Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 July 2018:
“Many African countries are “vampire” states, their governments hijacked by gangsters who use the instruments of the state to enrich themselves and their cronies. In Africa, the richest people are heads of state and ministers.
“They destroy wealth rather than encourage investment, they encourage activities designed only to capture some of the President’s largesse……Since politics is the gateway to fabulous wealth, the competition for power is ferocious. Defeat can mean exile, jail or starvation. Those who win power award key positions to fellow tribesmen, cronies and supporters……..Meritocracy, rule of law, property rights, transparency and administrative capacity vanish……. The formal economy shrinks and the state finds it increasingly difficult to raise revenue.” George Ayittey in Analysis: Why Africa is Poor.
This description of a “vampire” state is eerily close to that presented of the state of the nation under the watch of former President Koroma and his APC party in the Government Transition Report.
The Transition report states:
“An astonishing level of fiscal indiscipline and rampant corruption by the former APC Government of President Ernest Koroma and his APC party had led to the near-collapse of Sierra Leone’s economy by the time the Government of President Julius Maada Bio was sworn into office…….Despite its rhetoric about ‘inclusive governance’, the former Government of President Koroma pursued a policy of ‘tribalism’ and regionalism in its recruitment and promotion of personnel at State House, in Government agencies and commissions, and in diplomatic postings……….The Governance Transition Team has uncovered evidence of the former APC Government facilitating the inappropriate acquisition of state’s assets and properties by relatives and close friends of former President Koroma. There is also evidence of inflated Government contracts being inappropriately awarded to such relatives and friends.“
The report is damning and still continues to dominate discussions on national issues. Wading through it indicates a caustic view by the Transition team of how corruption became pervasive under the APC government.
It brings out more vividly the purported litany of corrupt practices involving Koroma’s ministers, cronies and relatives over his government’s ten-year tenure, some of which have been the subject of various audit reports.
They range from the Income Electric and Aggreko contracts-the former happening immediately after President took over in 2007, to more recent scandals and include what they have termed NASSIT Ferries and Sewa Grounds Shopping Mall, the sale of Sierra Rutile Ltd, Transport and Ports Management Systems’ Saga, Passport Deals, Sale of GoSL Properties, Rent on Government Offices. Balogun Koroma and Chinese Buses, Government of Sierra Leone Commercial Banks, Ebola-related Contracts, Corrupt Arms Deal and several other less colorful ones.
In all of these it names President Koroma, his ministers and close associates as those directly involved in these scandals and benefitting directly from them.
The report is categorical on the role of various players and strongly recommends that the perpetrators be brought to book. The vilification of specifically named people from various quarters has been swift and the call for bringing alleged perpetrators to book and recovering stolen funds has been loud. Some of those accused have robustly defended themselves in various press releases and interviews and doubts have been cast on the veracity of some of the information provided in the report.
The Transition team however remains unapologetic and government supporters insist that even if some of the information were not correct, a sufficiently large part of the report is on the mark and the grotesque scale of known corrupt practices which have been common knowledge should be seriously addressed.
The subsequent press release on the cabinet conclusion accepted the Transition team’s report including all its recommendations. This included the following:
- Engaging the services of the Auditor General, Audit Service Sierra Leone, to immediately consider a Special Audit of all MDAs including the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank.
- Instituting a judge-led Commission of Inquiry consisting of a Chairman who will be a judge of international repute and another renowned judge of national repute.
- Instructing the Managing Directors of Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank that all unpaid loans owed by Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) and Financially Exposed Persons (FEPs), as stated in the World Bank Funded Audit of the Banks be paid within 30 working days or face litigation.
- Government pursuing action with respect to Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR).
With President Koroma and his party pilloried and having so much action looming against their members in the ensuing months, the APC has officially responded to the accusations and stoutly defended their members, whilst casting aspersions on the report. The party’s official press release on the report is combative. It states:
“The David Francis Transition Team woefully failed in this endeavor and instead delved into political fishing expedition and derailed the course of its mission into a tribunal of vengeance, recrimination; a method inconsistent with standard transition process between one administration and the other…..The GTT Report refers to Dr. Ernest Koroma in a defamatory language amidst an array of allegations. In his initial reaction to the allegations contained in the report he absolutely denied the falsehoods against him referring to them as nonsense. The APC therefore stands by its Chairman and Leader…….The GTT report is full of unjustifiable, unsubstantiated and baseless claims of corruption with its real intent aimed at smearing and prosecuting former government officials, and party functionaries……”, and concludes:
“The APC rejects the GTT report in its entirety. It is a partisan document which stokes the dangerous flames of tribalism, tells a false story of APC’s stewardship and seeks to persecute key APC functionaries and former Government officials………..we call on all Sierra Leoneans to read this report with a grain of salt because it is a bad government document.”
Despite APC’s protestations it is apparent that the government will follow through on the recommendations in the Transition report and the concomitant cabinet conclusions. This appears to be a fait accompli that will have far reaching implications for national governance over the ensuing months and possibly way down the line in our political history.
Ironically, President Koroma’s APC also carried out investigations into the SLPP when he took over the realm of power in 2007.
The APC brought in a foreign Judge, Justice Semega from Gambia to investigate past government officials and hired KPMG to do a forensic audit of all transactions that took place between 2002 and 2007.
This time however the government seems to be adopting a multi-pronged approach from a commission of inquiry to utilizing external help to recover stolen assets to having the Anti corruption commission hone in on specific areas highlighted in the report and earlier audit reports to the Audit service commission carrying on special audits and to honing in on the issue of unexplained wealth.
That said, although some of the recommendations are laudable. There are perhaps a few issues that would need to be better clarified if one is to have assurance that the government will achieve the ultimate objectives that will benefit Sierra Leoneans. The following comes to mind:
1. Audit service Sierra Leone will be truly overburdened with the number of multifaceted audit jobs to be carried out and will obviously have to seek assistance if it is to continue carrying out its normal functions and if the audits are to completed on time. Undoubtedly, we may soon learn how this will be achieved.
2. The recommendation to review all middle-level and senior appointments made by the former APC Government in key agencies and departments to determine whether those appointments were merited and followed proper procedure, or were determined by ‘tribalism’ and patronage has been accepted. Who handles this? How will it be done and how soon will this be done? Will this be done before wholesale changes of personnel are effected?
3. The acceptance of the recommendation to freeze all payments to all local vendors above Le.400 million until special forensic audits of all the related contracts entered into by the former Government, and of money-generating and related agencies and commissions, including of their financial statements and technical capacity has far reaching implications. This will take some time and involve financial and technical audit staff.
How will jobs continue in the interim until all of these are finished? How soon will they be concluded? Will all projects be put on hold until these are concluded? What are the implications for genuine projects with valid contracts that have to meet various internal and external financial commitments? What if it affects the very existence of the companies and the continued employment of staff? Perhaps this issue needs to be explored some more.
4. The recommendation is made to Set up an Ethics Office at State House that would serve as the internal control mechanism dealing with the Code of Conduct for Ministers, Deputy Ministers,
heads of Agencies, Commissioners, Heads of State Parastatals and Board of Directors; ethical improprieties; public service discrimination based on ethnicity and gender; complaints of sexual and other forms of harassments, and, particularly, conflicts of interests involving senior level officials. This is quite a handful. Will this not overburden State House?
What about possible acts of corruption that may be aided and abetted by people from State House itself? Would some of these issues not be better handled by existing structures-eg Ombudsman’s Office, HRMO?
Should matters of ethnicity not be better handled by an independent multi party, multi ethnic group with broader representation under the auspices of a separate organisation? How does this fit into the government’s professed national cohesion strategy?
5. The recommendation for the Law Reform Commission to draft a transition law is good. This should help facilitate a smooth and orderly transfer of power from one elected Government to another.
This also applies to the plan to review both the recommendations of the Justice Cowan’s Constitutional Review Committee and the APC Government’s White Paper, which rejected almost all the key recommendations of the CRC. The plan to include those sections of the constitution that address citizenship, with a view to granting full rights of citizenship to Sierra Leoneans who hold dual nationality is also laudable.
One feels a little bit of discomfort however about the recommendation for the Law Reform Commission to spearhead the rationalization of the reduction in the number of commissions into a few in number. This should perhaps be first rationalized by HR and governance experts who should do this with broad stakeholder participation.
6. The government has resolved to dissolve and reconstitute all Boards, ensuring that representatives to Management Boards are well qualified to provide effective oversight of institutions under their watch.
Plans to advertise high level jobs/managerial level jobs may be good but demand a considerable amount of political will. Implementing some of these suggestions should arguably also be precursors to massive changes in personnel.
In the final analysis, it is necessary to take a dispassionate look at why this “vampire “ state syndrome has persisted in our body politic. There are obviously many reasons but one would want to hone in, apart from generally poor governance on the blatant disregard for good procurement practices and poor corporate governance.
The issue of keeping to procurement guidelines and good corporate governance practices in most parastatals and other government owned entities, are often engendered by the government of the day which may not have the political will to put paid to these practices. They continue to reward political lackeys at all costs and enrich themselves when they are in power.
It would seem every government post-independence has accused the preceding one of making the country into a “vampire” state only to get accused by their successors of doing the same.
The new government now has the golden opportunity to practise what it preaches. The measures proposed in the Transition report recommendations will shed light on the issues, punish wrongdoers, possibly retrieve stolen wealth and sanitize the system.
Judging by the government’s rhetoric, they will practise the maxim of “physician heal thyself” and practise what they preach. We wish the government well so that another government will not come years down the line and accuse them of making Sierra Leone into a “vampire” state.
Ponder my thoughts.