Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 March 2020:
The long-awaited conclusion of the Commissions of Enquiry (COI) into governance processes, assets, and forensic audits of the former APC administration, was officially marked today at a media conference held at the Special Court Complex in Freetown, where the reports of the three COI Judges were presented to president Julius Maada Bio for his government’s approval.
Receiving the reports and addressing the conference, president Bio warned serving ministers and officials of his government not to betray pubic trust.
But there was confusion when the president said that this inquiry must be the last in the history of Sierra Leone, prompting suspicions that he may want to stop future government from holding similar inquiries into the affairs of his current government, by bringing new legislation to that effect.
This is what he said:
“As I have maintained before, this must be the last Commission of Inquiry in our history. As a nation, we should have learned and applied the singular lesson from these commissions – that persons who hold the public trust must serve honestly, justly, fairly, and diligently; and that as a country, we must put an end to a culture of rampant thieving, abuse, waste, and impunity. So, these commissions should serve as a warning and a deterrent to serving officials.
“As the Attorney General and Minister of Justice has stated, the Commissions of Inquiry looked at three key issues: governance processes, assets, and forensic audits. The forensic audits tracked fraudulent activities within entire chains of governance.
“The commission on assets examined disparities between income or means and assets. The Commission on governance processes looked at inefficiencies and deficits in governance especially where people deliberately misused or took advantage of state institutions,” president Bio said.
The president also noted that in spite of partisan wrangling over the legality and the very legitimacy of the COI, he is “glad to report that there has been no reports of public humiliations, lynching, or even tribal wars as the political prophets of doom had boldly predicted.”
He added that at the end of the day, nobody was questioned because of their ethnic group or their place of origin.
“I have argued that corruption is a key deterrent to the development of Sierra Leone. The fraudulent conversion of public funds and resources to private use, the waste of public funds with impunity, and the abuse of offices and authority to the detriment of millions of Sierra Leoneans, are all threats to our development as a nation.
“The machinery of state and its governance institutions have been weakened by corruption and it would seem we have failed to heed the bitter lessons of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the collective shame of our underachievement as a nation,” he said.
Sole Commissioner for Commission of Inquiry No. 1 – Justice Biobele Georgewill, who spoke on behalf of the other two Commissioners, said that with the highest sense of responsibility they felt fulfilled to present their final report.
He said that during the proceedings of the COI, they adopted a robust approach to ensure that they carried out their work in accordance with due process and the rule of law in Sierra Leone.
He noted that during the process, the State and Persons of Interests were given equal treatment to ensure fairness and impartiality.
Justice Georgewill also commended president Bio for giving them the independence to do their work, saying that that was unprecedented.
He expressed hope that an assiduous implementation of the recommendations of the report would go a long way to changing the narrative in public governance in Sierra Leone.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice – Dr Priscilla Schwartz, said that the COI was not a witch-hunt but a quest for accountability.
She added that the process is demonstrative of the strength of the country’s democracy and the beginning of the restoration of the rule of law and equal access to justice in Sierra Leone.
She also commended the three Commissioners for showing tremendous courage and professionalism, and described them as being outstanding, for which the people of Sierra Leone would be grateful.
Responding to today’s handing over of the reports to the president, and the government’s failure to announce a date for the publishing of the reports, Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden of the APC said: “As far as I am concerned, the president’s first test is to be transparent. Since sensational summaries have been released and read out right in his presence, the President should therefore do the ethical thing as Fountain of Honour and immediately publish the Reports as per Section 149 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, or failing which, tell the the public why he is not publishing the Reports.
“Why have the Reports not been made public yet, since they were handed over this morning? Don’t tell me the President has six months to take a decision on whether he wants to be transparent. That’s a slur on him and his credentials of transparency. Hiding the actual text of the COI reports and merely releasing sensational summaries of just one report (Biobele Georgewill), is not good for the transparency we all seek. If you have already allowed for the release of sensational summaries read out right in your presence, then the ethical thing to do now is to release the full reports. Let the reports be published now. The public are not fools. They will be able to read the Reports and see how the Judges came to their findings,” Dr Blyden urged the president.