A president cannot defend a nation if he is not held accountable to its laws

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 November 2021:

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it” (Frederic Bastiat). President Bio took the reins of power in 2018, and his fight against corruption was not only his signature policy but is now defining his reign.

If President Bio is to succeed in this fight, far from the ACC, he would need all the acumen and probity of the Auditor General’s office to make good of his promise. Many would liken the Auditor General to that of Bio’s lieutenant commander in the battlefield. But has Bio’s hunter in chief, Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce now become the hunted?

With Taylor Pearce’s record as the Auditor General “certified” by her admirers and colleagues as impeccable, there are no surprises for guessing who is winning the PR battle in the trial by media. For the sake of clarity, the President SUSPENDED, and did not SACK her for “misconduct and lack of professional performance”.

But just like in any other profession or discipline where a complaint is lodged, an investigation or a disciplinary concern is raised, and in the interest of fairness and integrity of the process – the accused individual is suspended from duty or their position until the process is concluded.

As usual and judging by the response from social media, luminary groups, rights groups and other professional groups including the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institution (INTOSAI), you would be forgiven to think that Lara Taylor-Peace was “summarily SACKED. Considering her length of service in this sector, backed by the number of accolades, awards and the high esteem in which she is held both nationally and internationally, many have received her suspension with “shock horror”.

Taylor Pearce’s unblemished record, which has seen her oversee the performances of previous administrations has been received in stark contrast with President Bio’s audacity to touch the “untouchable”. Ok, thanks for the reminder that she is human, she is fallible, and she is not above the law.

My allergy to all constitutionals has just got worse in the past week. Some of our constitutional connoisseurs including figures like Lawyer Gabbidon have opined that the law “Section 119(9) of Act No.6 of 1991 (the Constitution of Sierra Leone) provides: “The provisions of Section 137 of this Constitution, relating to the removal of a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature other than the Chief Justice, from office, shall apply to the Auditor-General.”.

Has the President acted unconstitutionally here? 

Other constitutional wordsmiths like Charles Margai Esq are questioning the legality of the Deputy Minister of Justice; that the designation as Deputy Minister of Justice in neither constitutional, nor has the right to act as he did by “writing to the Hon. Chief Justice in his capacity as chairman, Judicial Service Commission….”, and … “realizing the inapplicability of Section 119(9) of Act No.6 of 1991.” (The Sierraleonetelegraph.com- Nov.17, 2021). Just can’t get my head round the gymnastics.

Other commentators have been sceptical about the timing of this suspension; that the Auditor General’s report is supposedly due for public consumption. Speculations abound, that report does not make for a good bedtime story for President Bio.

Others have pushed the boat out, that not only does it contain damning cases of embezzlements and inflated travelling vouchers for President Bio’s numerous flights abroad, but that the barbs are zeroed in on one of Bio’s trusted comrades, First Minister J. J Saffa. They speculate that it is the unsympathetically scathing report that has led Maada to take a pre-emptive strike. They see it as a calculated effort to cast doubts on the report. How can you trust the message if you can’t trust the messenger? But is there a prescribed time for justice or the search for it?

Now that you have been invited to the theatre of deceit called politics, who will have the last dance? In this jungle called politics, has Taylor Pearce a bird with beautiful feathers that has become a target of hunters?  Has the hunter stumbled and become a prey? Judging by her “impeccable record”, and the level of adulation she has been receiving from several quarters, does this mean that the administration’s alleged attempt to bring the hunter down has turned the chase inside out?

As for those who are rightly or wrongly castigating the administration for having the “audacity” to suspend the Auditor-General pending a tribunal hearing, are they suggesting or implying that the office of Auditor General or Taylor-Pearce is beyond reproach or scrutiny? Is she faultless? If so, should the president have the audacity to question her performance or integrity? Honestly, I don’t have an opinion on the constitutionality of this conundrum, thanks to my allergy.

Nevertheless, we need to be honest and admit to certain concepts that are intrinsically suspect about us as a people and as a nation. As a country, we all accept that corruption is the bane of our nation. We all agree that it is the perennial disease afflicting us all, from one generation to the other. We all agree that we need to fight corruption.

There is a national consensus about the damage corruption has and continues to do to our country. But that is where the consensus starts and ends. The common denominator crumbles; thanks to our political, tribal, regional, moral and ethical differences.

Interestingly, it is these same differences that our leaders exploit to dissolve any resolve as a nation, to fight corruption. They use it to insulate themselves against any potential recriminations for their alleged thievery. The Nobel Prize Winner Wole Soyinka once said that “Only in Africa will thieves be regrouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it…”.  You would think that the duty of youth is to challenge corruption.

This is like the Turkish proverb that “the forest was shrinking. But the trees kept voting for the axe because the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because its handle was made of wood, it was one of them”.  As a nation, as a country and as a people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors, are we victims, accomplices, or partners in crime?

When the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in its mandate to investigate corruption charges, invited the former President Ernest Koroma for questioning, we all know what happened in the response from certain quarters. When Samura Kamara, the former APC flagbearer in the last elections was invited to take tea at the ACC headquarters, the response was predictable. This has been the case for every government and every individual under consideration for alleged corruption. It looks like every individual associated with allegations of corruption finds comfort as a victim from some parts of the public.

When you rob Paul to pay Peter, you can always count on the support of Peter. Do we need a department for common sense? When would our nation be weaned off the normalisation of corruption by late Pa Sheki that, “Usai den tie cow, na dae e dae eat”? When?

But in Bio’s fight against corruption, the irony has not been lost on his critics, some of whom who believe that leadership by example can be the most contagious style of leadership. President Bio and his government have had their own share of allegations of corruption.

As if that was not enough, a video clip on social media, purporting to show his stepson flaunting bundles and wads of foreign currency is making the rounds. Others say that he is a businessman. It makes you wonder whether “those who fight corruption must be clean themselves” (Vladimir Putin).

But has this fight against corruption been selective? Has the administration been choosing its fights in the fight against corruption?

Taylor Pearce is a remarkable person. Her records show that if we had just ten Taylor Pearces, Sierra Leone will unfriend the IMF on Facebook. She is a gem. Give me one person from among ten thousand if she is the best. But again, she is human, and she is fallible. What I find intriguing is the allegation of “……lack of professional performance in office”. Who’s the last man still standing for professional performance in office?

So, has Maada misused his constitutional powers and in effect adulterated the constitution? Will this be Maada’s APC Sam Sumana moment?  If not, has he executed his powers as vested in him? Should we allow justice and the rule of law to take its course? Before you answer these questions, please take off your political party hat first and wear your Mama Salone T shirt; for truth and justice, our common denominator should be above and beyond everything our nation needs to succeed.

Samson was strong and …., Solomon was wise but ….

By the way, where is the capital of Sierra Leone? Did you just say Swiss Banks? Don’t forget to turn the lights out before you leave the room.

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