Abayomi Tejan: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 August 2019:
The fight against corruption in Sierra Leone has begun. It is on course and gathering traction, under the fearless leadership of Mr Francis Ben Kaifala, the Commissioner of the country’s Anti- Corruption Commission. Kaifala’s real strength lies with president Julius Maada Bio, from whom all power derives, as well as ensuring that the ACC Commissioner performs his job unimpeded.
Thus far, there is nothing to suggest that the Commissioner is under any form of intimidation, duress or undue interference. His indictment, prosecution and conviction of corrupt public officials, and the amount of stolen money he has recovered so far, is impressive.
The Anti-Corruption Act gives considerable powers to the Commissioner to investigate anyone suspected of corruption, including the president, let alone parliamentarians, ministers and public servants. The Act spreads a wide net that covers a lot of ground. There is little room for cover when the shelling begins. ‘Small arms fire’ has already done a lot of damage to several corruption networks and their infrastructures.
During his elections campaign last year, president Bio said that he was going to wage war against corruption. He also warned his ministers and appointees that there would be no ‘diplomatic’ cover or immunity for anyone.
By so doing, the president has drawn the eyes of all unto himself. The opposition is primed, sleuthing, even hypothesizing for a reason, one, just one, reason to suggest that president Bio was not as honest as he would have the nation believe.
“We expect corruption to fight back,” the president has pointed out, with a hint at his own preparedness for the consequences.
The stakes are high indeed; and there is much vengeance brewing in the opposition. And just as much apprehension, that sooner or later, one of them would be railed in by the ACC.
Much has changed since 2002, when the first real democratic elections were held, giving Tejan Kabbah the opportunity to tie up loose ends.
Some journalists raised the issue of corruption to a high profile delegation from the UN in 2001. The following year, the ACC was born; the team from the Security Council had listened to the journalists, apparently.
With the UN – a sine-qua-non to the establishment of the ACC, and gawking at the government, fighting corruption became an entrenched clause in manifesto after manifesto. The APC’s ‘Agenda for Change’ promised ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption. To demonstrate his resolve, former president Koroma removed the obnoxious clause in the Act that required the approval of the Attorney General before a corruption matter could be charged to court.
This played right into the hands of Abdul Tejan Cole, the young ACC Commissioner then, who, armed with autonomy and absolute discretion, did the unthinkable. He indicted and convicted a serving Cabinet minister, Hafsatu Kabbah, who lost her job; and the politicians consorted how they might get rid of him.
When Mr Tejan Cole went off the radar not too long thereafter, rumours made the rounds. Some threats from anonymous sources were topical. He resigned, rather unceremoniously. Since then, all future appointees to the ACC as Commissioner, needed no reminding as to the sanctity of serving ministers. There would be no more indictment, as it were, unless sanctioned by the president. Then something happened.
The Vice President then, Sam Sumana (Photo), was allegedly caught on camera negotiating a timber deal with some Arab looking investor. The ACC launched an investigation, the media played it out aggressively.
The video recording of the alleged corruption scene was scrappy, inaudible at some sections.
Although the VP was shown apparently in his office with the ‘fake’ investigator, the hidden camera did not reveal enough to support a charge, let alone a conviction.
Mr Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, the next ACC Commissioner after Tejan Cole, closed the file. He was later appointed Attorney General. He would later run for flagbearer of the APC in 2018, but his bid was ignored by president Ernest Bai Koroma – chairman and leader of the party.
Such was the relationship between the APC and the ACC. But now things have changed. President Bio has regrouped, closed ranks and is calling the shots. The ACC is at war, again. Up against an enemy that could turn out to be as confounding as Hafsatu Kabbah was to Koroma.
Only that in this case, under the New Direction, such a victim would have himself or herself to blame. The ACC Commissioner – Francis Ben Kaifala (Photo), is not the type given to rumour; neither to stampede into an investigation on the frivolous tip-off of some mischievous informer. Nor would he be inclined to countenance insidious speculation in a media, cut straight between the government and opposition. Much least, buying into the pantomime on social media where anything and everything goes.
Mr Kaifala needs the evidence, hard evidence. In a society long accustomed to corruption, where the attitude towards fighting corruption is one of passive acquiescence, the ACC Commissioner should not expect much from the public by way of cogent information.
The prospects of standing in a witness box, giving evidence against someone who would eventually lose his/her job, or go to jail, or both, is not in the DNA of most Sierra Leoneans. Corruption is much too commonplace for such a sacrifice, and the crime rate and reprisal killings on record, make for fearful premonition for such a witness.
The Auditor General’s reports since 2012, the leads coming out of the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry, the unexplained wealth, unclaimed properties of political suspects, provide more than enough ammunition to the ACC for a long battle. Kaifala must go after the evidence, and not wait for it to come to him.
The free education project has thrown in far more reaching ramifications than achieving universal quality education for all. It has opened a new battle front in the anti-corruption campaign that has rattled the teaching service, and WAEC – the West African Examination Council.
Corruption in schools is under attack. Tertiary institutions have come under the grill. This is bound to spill over to calling into question the qualifications of current employees in the government’s payroll.
There is so much the ACC has on its plate, other than stalking politicians. The Public Procurement Sector provides a hot bed, needing constant surveillance. This is where government spends the bulk of the people’s money.
The Commissioner is going to be very busy, taking prisoners. This is something that is being watched closely – the relationship between President Julius Maada Bio, the ACC Commissioner, and all the available evidence, in this their audacious fight against the greatest enemy of the state – corruption. So help them God.