Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 December 2015
‘Out with the old and in with the new, as the New Year rolls.’ President Koroma has this afternoon sacked some of his most senior, closest and trusted ministers in a surprise and unexpected shakeup of his cabinet.
In a typical move reminiscent of former president Siaka Stevens, Koroma made his changes just days after sacking another of his trusted and loyal ministers – the housing minister Musa Tarawallie, a former senior opposition SLPP executive who cross-carpeted to the ruling APC.
Today’s announcement sees the sacking of Attorney General Frank Kargbo, after making several major legal gaffs, which not only brought the government into disrepute, but caused embarrassment for the president.
Frank Kargbo has been replaced by the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, who many in Sierra Leone say has not done enough to curb corruption in high places and to change the image of the country from being one of the most corrupt in the continent.
In with the new also, is the former adviser to president Koroma and minister of plenipotentiary – Professor Monty Jones who is popularly known as ‘Dr. Rice’ for his outstanding international research into the production of high yield and resilient rice seeds.
Sierra Leone Telegraph had learnt that Professor Jones’s (Photo) decision to join the Koroma government a few years ago, leaving his research job as head of the West African Rice Research Agency did not go down very well. He was heavily criticised for joining what was described by critics as a corrupt regime.
But after languishing in the corridors of State House and making very little impact on the governance of the country, president Koroma has today promoted Professor Jones to head the ministry of agriculture, to help the government achieve its national food security objective.
Gone with the old also, is a minister many in Sierra Leone would describe as a total failure. He is Dr. Sam Sesay, the minister of agriculture who has been replaced by ‘Dr. Rice’.
Analysts would say that president Koroma has been playing politics, and therefore too slow in making this important change at the ministry of agriculture, which could have seen Sierra Leone become self-sufficient in food.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed about allegations of serious corruption at the ministry of agriculture with Dr. Sesay at the helm, as millions of dollars meant for developing the country’s farming sector remain unaccounted for.
It is unlikely Dr. Sesay (Photo) will be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission, as Sesay now becomes an adviser to president Koroma. ‘Case closed’ as they in Freetown.
Appointments to the position of presidential adviser in Sierra Leone must not be envied. It is a non-constitutional office that sits outside the cabinet, and hence does not carry the authority and power of cabinet minister.
Some previous appointees to the office of presidential adviser have disappeared into political oblivion, such as the controversial former minister of transport – Kemoh Sesay, who was sacked by president Koroma after embroiling the Koroma government in an international cocaine case in 2008.
Another senior ruling party grandee who was sacked by president Koroma and then appointed as presidential adviser, is the former information minister IB Kargbo.
And after several years of redundancy in that office, Kargbo decided to enter parliament and was elected as an MP two weeks ago to represent Bombali.
But the big question the Sierra Leone Telegraph is asking tonight is, who will replace Joseph Kamara at the Anti-Corruption Commission?
Joseph Kamara (Photo) may have been ineffective as head of the anti-graft agency for obvious reasons. He is a cousin of the president and himself a senior ruling party grandee, who has struggled over the years as head of the Anti-Corruption Commission to reconcile his loyalties – to State and president.
After being seen as failing to prosecute and or indict several senior government officials for corruption, yet hugely effective in chasing small fries, there was high expectation for him to bring those responsible for stealing $14 million Ebola funds to justice.
Did he stumble, or was he sat upon by the powers from above to allow ruling party members of parliament to have their own way?
We may never know, but one thing is certain. Joseph Kamara is the new Attorney General and minister of justice of Sierra Leone. As a former international court Judge, he is far more savvy and experienced than the outgoing Frank Kargbo, and is not expected to make the sort of gaffs for which Kargbo had become notorious.
Frank Kargbo (Photo) had the chance to demonstrate his legal prowess but blew it. When faced with the need to efficiently implement the Shears Moses Commission of Enquiry Report into the 2009 political violence in Sierra Leone, Frank Kargbo failed to give proper advice to the president.
Or, did the president decide not to take his advice?
The Report had “recommend that steps be taken for those responsible for the acts of violence in Freetown and Gendema to be relieved of their responsibilities and barred from holding any public office for a period of at least 5 (five) years. The Mayor of Freetown, Herbert George Williams, and the Resident Minister South Musa Tarawallie are being specifically mentioned.”
In his white paper produced three years after the Report was published as Attorney General, Frank Kargbo wrote that the government “however regrets its inability to legally effect that recommendation, as the banning of citizens from holding public office (other than by law) recommended by the Commission is not provided for in the laws of Sierra Leone………In the case of the Mayor of Freetown, Herbert George Williams, he was duly elected by popular vote for a term of four years. This mandate cannot therefore be overturned by the government through administrative action.”
And on the issue of relieving the former resident minister south – Musa Tarawallie, who by then had been promoted as internal affairs minister, Frank Kargbo wrote that the “government assures the public that appropriate action will be taken in due course in that regard.”
Musa Tarawallie (Photo) not only stayed in office as a government minister, but was later moved from internal affairs responsible for the police force to become the minister of lands. He was sacked last week by president Koroma and is being investigated for corruption.
Former Mayor of Freetown Herbert George Williams, named and shamed in the Report, could also have been in office today, had he not thrown himself under the bus, after he was found guilty of corruption by the courts.
But perhaps the biggest gaff committed by Attorney General Frank Kargbo, was his failure to give proper advice to the president in accordance with the constitution, when the president decided unilaterally to sack vice president Sam Sumana.
Although president Koroma won the case with the help of the Supreme Court judges who decided to take a political perspective of the argument, rather than relying on the legal interpretation of the constitution, Sierra Leone remains divided over the manner in which the president sacked the country’s vice president, because of poor advice from the Attorney General.
Another gaff that has come to define Frank Kargbo as an ineffective Attorney General, was his unconscionable decision to grant the ministry of finance and the ministry of transport the judicial clearance to unlawfully spend $12 million to purchase 50 public buses on credit, from a Chinese company without first informing parliament and without going out to competitive tender.
This Busgate corruption scandal, has also cast an indelible stain on the government’s so called zero tolerance for corruption and its commitment to the enforcement of the rule of law.
With the Supreme Court comprising of some of the most experienced of Judges in the country – Acting Chief Justice Valesius Thomas, Nicolas Browne-Marke, Eku Roberts, Vivian Solomon and Patrick Hamilton, all from the minority Creole tribe in Sierra Leone, there was expectation today that president Koroma was going to appoint a substantive Chief Justice from among their number.
But there was disappointment, as president Koroma failed to reward the Judges that got him out of jail (metaphorically) to continue at State House as president, after he had violated the country’s constitution by unilaterally sacking the vice president.
President Koroma has instead appointed an outsider – High Court Judge Justice Hamid Abdulai Charm as Chief Justice, relieving the outgoing Acting Chief Justice Valesius Thomas who officially retired in October 2015.
Many questions will be asked about the failure of president Koroma to appoint Justice Nicholas Browne Marke, who has on several occasions deputised in the absence of the Acting Chief Justice. Is president Koroma repeating the same mistakes made by Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh?
Whatever the answer, there are sections of the Creole community in Sierra Leone who today may feel aggrieved and will no doubt accuse president Koroma of tribalism.
What do we know about Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm?
He has been a Judge of the High Court of Sierra Leone since June 2011.
From 2010-2011 he was a private practitioner in Freetown. From 2003-2010 he worked for Sierra Leone’s National Revenue Authority, as Principal Collector, Board Secretariat and Legal Affairs (2003-2005); as Deputy Commissioner, Board Secretariat and Board Secretary (2005-2007); and as Director of Policy and Legal Affairs (2007-2010).
From 2002-2003 he was Director of Litigation for the Lawyers Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA). From January 2002 to October 2003 he was a lawyer in private practice. From 1992-2001 he worked for the Director of Public Prosecutions Division, Law Officers’ Department, first as State Counsel and after 1999 as Senior State Counsel. Justice Charm received an LLB in 1990 from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and a B.L. in 1991 from the Sierra Leone Law School.
In 2000 he received an LL.M in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He was appointed a Judge of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2013.
State House sources have today 29th December confirmed that finance minister Marah has not been sacked.
Marah (Photo) joined the Koroma government in 2010 as Chief of Staff at State House, and in 2012 was promoted to minister of finance, replacing Samura Kamara.
Before joining the Koroma government, Marah worked at the commonwealth secretariat in London as a public expenditure management adviser.
But his stewardship of the finance ministry has not been without controversy. Failing to help the government put forward a strong business case for Sierra Leone to gain access to a major slice of the American Millennium Compact funding after two attempts, there were questions about his ability to promote financial integrity, due diligence and fiduciary responsibility in the ministry.
Sierra Leone failed to gain the compact status because of corruption in high places and poor governance, which the ministry of finance has largely failed to curb.
Marah presented his 2016 Budget to parliament last month amid cheer from ruling party members of parliament, and there was no sign of trouble in the camp. But it is understood that key ministries are unhappy with the tighter financial controls that finance minister Marah was proposing to introduce to curb unnecessary departmental spending.
But even before the Ebola crisis, all has not been well with the economy despite the government boasting of a 15% GDP growth, which was largely made possible by a one-off surge in iron ore production and export in 2011.
Research conducted by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, shows that prior to this period, the economy had been teetering on the margins of slow decline as household incomes fell, inflation rose, unemployment increased and poverty grew.
Marah has not been replaced but an unknown and untested pair of hands – Patrick Saidu Conteh, who little is known about in the world of international finance and governance has joined the ministry of finance as minister of state.
Conteh was the Deputy Managing Director of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (which is owned by government) from 1996 to 2014.
But in 2013, Conteh (Photo) was embroiled in a corruption scandal along with the Managing Director of Commercial Bank – Crispin Deigh, for defrauding state funds. According to police both were indicted for accepting a Lexus Jeep registration number – AEW 240 and a Mercedes Jeep registration number AEW 242 respectively, from a Mr. Kabba Khalu without record of payment for the vehicles.
According to the court charges involving the two and several others, the particulars of offence stated that on dates unknown between 3rd April and 20th May 2013 in Freetown, they failed to report within two days to the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Bank of Sierra Leone a suspicious personal introduction of Kabba Khalu.
Count seven of the same case stated that on dates unknown between 3rd April and 20th May 2013 in Freetown they conspired with other persons unknown to defraud the Commercial Bank the sum of Le 821.19m.
But in September 2013, in a rather bizarre twist to this case, the government decided on a nolle prosequi, when the Director of Public Prosecution Suleiman Bah – representing the state, informed the court that the prosecution will be offering no evidence against the accused and as a result, asked the Court to discharge Conteh and Deigh on all charges.
Dr. Samura Kamara continues as minister of foreign affairs, and has been joined by Dr. Mohamed Gibril Sesay and Isata Kabia as ministers of state 1&2 respectively.
Today, president Koroma said there are more surprised announcements to be made later. So watch this space.
The question remains though: Will Haja Kallah Kamara – the head of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) be called to take control of the Anti-Corruption Commission?
After all, she has proven that she can take tough and unpopular decisions, such as bringing tax defaulters and dodgers to book, to help boost the country’s revenue through tax collection.
Sources close to the presidency told the Sierra Leone Telegraph tonight that, those senior ministers that have been relieved of their jobs, have failed to give up their presidential ambitions and are also strongly against president Koroma’s campaign to stay in office for a third term.