Former Anti-Corruption Czar of Sierra Leone speaks at the United Nations

Abdul Tejan-Cole

Dennis Kabatto

12 July 2012

Many Anti-Corruption Commissions have been “set up to fail, however they could succeed if they were given the right mandate and the right powers.  In many cases those elements were lacking,” said former Anti-Corruption Commissioner of Sierra Leone – Mr. Abdul Tejan-Cole.

Tejan Cole addressed the recently concluded two day UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2012 – High Level Panel, which met on July 9 -10, looking at the costs of corruption on society.

The meeting was held at the UN headquarters in New York, focusing on the theme –   “Accountability, transparency and sustainable development: turning challenges into opportunities”.

The first panel discussed the issue of “Creating inclusive and cohesive societies: a multidisciplinary approach to combating corruption for development”; while the second focused on “Shared roles and responsibilities: developing innovative partnerships for comprehensive action against corruption”.

UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the closing of the panel discussion, said; “corruption hampers the ability of nations to prosper and grow. Neither peace, development or human rights can flourish in an atmosphere of corruption.”

“Last year, corruption prevented 30 per cent of all development assistance from reaching its final destination. This translates into bridges, hospitals and schools that were never built, and people living without the benefit of these services,” Mr. Ban said.

The UN Chief also warned that; “This is a failure of accountability and transparency. We cannot let it persist.”

Mr. Tejan-Cole is currently working as the Regional Director for Africa at the Open Society Foundation – based in New York.

Sharing some of the lessons he had learned in his role as Anti-Corruption Czar of Sierra Leone, he told the Panel that the most important challenge facing Sierra Leone, was that “the Anti-Corruption Commission had a very weak legal framework and a very weak Law.”

“When the Commission itself was setup in 2000, it was largely set up not as a result of the desire of the government of Sierra Leone to implement a genuine anti-corruption reform, but largely because of the pressure it was receiving from the donors. And so a weak Law was put in place that had only nine offences.”

He also emphasized that during his tenure as Anti-Corruption Commissioner, between 2008 and 2010, a new Anti-Corruption Act was put in place in Sierra Leone, introducing several  changes.

A major change in the Law includes a “key provision in the new Act, which took away prosecutorial powers from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, handing it over to the Anti-Corruption Commissioner.” 

Mr. Tejan-Cole said that prior to 2008, only about 30 corruption cases had been prosecuted in Sierra Leone, and the quality of those prosecutions were poor.

However, between 2008 and 2010, the number had doubled and the quality of prosecutions improved.

Another significant change brought in by the new Law, is that for the first time legal penalties were made much tougher.

Provision was made to encourage whistle blowing. The Anti-Corruption Commission was strengthened, enabling it to engage in cooperation with other states and agencies.

In his response to a request for comment via Facebook, about his opinion on corruption and its impact on development in his homeland Sierra Leone, Mr. Tejan-Cole quoted the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report:

Recent youth social disturbance in Freetown

“The Commission has found that endemic corruption was a central factor that produced the dire conditions that made civil war inevitable. Sierra Leone remains in the grip of pervasive corruption, which, if not arrested, will sap the country of its life force and lay the grounds for further conflict.”

He also added that “many people who watched the movie ‘blood diamonds” believe that the conflict in Sierra Leone was about blood diamonds. It was not as the TRC quote rightly points out.”

More than 500 delegates, including government ministers and heads of civil society groups, international institutions and the private sector, attended the Council’s high-level meeting, which focused on boosting productive capacity, strengthening development cooperation and creating decent, sustainable work.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Yury Fedotov, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that an estimated $40 Billion is stolen from developing countries annually.

Each country he said is losing up to $258 million per year, or $700,000 per day.

The high cost of that abuse is being paid by ordinary citizens who cannot access basic services.  Governments could not win the fight alone; combating corruption was a shared responsibility of every sector of society.

According to an UN News Center report, the High Level Panel also promoted a renewed commitment for the ratification or accession to the UN Convention against Corruption by countries that have not yet done so.

The Convention is the first legally binding global anti-corruption instrument; obliging States to prevent and criminalize corruption, promote international cooperation, recover stolen assets and improve technical assistance and information exchange.

ECOSOC will now hold its operational activities segment and humanitarian affairs segment, before concluding on 27 July.



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