Human rights group calls for Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission to be more effective
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 January 2017
The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International-CHRDI welcomes the invitation for a genuine and transparent partnership to fight against graft in Sierra Leone.
This is a call that has been made by many Sierra Leoneans who reacted to our Press Release in December 2016, condemning the ACC for largely failing to address corruption effectively and asking the Government of Sierra Leone to do more.
We want to make it very clear to the ACC and the general public that our intention is not to undermine the ACC, but to complement its effort in the fight against corruption; and hold it accountable to its failures, as we have done and will continue to do with many other Government institutions.
We would like to make it clear that we are disappointed in the ACC, when responding to our call, by providing inaccurate and incomplete account of the recovered funds, information on pending appeal cases, and the challenges the commission is encountering which may include human resources and financial constraints.
They have rather indulged in empty and meaningless reactions to our demands.
The ACC should know that they are not exempt from scrutiny by citizens, on whose behalf they exist and for whose good they were established.
CHRDI will not relent in its quest to make them know that they owe citizens a better performance, as transparency must begin at home.
Once more we want to inform citizens of Sierra Leone that on Tuesday 11th October 2016, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner presented an estimated sum of 45 billion Leones to the budget hearing Committee at the Miatta Conference Hall, as their budget for 2017.
The ACC asked for the allocation of capital and development expenditure from the government of Sierra Leone and emphasized that the Commission also has poor staff strength as well as inadequate vehicle and motor cycle, and public contribution in the fight against corruption.
It is a shame that the ACC deliberately denies this fact in our previous report.
In their response to our Human Rights and Policy Brief publication on the 29th December 2016, the ACC informed the general public that they have recovered “so far, 11 Billion Leones”.
According to our records and the Commission’s own records, from 2008 to 2014 the commission has recovered more than the declared amount they claimed they handed over to the Government of Sierra Leone.
Therefore we will take this opportunity to present to the public the following facts:
a) On 31st October, 2012 the ACC presented cheques totalling Le 2,083,333,333.35 (Two Billion, Eighty Three Million, Three Hundred and Thirty Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty Three Leones, Thirty Five Cents) to the government of Sierra Leone, via the Minister of Finance.
b) On 20th October 2012, the ACC presented a cheque of Le 552,255,066.67 (Five Hundred and Fifty Two Million, Two Hundred and Fifty Five Thousand, Sixty Six Leones, Sixty Seven Cents). Consequently for the year 2012 the ACC presented Le2.63 billion Leones to the Government of Sierra Leone.
c) On 14th January 2014 ACC presented Le 1,324,467,281 (One Billion Three Hundred and Twenty Four Million, Four Hundred and Sixty Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Eighty One Leones) as recovered stolen funds for the year 2013.
According to the Commission so far, they have been able to recover Le 11, 000,000,000 (Eleven billion Leones) from 2008 to 2013. We consider this as misinformation to the public as it does not correspond with the fact and figures.
d) On 8th September 2014 ACC presented the sum of Le 474,300,000 (four hundred and seventy four million, three hundred thousand Leones) to the government of Sierra Leone through State house. However, we are yet to see any monies presented for 2015 and 2016.
In their press release, they assured the general public that they presented these recovered monies annually. But the questions we are asking of the ACC as a transparent institution are these:
1. If they have been recovering these monies since 2008, where is the evidence of recovery?
2. Why has there been no presentation for the two outstanding years 2015 and 2016?
3. By their own records only about 4.5 billion has been handed over to the Government of Sierra Leone, What about the remaining Le 6.5 billion?
4. The ACC publicly names those charged with corruption, so why has the ACC failed to publicly name those from whom it claims to have recovered the Le 11 billion?
5. With respect to the NASSIT ferry saga, why have the ACC failed to provide evidence that Edmund Koroma and others have refunded monies the ACC adjudged they need to pay back to the National revenue coffers?
At this point, we would also like to draw the attention of the ACC and the general public to the following:
Public Access to Information
The Access to Information Act 2013 requires public authorities to grant citizens access to government-held information. The law incorporates a sufficiently narrow list of non-disclosure exceptions, a reasonably short timeline for disclosure, and reasonable processing fees.
CHRDI believes that accessing information held by public bodies is a fundamental human right, set out in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So in this regard, we have not violated any laws of Sierra Leone by raising this all important issue and asking the ACC to provide answers to questions raised in our release.
Furthermore, the right to information plays a crucial role in promoting participation and democratic accountability. It is an important tool to better achieve lending goals, reduce corruption, identify potential social, environmental and economic benefits, ensuring that the public has effective access to information; undertaking public information activities that contribute to non-tolerance of corruption, as well as public education programmes, including school and university curricular; respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption.
Despite the tremendous donor and government support the ACC is receiving, there are still substantial deficits in their operations and high levels of corruption continue to be recorded in the voluntary, private and public sectors, the executive (including the security sector and immigration management), legislative, and judicial branches across the country.
The ACC Act provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials/individuals. But not withstanding this, people frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity as a direct result of the failure of the ACC to put the right systems in place to prevent and curb high level corruption.
From the evidence above, it is our considered opinion that the ACC lacks transparency in handling corruption in Sierra Leone.
The ACC’s record on corruption
The ACC’s record on corruption is dismal to say the least. By their own accounts, they have dropped 205 cases so far, whilst securing 105 convictions. Essentially of all the cases looked at by the ACC, they only secured convictions in less than 30% of matters dealt with.
Of those 30 % cases, we estimate over 60% were overturned on appeal or acquitted at trial with over 40% still awaiting an appeal hearing date. In essence, the actual conviction rate for cases that remain is less than 10%.
If those figures are correct, then the ACC is arguably not fit for purpose, having regard to the huge outlay in funding provided by tax payers and the country’s development partners.
In view of the above, CHRDI is challenging the ACC to reveal the following:
1. How many of the 105 convictions it claims to have secured were overturned on appeal?
2. How many cases are pending in the Appeal Court?
3. Why were 205 investigations discontinued without the public being told in similar manner as was done in the case of the 100 buses where Logus Koroma was publicly exonerated? Why are others not equally being publicly exonerated?
The ACC is empowered to verify asset disclosures and may publish in the media the names of those who refuse to disclose and petition the courts to compel disclosure.
Failure to disclose also carries a penalty of up to 20 million Leones ($3,700) and one year in prison but we have information that the particulars of individual declarations were not available to the public without a Court Order.
There has been no demonstrable action by the ACC against asset declaration defaulters. The law requires all public officers in or out of the country, their spouses, and children to declare their assets and liabilities. It also mandates disclosure of assets by Government Ministers and Members of Parliament.
Therefore, we would like the ACC to provide true and honest answers to the following questions:
1. What is the current status on asset declarations?
2. What mechanisms exist to bring defaulters of the asset declaration regime to book?
3. How many public servants have been prosecuted for failing to declare assets?
4. The asset declaration scheme is annual, what is the rate of compliance?
The ACC must understand that as the lead body in the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone, it must conform to the highest standards of transparency and probity.
We want to take this opportunity to remind the ACC of this requirement and for meaningful action to be seen to be taken to curb corruption in Sierra Leone.
In conclusion, we in the CHRDI would like to state that we shall continue to educate the people of Sierra Leone on our key advocacy programs which are democracy, human rights, rule of law, accountability and transparency, public access to information, and responsible decision making; and we shall not relent.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI ) is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights.
CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.