Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 February 2015
The Commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) – Joseph Kamara has today been arm-twisted into signing a joint-statement with the dishonourable majority leader of the Houses of parliament – Ibrahim Bundu, to work together in bringing all those responsible for the missing Ebola funds to justice.
This new development is seen by many in Sierra Leone as a major face-saving climb down by the government, whose intention was to smother the report into the missing Ebola funds, by muzzling the voice of the people and the media.
But the Sierra Leone Telegraph believes that today’s agreement between the ACC and Ibrahim Bundu, is a strategy by president Koroma to save the parliamentarian and the government from further embarrassment and public ridicule.
The signed joint statement says: “Following the recent tabling in Parliament of the Auditor – General’s report on the management of the Ebola funds, there have been widespread public reactions, discussions and debates.
“In light of the need to expeditiously and properly process the report, Parliament and the Anti-Corruption Commission, have resolved to collaborate with a view to ensuring an equitable, fair and thorough process. This collaboration is based on the provisions of existing laws in order to address the grave matters raised in the said Audit report. The public is hereby encouraged to exercise patience as the process for addressing the Ebola Audit report gets underway.”
The public row between the parliamentary leader – Ibrahim Bundu on the one hand, and the Anti-Corruption Commissioner – Joseph Kamara, the media and citizens on the other, broke a few days ago when Ibrahim Bundu shamelessly vowed to stop the public and the media from discussing the report – a report that belongs to the people.
In an unprecedented and strongly worded statement published this afternoon, the country’s Bar Association, has criticised Ibrahim Bundu for attempting to curtail freedom of speech in the country:
“The Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) is aware of certain statements made by the majority leader of Parliament and leader of government business both in the well of the House of Parliament and on a radio interview with radio democracy FM98.1. In his statement to Parliament on 17th February 2015, the majority leader is attributed to saying:
“The Auditor – General’s report on the management of the Ebola fund, falls within the provisions in the constitution and the standing orders which are now before Parliament but have not disposed of them for public consumption. Any attempt therefore to discuss the Auditor – General’s opinion on the management of the Ebola fund in any media will be tantamount to undermining the relevant provisions of the constitution and those of the standing order.”
“The SLBA expresses its disagreement with the views of the majority leader. Section 25 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No.6) 1991 provides for the freedom of expression and of the press. This right is protected in the Constitution as a fundamental human right and freedom of the individual. Limitations on this right are provided for in the said section 25 of the Constitution, but the provisions of the Constitution and standing orders relied upon by the majority leader, do not serve as a limitation on this fundamental right.
“We must also note that the said report already appears to be public knowledge, with international media houses like CNN already airing portions of it on their news program. Freedom of expression and the press are rights which the SLBA strenuously upholds and jealously guards.
“Whilst it is fair to ask the public not to rush to judgement at this stage, any indication of limiting the public’s right to freedom of expression and the press is completely unnecessary and frowned upon. We encourage the public to be calm and law-abiding, and not to rush to judgement. We remain conscious of our social obligation to protect the rule of law and to give advice to bear on contemporary national issues, when matters of legal significance come to bear.”
The apparent earth shattering silence by the country’s media association (SLAJ) in the last few days, in the face of Ibrahim Bundu’s parliamentary gaff, ended this afternoon with a statement, also denouncing the statement of the now disgraced parliamentary leader.
But SLAJ’s rebuke of Bundu’s attempt to curtail media and civil liberty, surprisingly, is not itself without criticism of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner, who is now widely regarded as the champion of justice and civil liberty in Sierra Leone.
Is SLAJ now heading towards the wrong side of people’s justice?
This is what SLAJ said: “The attention of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has been drawn to “threats” issued by the Majority Leader in Parliament against the media discussing or commenting on the Auditor General’s report on the management of Ebola funds.”
“SLAJ maintains that the opinion expressed by the Majority Leader out rightly conflicts with the spirit and letter of Section 11 of the 1991 Constitution, which provides that ‘the Press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this constitution and highlight the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.’ ”
“There were no such restrictions placed on discussing the 2012 and 2013 reports by the Auditor General, so why is the report on the use of Ebola funds being treated differently?” asks SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis (Photo).
“SLAJ also wishes to draw the attention of the Anti-Corruption Commission to the hasty manner in which names of individuals to be investigated have been published. SLAJ does not believe people should be invited to the ACC through the media as this only serves to sensationalise the issue. The ACC should not be seen to be playing to the gallery, thereby unnecessarily damaging the reputations of individuals.
“SLAJ therefore urges the Anti-Corruption Commission to in future respect the “good name” of individuals and to not unnecessarily cause damage to their reputation through publication, when they have not been charged to court, found guilty of any wrong doing, or even gone through an investigation.
“In this light, SLAJ urges all media practitioners to handle discussions surrounding the Auditor General’s report on the management of Ebola funds ethically, fairly and respectfully.
“SLAJ reiterates that it will robustly resist any attempt to curtail freedom of expression and of the press, and views the Auditor General’s report on the management of Ebola funds as a legitimate issue of public interest, which must and should be discussed openly, transparently and fairly.
“Public discussion of the issues highlighted in the report will in no way hinder parliamentary debate on these issues. In fact, it will possibly provide more insights for parliamentarians on these issues, thus enriching the debate in Parliament.”
As the row continues into the missing Ebola funds, steps are yet to be taken to restrict travelling of all those suspected of wrong doing by the Auditor General.
In a latest twist to this shameful saga, deputy health minister Madina Rahman, has this week admitted to receiving cash from the Ebola Fund to pay for licensing a vehicle bought for her by the government, in an article published by Cocorioko – a government press. (Photo: Madina Rahman – far right, with the editor of Cocorioko – Kanu).
But the fact is that NO minister of state should collude, encourage, aid or abet in the violation of public financial management rules and regulations. Quite clearly, Madina Rahman was wrong to have accepted a cheque made in her name from the Ebola fund meant for looking after the sick.
Furthermore, legal experts say that it is bizarre and preposterous for a minister of state to be given cash to personally take her vehicle to be licensed at the Road Transport Corporation. Does the minister own the vehicle or does the vehicle belong to the state?
The Sierra Leone Telegraph is urging Joseph Kamara of the Anti-Corruption to leave no stone unturned in bringing all those cited in the report and beyond to justice.
What is evidently not clear as yet, are the names of those working in the ministry of health and the national Ebola Response Centre, who obviously made it possible for those cited in the report to have received Ebola funds without documentary and auditable records, and in many respects for dubious reasons.