Corruption in Sierra Leone – Koroma’s parliamentary kangaroo court

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Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 June 2015

On Wednesday, 27th May 2015, the Pan African Parliament (PAP), which many in the continent regard as a useless and toothless bloated bulldog, elected the minority leader of Sierra Leone’s parliament – Bernadette Lahai of the opposition SLPP as its vice president. To do what – I heard you asked.

She was elected by a majority of 83 votes against 74 who must have questioned the rationale for electing someone that represents a parliament, that has no respect for the sovereignty of the various arms of government – the judiciary, the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The election of a Sierra Leonean parliamentarian as vice president of the PAP, came just months after president Koroma instructed his majority controlled parliament to take over responsibility for investigating all allegations relating to the misappropriation or theft of Ebola funds.

Early this year, the country’s Auditor General published a damning report, which showed that over $14 million was missing from the Ebola funds meant for the caring of the sick.

Immediately after the publication of this report, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner published a list of names of key suspects, who he said were of interest to the Commission for questioning. He demanded that all accused must report to his office, with immediate effect with any evidence that may be useful to the investigations.

But no sooner the ink on the Anti-Corruption Commissioner’s notice started to dry, president Koroma ordered his leader of parliament to stop everyone in the country from discussing the report, which effectively meant that those accused in the report of corruption were now destined to go scot-free.

After several days of protest by the media and civil liberty groups, the public restraint order was lifted by parliament, and the report became the central topic of discussion everywhere in the country.

President Koroma, realising the damage these fresh allegations of corruption was having on his government’s ability to manage the Ebola crisis, made an unprecedented and ill-judged decision.

He demanded that his majority controlled parliament takes responsibility for investigating, charging and prosecuting those accused of corruption, thereby effectively sacking the Anti-Corruption Commission, the police and the judiciary.

Never before has the parliament of Sierra Leone brought so much controversy and disrepute to itself, by acting as the crime investigator, the prosecutor, the judge and jury – all rolled up in one, in what became known as Koroma’s kangaroo court.

Of course critics would say that, if there is anything president Koroma and his political cronies have mastered, it is the art of concealing wrong doing and protecting wrong doers within the government and ruling APC.

Hence, when his majority controlled parliament – having emasculated the opposition SLPP, took steps to protect unscrupulous officials and businesses named in the Ebola report, few expected justice.

Never before in the history of the country’s parliament – since independence, have the people of  Sierra Leone subjected to such travesty of justice by their elected parliamentarians, for political and personal reasons.

Added to the current political crisis created by president Koroma, after sacking the vice president without due regard for parliamentary procedure laid down in the constitution,  it is quite obvious that a worrying pattern of dictatorship had emerged.

If the aim of president Koroma and his ruling APC was to use the cover of political chaos to divert public attention away from his inability to end the Ebola crisis, then they had succeeded – thanks to a weak and pliable opposition SLPP leadership in parliament.

Despite rising number of new cases, Ebola was removed from the domestic and international agenda as the sacked vice president was made a scapegoat, and the Auditor General’s report used as a red rag to a bull.

Also, if the president’s aim was to divert attention away from public demand for an enquiry into the alleged trafficking of bloods and human tissues, after a container was found at Lungi airport, then he had succeeded.

Today, no one is any wiser as to who was conducting and benefitting from such trafficking, and whether it is still going on.

Not much is heard these days either, of the self-styled parliamentary criminal investigators and the missing Ebola funds, as parliament continues to show very little regard for the demarcation of powers and legal jurisdictions, as enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Koroma’s kangaroo court – led by the deputy speaker and chairman of the parliamentary finance committee – Chernor Bah (Photo), himself a lawyer with suspected, dodgy and questionable business dealings, have refused to accept that parliament makes the laws, the police investigates wrongdoing as well as enforce the laws, the Anti-Corruption Commission indicts and prosecutes those suspected of corruption, and the court adjudicates.

Today, Koroma’s parliament has arrogated all of these powers to itself, in an unprecedented dictatorial manner, which makes China’s communist parliament looks like London’s Westminster.

By politically micro-managing the $14 million Ebola corruption allegations, the government is hoping that all would have been forgotten by the time elections come around in 2018.

But the growing dossier of damning evidence of corruption in high places that has saddled this government in the last eight years, will not go away.

The decision to have parliament micro-managing the Ebola investigations,  rather than allow the police, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the courts unfettered access to all the accused and to exercise their full powers, has shamefully denied the people of Sierra Leone the right to hold these institutions accountable.

What this sad episode has shown yet again in Sierra Leone, is that, if not for the miserable reality that over 60% of the electorate are illiterate and less concerned about the violation of rights they do not understand, perhaps the likes of Koroma and Chernor Bah would have had no place in public governance today.

But there are serious questions to which the chairman of the parliamentary kangaroo court – Chernor Bah himself, must NOW provide answers:

Did he act as legal adviser or provide commercial and or legal advice to any company, whilst serving as a member of the country’s parliamentary committee responsible for mineral resources and or mining agreements?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been informed by at least one foreign company that was involved in the recent land grab fiasco, that Chernor Bah acted as their legal adviser. If so, how much was he paid?

Did Chernor Bah receive or gained pecuniary benefit or any other in-kind advantage from any land or mining contracts facilitated on behalf of any foreign company?

How much money has he made from the sale of information pertaining to the country’s mining and oil exploration rights?

Has Chernor Bah ever declared annually, his assets and business interests as required by law?

Is he prepared to make such declarations public, as a matter of public interest and transparency?

Is Chernor Bah prepared and willing to testify under oath that, he never at any time received or solicited financial gain, by providing legal advice to a foreign company or companies, whilst serving as a member of any parliamentary committee, especially the parliamentary committee for mines and mineral resources?

If found wanting, would Chernor Bah be prepared to tender his resignation from both the parliamentary committee and as deputy speaker of parliament?

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this brilliant reporting. I had argued before that parliament should not subsume the role of police investigations into alleged crimes – be it auditors report or not.

    This parliament has been compromised and should be investigated to account for 63 million Leones Ebola money, awarded to parliamentarians by the Koroma administration.

    Many believe that this was a way of shutting down any serious opposition in parliament.

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