Oswald Hanciles, The Guru: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 September 2020:
The Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone has not only just got “its knickers in a twist” – an English idiom I learned from the writings of one of the top one percent of columnists in the country, Engineer Andrew Keili – but is also in the full glare of the public’s floodlights, and metaphorically, Parliament has been braced on a pillory. You may need to know what a “pillory” is…
A pillory is a device used for centuries in several European countries from about the 13th century to the 19th century. It would be made of wooden or metal frame, with holes for a ‘guilty’ person to put his head and hands into, facing the public, while standing on a platform – unable to move at all. The boards would be locked with a padlock to secure the person. This would be done in marketplaces, or, major crossroads. The crowds would gather excitedly. They would try to make the offender’s experience as unpleasant as possible – in addition to being jeered and mocked, those in the “pillory might be pelted with rotten food, mud, offal, dead animals, and animal excrement.
Sometimes, people were killed or maimed in the pillory because crowds would get too violent and pelt the offenders with stones, bricks, and other dangerous objects” (SOURCE: Wikipedia, “Daniel Defoe Put in the Pillory”, in History Today).
Imagine if offenders of corruption offences in Sierra Leone would be put in a pillory at Dove Court market, PZ junction, Eastend police junction in Freetown…to be jeered at and pelted by the public? Luckily, for the parliamentarians accused of corruption, they would not be physically put on a pillory in the 21st century; but given the intense use of social media today, they are already metaphorically on a pillory – with rotten tomatoes, rotten cabbages, rotten unions… even stones… flying at them fast and furiously. This brewing scandal raises questions about the real roles of our parliamentarians, and the other arms of government.
In the Republic of Sierra Leone, empowered by the 1991 Constitution, there are three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches.
Parliament is there primarily to make laws; provide oversight on government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) – this means Parliament has the powers to go into any MDA – like the fisheries ministry; NASSIT, NRA, SLRA, etc. – and demand their documents, and grill ministers or managing directors to determine whether they are doing a great job, or, are inefficient, or, are engaged in corruption; then Parliament can recommend the legal authorities to take action on those MDAs found wanting.
Parliament can also probe the private sector – like Sierra Leone Brewery; Mercury betting company – where their businesses impinge on the rights of the citizenry, or, are not giving adequate services at affordable costs. Parliament can take quasi-judicial action on persons or groups that they deem have impinged the dignity of Parliament – and order mild punitive action.
The Judiciary is there to prosecute those indicted for criminal or civil offences; and to order punitive measures – which could include fines, or imprisonment, or, an accused being freed. The Judiciary essentially take action on laws made by Parliament; and in highly contentious cases, the Judiciary interpret these laws.
The Executive arm of government – headed by an elected President – executes laws made by Parliament. It is this arm of government that provides leadership for, and manages, MDAs – in accordance of laws made by Parliament. It is this arm of government that deals with foreign organizations and governments. It is the executive arm of government that investigates suspected criminal cases, through the police, and now Anti-Corruption Commission. (And some intelligence arms of government).
The intertwined Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches
Once an investigation has been done by the police or the ACC, and there is (are) element of crime(s), the police can relay the matter to the Law Officers Department in the Attorney General’s Office (AG’s), and the AG can then pass the matter to the Judiciary. It is only the Judiciary that has the power to prosecute, and convict, or exonerate accused persons or institutions.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) since the ACC Act (2008) has the legal powers to investigate probable corruption, and take them to the Judiciary (in a new Special Anti-Corruption Court established by the Judiciary in 2019 to fast-track
anti-corruption cases); and ACC lawyers can then serve as prosecution lawyers to prosecute those they would have had indicted.
Private citizens or private companies can also take matters to the courts as civil cases – for example, if you owe someone and you don’t pay the person (or, company), the aggrieved person (or company) can take the matter to court; if you are found guilty by the court, the court can order you to pay your debts, and, could fine you, and order you to pay the cost the complainant would incur in hiring a lawyer.
The Executive, Judiciary, and Parliament must have persons of highest integrity – they must be perceived by the public as looking into matters without bias; not people who would take bribes; or cut deals to enrich themselves. Not to be engaged in corruption!! These three branches of government are the cohesive glue that holds the country together; they are the propellants that guide sustainable development, and, even prosperity for the citizenry, individually and collectively; and help to guard and guide the security of the state, with the help of the police and military.
The principal element of the Executive, Judiciary, and Parliament is TRUST. The citizens must see them as trustworthy and TRUST them. Once the citizenry loses TRUST in all three branches of the government systems, a country would slide into anarchy, or, civil war – or, the military could rationalize making a coup to establish order. Since Independence in 1961, Sierra Leoneans have long accepted that many officials in the Executive arm of government would be corrupt. They have gotten used to seeing implicit corruption in the Judiciary, where Justice would be perverted; or Justice sold and bought. But, Parliament…?
Is Parliament “Corrupt”? Can Parliament be Cleansed?
Today, Parliament is faced with a conundrum: Its honour and dignity have been besmirched – by grave allegations of “corruption” – by a reputable NGO, based on purported citizen’s survey. Parliament can summon this NGO to present evidence of its slur on Parliament. If Parliament does that, it could be perceived by the public as Parliament trying to intimidate the NGO, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), that has published the corruption allegation, which has been aired on the BBC.
CARL is heavily connected with the most influential transparency institutions at the global level, and with those governments in Europe that government heavily depends on for international aid – like the British government. CARL is not a ‘small boy NGO’ that Parliament can squeeze its ears in the corner with impunity. Parliament attempting to cower CARL could only add more fuel to the ‘corruption-fire’ lit by CARL inside Parliament.
If Parliament decides to let sleeping dogs lie, the public could see that as a sign of confession of its guilt – and the two largest and oldest political parties in Parliament, the SLPP and APC, could be handing over political ammunition to smaller parties like the NGC, and C4C for the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The NGC leader, globally-famous Hon. Kandeh Yumkella, has made popular his smear of “Alusine and Alhassan” as the incorrigible-corruption-nature of both the SLPP and APC that have been in government on-and-off for about 60 years, and being the principal culprit for the festering poverty of resource-rich Sierra Leone.
This corruption- allegation-eruption in Parliament would certainly give credence to KKY’s words. The saving grace for the SLPP is that one of its own MPs , Hon. Hindolo Gevao, has admitted on BBC that Parliament is sometimes corrupt. Hon. Hindolo Gevao is a lawyer. He has indicted his parliamentary peers on a global podium. He knows he has to provide evidence to back his words spoken on global media. Will Parliament charge him for defamation if he can’t provide evidence to back his words?
The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Dr. Abass Bundu – who served as cabinet minister in the allegedly very corrupt APC governments of presidents Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh – has refuted the charges of CARL that Parliament is corrupt; nonetheless, he has promised investigations into the corruption allegations – in a BBC interview conducted by the most famous ever BBC correspondent in Sierra Leone, Umaru Fofanah.
Would Hon. Abass Bundu robustly and dispassionately probe the allegations of corruption in our Parliament, or hope that the corruption brouhaha would just fizzle out, as Sierra Leoneans typically have short attention spans. The word “corruption” instantly evokes, and invokes the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), led by award-winning lawyer, Ben Kaifala, who is also President of the West African Anti-Corruption Agencies.
Reliable sources in the ACC have informed me that BEFORE the corruption allegation by CARL was made public, the ACC has done investigation on probable corruption by Parliament, and a Report on this would soon be out.
The corruption charge – if given substantiation – would accentuate what thinkers like us have been writing about for decades: the democratic systems in Sierra Leone are a charade. Largely, Parliament – successive parliaments since 1996, not this one alone – have failed in its oversight functions; thus over-burdening the Office of the Auditor General, and the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC). It also exposes the cancerous essence of the political parties of Sierra Leone since Independence: they have been largely ethnic/regional groupings with “covert” purpose – echoing Hon. Hindolo Gevao – of stealing money from impoverished masses (“STEALING” of the people’s money is euphemistically called “corruption”), in cohort with the Executive and Judicial branches of the governance systems of the state.
I have been calling for a complete overhaul of the systems of government for a long time. The corruption stigma on Parliament screams for such an overhaul. So, we have to urge our superstar musician, Emerson, to sing more “kokonut hade” and “kokobeh” songs to galvanize our people into activism to give support to institutions like the ACC to sweep clean the filth in our governance systems.
The People Intrinsically Support Corruption
If our parliamentarians are corrupt, they have been elected by the majority of the electorate who would blindly elect their parliamentarians based on blind loyalty to the political party that they represent, for ethnic or regional reasons. For example, in constituencies in Freetown or Bombali, no matter the likely corrupt past of a candidate, as long as the candidate is APC, he/she would win with at least 80% of the votes.
In Bonthe or Kenema districts, it wouldn’t matter if a candidate is notorious for engaging in smuggling or cavorting with underage girls, as long as that candidate has the SLPP symbol, he would win with over 95% of the votes cast. They are the electorates Emerson has derided as not having brains inside their skulls, but ‘kokonat hade’.
I have often written on this phenomenon of blind loyalty to either the APC or SLPP as “Political Tribalism”. Again: if this SLPP with Retired Brigadier Maada holding the reins of Leadership does not cleanse the Executive, and reform its parliamentarians, it would be committing political suicide! Can Barrister Hindolo Gevao stay the course in providing leadership for the necessary Martin Luther-type Reformation of Parliament?
Oswald Hanciles, The Guru. Founder and CEO for the SLAVE SHIP-FREEDOM SHIP Movement.