Solo B’s funding kitchens – tiff fitty-fattah. No wonder to endorse Berewa all 149 Paramount Chiefs were given Le 5 million each. Infact, many claimed the NACSA Commissioner and Deputy Commission dogged so deep that they thought they can become running mates. This caused nasty situation for staff at NACSA who were suspected and victimized for identifying with each of the two aspiring vice presidential candidates.Well they might be correct because the adage is true ‘you put your mouth where your money is’. I did a consultancy in NACSA in 2008 and by that time almost all donor funds have been halted as Solo B funding basket at NACSA was confirmed by donors. Commissioner Konton Sesay and Rogers did some great work to restore donor confidence, hence, the releasing of funds. I pray that God will save this country.
Kabba considered one of the earliest ACC commissioners Val Collier to be too effective for his job . Though full with zeal and commitment poor Val was humiliated, threatened and his contract not renewed. He was victimized for taking too many cases to the Attorney General and speaking to foreign press for fear of exposing Kabba lackadaisical attitude in fighting corruption. His removal was very unfortunate. It was an affront to diligent service and, a deliberate setback to the anti-graft crusade. If corruption has been identified as a major limitation why frustrate such a national asset? Here was a man with the gut to stamp out corruption even in the absence of political will. These are the caliber of people Kabba should have drawn very close to himself. Rather, it was the opposite. No wonder we were last in several global accountability and transparency ratings till 2008.
Kabba never demonstrated the political will to combat corruption. This was clearly evident by the pervasive corruption to the astonishment of the international community. His era only worsen the striking poverty of the masses.
Wrting in the New York Times in September in 2009, former ACC boss Abdul Tejan Cole noted “ …many of our leaders are not acting in the best interest of their people, encouraging and becoming part of the kleptocratic elite for whom corruption is a way of life,” he added “we will not succeed in this fight if the political will is lacking and if those who have deprived us of having the basic amenities and economic development go unpunished…African leaders must not be equivocal – no sacred cows must really mean no sacred cows.”
Apart from the legislative instrument, the second most effective tool in combating corruption is a freedom of information (FOI) law. This law gives the ordinary citizen the right to seek public information as he likes. I, Minister IB Kargbo then President of SLAJ, Oswald Hanciles, Emmanuel Abdulai, Alfred Carew, Rose Marie, and others painstakingly lobbied the Kabba government to pass the FOI law before the 2007 election yet in vain. The SLPP parliamentarians were not even interested. Frustrated, we turned to the opposition, APC. We approached President Koroma and other APC parliamentarians with a FOI draft in parliament in 2006 whilst he was opposition leader. After we presented the draft, the then opposition leader Koroma boasted he was an FOI convert and promised to enact it, “…gentlemen and lady, you are speaking to the converted…When I win I will enact a FOI law…” (To be continued in Part 2)