Rights group CHRDI alleges serious corruption within the Sierra Leone Anti -Corruption Commission 

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 January 2017

Rights advocacy group in Sierra Leone – Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), last week published what it says is a damning report alleging serious corruption within the country’s anti-graft agency – the ACC.

According to the CHRDI report, “…the ACC has been engaged in shady activities, which the Commission is yet to provide satisfactory explanations for. There is a strong public suspicion that the commission is in the habit of diverting recovered looted funds into private ownership.”

Speaking to CHRDI about the allegations contained in their report, the Chief Executive of CHRDI – Mr. Abdul Fatoma, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that CHRDI stands by every word written in their report.

This is what the CHRDI report says:

Evidence we have gathered from across the country confirms that corruption disproportionately impacts the poor more than the rich in Sierra Leone.

Corruption has hindered economic development, reduced social services, and diverted investments in infrastructure, institutions and social services into personal accounts of government officials who have not been held accountable.

Between 2008 and 2014, The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) charged 70 people to court and closed 205 cases. It received and kept in view 58 and referred 10, but it is unclear where and to who it was referred.

Some cases are also not charged to court because they are kept in what they called ‘Keep Review System.’ ACC officials’ told CHRDI, that the commission cautioned 40 corruption cases and secured 64 convictions within the period above and also recovered billions of Leones.

However, our researchers discovered that dozens of corruption cases are stalled on appeal, either because the Commission is unwilling to urge the judiciary to slate dates for hearing of those matters or the judiciary has been showing no willingness to assign the matters to judges for speedy trial.

To fight corruption effectively, the judiciary must be independent, impartial and effective.

The Government of Sierra Leone is duty bound to ensure that an Agency responsible for investigating corruption is sufficiently independent and insulated but Public confidence in The ACC has been drained and not many Sierra Leoneans, in and out of the country trust it to prosecute those implicated in corruption.

The ACC has to demonstrate its ability to work effectively, efficiently and expeditiously but the ACC has not established itself as a credible, impartial and effective multi-disciplinary agency that professionally investigates and prosecutes organised financial crimes and corruption.

CHRDI has discovered that the ACC lacks staff with the right competences, expertise and skill’s, especially in areas of policing organised economic crimes, financial intelligence and forensic auditing, and depends on the same tired old methods that are rendered moribund by the sophistication of present day corruption in Sierra Leone.

An ACC official on grounds of anonymity told our researcher this: “They don’t want to prosecute corrupt offences and later end up losing the case because taking a legal action against someone who has been allegedly involved in corrupt practices demands much spending and is time consuming. Also there is the problem of witnesses failing to show up for court proceedings, sometimes because of bribery or intimidation.”

Sierra Leoneans are existing in an environment where corruption is systemic but lacks cultural resonance, cheating a climate where social sanctions can be applied against corrupt practices.

Since the repeal of The Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2000, the Commission has prosecuted about Seventy cases.

Giving us a break down, a senior ACC official explained that in 2004, one Joseph Aruba, Regional Electoral commissioner East, was convicted and in 2005 Gilbert Decker, a Magistrate, was convicted On the 9th July 2009, Francis A. Gabbidon former Ombudsman was convicted.

Sheik T. Koroma, former Minister of Health and Sanitation was also convicted by the Commission. On the 11th March 2011, Haja Afsatu Kabba, former Minister of Marine Resources was convicted, but the conviction was over turned by the appellant court.

In the same year, the Executive Director of Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority, Sarah Bendu was convicted.

Former Freetown Mayor, Herbert Georgia Williams was convicted in 2012 and in 2015. The NRA trio Solomon Hindolo Katta, Idriss Fofanah and Catherine Katta were convicted. Solomon Katta had since filed an appeal, but his matter has been stalled and not called for hearing since he was jailed.

We also discovered that in 2013 the ACC indicted ten people for the total amount of Le. 700,000,000 (seven hundred million Leones).

The persons indicted include: Abraham B. Lavally, Inah James, Bakie Minah, Everton Faulkner, Abu Bakarr Kamara, (All former customs officer of the National Revenue Authority), Idriss Fornah (Officer-NRA), Adetunji Desmond Cole (Collection Assistant-NRA), Ishmail Dainkeh-Banker, Isata Osaio Kamara, Bulk Cashier and Sharka Kpanabum all were working for the ECObank—The Pan African Bank.

The above named persons were together tried along with Solomon Hindolo Katta by a Nigerian Judge, Justice A. M. Paul. The ACC prosecution completed the case and the defence lawyers also concluded their argument.

However, the case file was later withdrawn when the Judge left the country, though the accused persons were remanded at the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. Subsequently, they were secretly granted bail for a yet to be known sum including undisclosed bail conditions.

Judgment in their matter is yet to be delivered. We also learned that the case file is missing but their names are written in a certain blue ledger in the office of the Master and Registrar of the High Court, Stephen Yayah Mansaray, and they still go to court on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays to sign in the book against their names.

 The most disturbing information reaching us is that the ACC has been engaged in shady activities, which the Commission is yet to provide satisfactory explanations for. There is a strong public suspicion that the commission is in the habit of diverting recovered looted funds into private ownership.

This is a serious dent on the anti-corruption agency’s already battered image. So the question becomes ‘who is now going to police the ACC?

The oversight role of the country’s Parliament to ensure fiscal discipline through accountability is deeply undermined by excessive political and financial decision-making and the unwilling attitude of the members of parliament to account for public funds given to them by Donors and the government of Sierra Leone has helped to drive down citizens trust further.

We at CHRDI believe that pervasive corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to instability.

Corruption erodes the moral fabric of the society and violates the social and economic rights of citizens’, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

The recently launched campaign by the ACC called ‘pay no bribe’ is considered by some members of the public as another playbook antic that would produce no results.

For the government to succeed in fighting corruption, it needs to introduce an effective and strong punitive system that is independent and has strong commitment from political leaders.

CHRDI will continue to promote grass roots monitoring of public expenditures and the provision of public services, mounting media campaigns to expose and defeat corruption, and empower ordinary citizens to keep watch on what actually happens at the point of delivery of public services.

Editor’s Note:

The editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph has received a written statement in response to the allegations made in this article, from the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, which will be published later today.

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