Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 October 2019:
Parliament of Sierra Leone yesterday debated a Bill put forward by the Anti-Corruption Commission to amend existing corruption laws, in a bid to strengthen the hands of the commission in tackling what many believe is the most single contributor to widespread poverty in Sierra Leone.
The Bill – known as “The Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act 2019”, was discussed by MPs and attracted sufficient cross-party support, has now been sent to the Legislative and Transparency Committees for further scrutiny before it can become law.
According to the ACC, the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act 2019 is seeking to amend the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008. For the first time, when it comes into law, it will name the categories of public officials who must declare their assets annually in fulfilment of Subsection (1) of Section 199 of the Act. It will also increase penalties for offences under the Act and for other related matters.
Presenting the Bill to MPs, the Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Umaru Napoleon Koroma (Photo), spoke about the importance of the Bill, which he said is aimed at curbing corruption.
The Minister informed MPs that the new law will increase penalties for offences under the Act; strengthen protection of those who assist the Commission; provide the Commission with alternatives to prosecution; widen the scope of corruption including the accused ‘offered’, ‘solicited’, ‘obtained’ or ‘received’ in addition to ‘gave’ and accepted’ an advantage; reduce the year-long requirement that people who cease to be public officers have to file a declaration in respect of their assets, and empower the Commissioner to specify categories of public officers for the purpose of declaration by Statutory Instrument published in a Gazette.
He also said that the new law will impose administrative sanctions on public officers who fail to submit their Assets Declaration Forms, or knowingly record false, inaccurate or misleading information on the form; and vest in the Commissioner, new power to direct that public contracts may not be proceeded with if judged to be improper.
He praised MPs for agreeing that corruption in Sierra Leone must be treated with all the seriousness it deserves, and that it is therefore timely to amend the corruption laws.
In response, Paramount Chief (PC) Sahr Yongai K. M’briwa MP, representing Kono District, supported the amendment. The PC also urged colleague MPs to support and promote the Bill in order to control corruption in the country, adding that ‘the cost of corruption is war”.
Deputy Leader of Government Business – Mathew S. Nyuma MP, observed that corruption can only be fought and won when there are strong laws.
“Let us have strong laws, not strong men,” he said. He commended what he described as the selfless strides of the ACC to promote transparency and accountability; noting that the ACC is trying to address a chronic problem.
He said that corruption is a “cancer” in the governance system which must be treated if Sierra Leone is to develop.
Ibrahim Tawa Conteh MP, urged parliament to take the lead in curbing corruption within parliament and beyond, underscoring that the system is paralyzed. “If we fight corruption sincerely, it will not fight back,” he remarked.
But he added that the fight against corruption should be impartial and that parliament should not be seen as one that accepts every Bill and Agreement, without making reservation.
The Presiding Speaker – Sengepoh Solomon Thomas said in reply to Ibrahim Tawa Conteh MP, that he is passionate to see that MPs are treated fairly, adding that they will ensure that some laws which are often overlooked will be implemented. “If we want MDAs to treat us seriously, we should treat ourselves seriously,” he told MPs.
Hassan Sesay MP, the Opposition Whip called for the harmonization of public sector salaries to ensure that disparities in salary levels are minimized in order to avoid corruption. He said that every agreement brought to parliament for approval must be strictly adhered to by government.
Acting Leader of Opposition – Ibrahim Ben Kargbo MP, assured parliament of his APC party’s continuing support in the fight against corruption, whilst urging for the Amendment Bill to be committed to the Legislative Committee for proper and further scrutiny.
Concluding the debate, the Leader of Government Business – Sidie M. Tunis MP, said that for the first time Sierra Leone is being recognized as a “responsible state” that is championing the fight against corruption.
He told MPs that the fight against corruption must never be discriminatory, adding that it is a clean fight which the President himself and other institutions have pledged to fight and win.
“We know corruption will fight back, but as a government we will ensure we endure the fight to stop it,” he urged.
Tunis said that the Bill should be amended to make it painful for those who are involved in corrupt practices, and that the Bill will now be committed to the Legislative and Transparency Committees for further scrutiny.