Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2018:
A Commission of Inquiry that is to investigate corruption in a few weeks’ time, is now on the lips of every Sierra Leonean. Whether the intention is witch-hunting or political accountability, the mere mentioning of the words – ‘commission of inquiry’, is sending shockwaves through the spines of the guilty ones.
The guilty are afraid. Commissions of inquiries drive suspicion, anxiety, fear and apprehension, especially among the guilty.
But most commissions of inquiry are judged by the credibility and sincerity of those involved, and the process by which justice is being dispensed, or seen to be dispensed.
In the United States, President Trump has accused the Muller Inquiry on many occasions of ‘witch hunt’. Mr. Trump said the inquiry is a politically driven “witch hunt” by news media and the Democrats.
Trump has been eager to dismiss the idea as “fake news”, an allegation that members of his campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the US election; and his twitter posts appeared to be an effort to discredit the congressional inquiries that are examining those claims.
In other words, the number of attempts made to discredit the inquiry as witch hunt has increased the suspicion and belief of collusion – a charge he flatly continues to deny.
The irony behind president Trump’s denial is that, as the inquiry continues to do its work – especially focussing on some of his top echelons, so does public confidence grow towards the belief that indeed, collusion with the Russians did take place.
In The Gambia, President Adama Barrow has instituted a commission of inquiry to probe numerous allegations of mismanagement of public funds, abuse of office, and wilful violations by the ex-president Yahya Jammeh and his associates.
In addressing his commissioners, President Barrow said,” my government will stand firm for truth and justice, no matter who it is for or against”. “We are committed to the restoration of human rights, fair play and passion for justice for all”.
What an interesting statement by a head of state, as he continues to inform his nation that the people ought to know the truth and that justice must take its course.
Sierra Leone has a history of commissions od inquiry, but no commitment to the cause. Little wonder there is so much cynicism among many Sierra Leoneans.
The country has experienced two prominent commissions of inquiry, notably the 1967 Beccles Davies Commission of Inquiry and the infamous National Provisional Ruling Council Inquiry.
In his address at the launching of the Government Transitional Report, President Bio remarked that, “we are drawing a line beneath corruption, we are waging a war on corruption and we know corruption will fight back”. There are many who would see this as ominous.
The expectation of the commission is twofold: firstly, most people believe that president Bio is a Catholic who believes in the biblical verse of Luke 12:48 “ From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
The country elected officials to serve them judiciously and at the end of their term, they should account for their deeds. This is political accountability and it must be done fairly. On the other hand, most Sierra Leoneans would want to see President Bio keeping the other verse in Psalm 67:4, “May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the people with equity and guide the nations of the earth.”
To all intent and purposes, the genuine deliberations of the commission that is not based on tribe, ethnicity and regionalism will transform it from an alleged witch-hunt to political accountability. All it needs is for justice and fairness to be seen to be done.
Sierra Leoneans have made various arguments justifying or condemning the need for a Commission of inquiry to be established by the SLPP government, to reveal the unpleasant details of the country’s governance since 2007.
It is noteworthy that this commission seems to have powers as any High Court. By implication, it has the capacity to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of evidence. If adverse findings are established, it will permit the prosecution of culprits, including officials of the present and past regimes.
Some Sierra Leoneans, especially supporters of the present government, argue that the government has the right to investigate the previous administration, with regards to allegations of financial misdemeanours, bogus contracts and embezzlement of state funds.
On the other hand, those supporting the previous government see the commission as a witch-hunt bent on targeting only members of the their party.
Juxtaposing both arguments, one is left with a sense that the commission must be seen to be executing its mandate with a free hand and sincere drive, so as to bring those responsible for the financial malaise the country has gone through in the last ten years to justice.
But there are certain questions that linger in the minds of patriotic citizens: Must we allow corrupt officials to hide behind the façade of tranquillity; protect officials that have drained the state financially to go unpunished?
Is it morally right to celebrate a corrupt official who has allegedly squandered and corrupted the system for his own personal gain?
How can Sierra Leone prosper when very few people amass, squander, embezzle and siphon the people’s wealth? Should we canonize the thief and demonize those trying to hold them accountable?
All patriotic Sierra Leoneans would love to see a commission of inquiry instituted against those guilty of misappropriating the country’s wealth, but the system must be fair, transparent and credible.
The people would love to see all hearings done in the full view of the public, via television and radio. The proceedings should be seen as deterrent to those who celebrate thievery.
President Bio has started laying the foundation for subsequent governments to continue instituting commissions of inquiry, where there are allegations of large-scale and systemic financial impropriety.
There is a hue and cry from many, that the commission is only looking at past regime members. Is this true? Is the commission not targeting senior government officials whose connections helped certain people to defraud the state?
What if the people see the commission as only targeting particular sections of the country? It is no hidden secret that the national cohesion drive is widening every now and then.
Is the commission a witch-hunt or a mechanism for accountability of political stewardship? The people will soon see when the commission starts its deliberations.
Sierra Leone is faced with another opportunity to cleanse the immorality of corruption in public service and prepare the country for economic growth. If the commission of inquiry is implemented genuinely, the country will move forward and join other countries like Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya.
This is an opportunity the political class should make use of and make Sierra Leone a doyen of Africa.