The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 June 2014
It would appear the president has listened to his own conscience, and the voice of the millions of Sierra Leoneans affected daily by corruption in high places.
The president has sacked one of his sacred cows – Richard Konteh – the chief of staff at State House, regarded as one of his closest political allies and 2007 election campaign financiers.
As chief of staff in the office of the president, Richard Konteh was one of the most powerful and influential cabinet ministers.
From State House, he wielded enormous control over budgets, procurement contracts and key political decision making.
With his academic background in development studies from a German institution, Konteh was also one of Koroma’s senior policy advisers and speech writers.
Has Richard Konteh’s cup runneth over, or has he been toppled in the fight for leadership of the ruling party?
Konteh’s role in shaping the government’s Agenda for Change, which has since metamorphosed into an Agenda for Prosperity, was significant.
But his position as a senior minister is not without controversy. He is believed to be one of the richest ministers in the Koroma government, having amassed a lot of wealth in just six years of being in power.
Despite litany of corruption allegations by the media, spanning several years, the president had decided to promote Konteh from his trade and industry ministerial position to become the chief of staff at State House.
As minister of trade and industry, Konteh is alleged to have unlawfully made a fortune – estimated to be running into millions of dollars, especially through public contract kickbacks and political patronage.
His real estate and property portfolio in the capital Freetown and his home district of Bombali is valued at more than $10 million.
Richard Konteh is no ordinary government minister. He shares deep tribal kinship with the president.
In 2013, he was in America on official government business, where he also launched his tribal Lokko Descendants Association, which many believe he will be using as a foundation for launching his presidential ambition in 2017.
In 2006, whilst working for ECOWAS in Lagos, Nigeria, Richard Konteh was accused of serious financial malfeasance and was then sacked.
But Konteh went on to play a key role in introducing Koroma to wealthy Nigerians, as well as soliciting funds in furtherance of Ernest Koroma’s presidential ambition.
In 2007, Konteh is believed to have contributed no less than $200,000 into the APC election campaign fund.
And with Koroma in office at State House, Konteh’s mission and that of other ruling party financial backers – turned ministers, was to recoup their political financial investments, and more.
At best, ministers are deliberately under-valuing their assets for declaration purposes with impunity, all because the president has chosen to look the other way.
So why has president Koroma sacked Richard Konteh?
The statement published by the State House Communications Unit this morning is unequivocal.
The president is accusing Richard Konteh of serious crimes against the state, for which his position as chief of staff at State House has become untenable.
This is what State House says:
“It has come to the attention of his Excellency the president that Dr. Richard Konteh, chief of staff in the office of the president was not open and transparent in the conduct of official negotiations for a mining agreement with a private sector operator, thereby violating established policy, undermining existing institutional arrangements, and exposing government to potential loss of revenue. (Photo: President Koroma).
“In another matter involving the illegal export of timber from Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone police are investigating an unauthorised executive order allegedly issued by Dr. Konteh, granting an open-ended mandate to the Timber Harvesters, Processors and Exporters (SL) Ltd., to undertake the export of an unlimited quantity of value-added processed timber, in direct contravention of the approval granted by his excellency the president for a fixed quantity of 30 containers only.
“Against this background, his excellency the president has decided to relieve Dr. Konteh of his duties with immediate effect, while the police continue with their investigations.”
These are very serious charges made by the president against his minister, though not new.
It is an open secret that several senior ministers are violating the country’s customs regulations with impunity, frustrating the efforts and good work of the Commissioner of the National Revenue Authority (Photo).
Two years ago, vice president Sam Sumana was accused of violating regulations pertaining to the exporting of timber, which had been deemed illegal. But after police investigations all accusations were dropped.
But the question now remains whether the Anti-Corruption Commission in the first instance, will prosecute Richard Konteh for abuse of office, while the police investigation into other criminal offences continues.
Or is this case likely to be swept under the carpet as the president has done with regards other senior ministers accused of corruption and recently sacked from office, without any recourse to the courts for restitution and possibly custodial sentence.
The corruption court case involving William Conteh – younger brother of Richard Konteh has died a political death, because of what has been dubbed the ‘Lokko tribal patronage’, aided by the powerful political influence wielded by Richard Konteh.
Perhaps critics of Koroma’s selective and lightweight approach to fighting corruption, will now be vindicated, after claims that Sierra Leone’s effort to secure over $200 million of US Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) funding, was jeopardised by Richard Konteh’s poor leadership and financial impropriety.
But is this sacking by the president a sign of good things to come in the country’s fight against corruption, or is it a political ploy to clean up the field ahead of the campaign for the leadership of the ruling party in 2017?