Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 February 2019:
Thursday, 14 February 2019, marked day five of commissions of inquiry proceedings into alleged mismanagement and corruption by ministers and officials of the previous APC government under the leadership of president Ernest Bai Koroma. There was a beehive of activities, as all three commissions of inquiry were fully engaged with legal wrangling and testing of legalities and opinions
At the centre of Court One proceedings was lawyer Ady Macauley – counsel for two persons of interest – former ministers Alfred Palo Conteh and Madam Madina S. Rahman.
Macaulay had raised jurisdictional objection of the commission on Monday February 11th, based on section 4 of the constitutional instrument 64 of 2018. He said that the commission lacked the functional competence to proceed with the investigations.
He then went on to concede that the court or tribunal is competent because it was properly constituted, saying that section 147 of the 1991 constitution gives powers to the president to set up commissions of inquiry, and that they have no problem with that. He also agreed that the subject matter of the court is within its competence.
But he asserted that the bone of contention and the point of disagreement was with the rules governing the commission of inquiry. Ady Macauley said in his argument that section 150 of the constitution vests drafting of rules regulating the practice of commissions of inquiry to the Rules of Court Committee – not the Commission.
In this instance, he argued, the commission cannot proceed with the hearings. The defense counsel Macauley furthered that the rules of court commission can go with the constitutional instrument as a schedule.
In addition, he posited that the rules must be created before the commission starts proceedings. He defined functional competence as that feature or characteristic which if absent will render a commission of inquiry inoperable and not necessarily illegal.
At that juncture Justice Georgewill asked the defense counsel if he was implying that the commission cannot sit without the rules regulating it, to which he did not give a straightforward answer. He expounded on his belief that section 9 of cap 54 should be modified to bring it in conformity with section 150.
The judge then asked Ady Macauley at that point what the difference is between rules of evidence and practice direction such as the one made by the commission. Ady Macauley in his response said that under order 62 only the Chief Justice can make practice directions for a commission of inquiry, and that practice directions do not amount to conformity with section 150 of the constitution of Sierra Leone. Section 9 of cap 54 is inconsistent with section 150 of constitution and therefore is null and void and of no effect. A practice direction cannot override the constitution he argued. Pursuant to section 124(2) of the 1991 constitution, the commission should stay proceedings and refer the constitutional interpretation to the Supreme Court.
In response to the defense counsel, state counsel Oladipo Robbin-Mason, referred his colleague to section 6 (1 and 2) of the constitutional instrument 64. Taking subsections 1 and 2 together, the commission of inquiry is mandated to make directions for the conduct and procedure of its deliberations.
Oladipo Robbin-Mason said the constitutional instrument 64 has a caveat that gives the commission the powers to make its own rules (practice directions) vis modification, adaptation and exemption as provided in the aforesaid.
The commissions of inquiry, Robbin-Mason argued cannot be bound by rules of evidence as in criminal and civil matters.
After listening to the two arguments, the judge stood down the court for one hour and upon resumption, gave a ruling that on the initial objection raised by the counsel for persons of interest. In his ruling the learned Justice Biobele Georgewill asserted that constitutional instrument 64 of 2018 is in law valid and therefore, the commission of inquiry is both legal and valid under the laws of Sierra Leone.
Judge Georgewill further ascertained that the preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the commission of inquiry by Alfred Palo Conteh and Madina S. Rahman is struck out for being incompetent and dismissed it in its entirety for lacking merit.
The judge then adjourned Court Number One to next Tuesday February 19.
At the commission hearing sitting in Court Number Two, which continued yesterday Friday 15, the fulcrum of the proceedings was on the ministry of agriculture with reference to the procurement and supply of fertilisers in 2014.
The bone of contention seemed to be on the technical specifications provided in the contract document and the one supplied, and also the pricing.
From the testimony of witness Morie Lansana, of the Audit Service Sierra Leone, the specification given to the supplier in a contract in 2014 was NPK 20-20-20 (20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous and 20% potassium) but the one that was in the stores inspected were 0-20-20 (0% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous and 20% potassium).
After listening to Mr. Lansana’s evidence, counsel for the persons of interest Lawyer Lansana Dumbuya asked for an adjournment in order to prepare his case with his clients. He initially asked for four days adjournment but the judge adjourned to the next day Friday February 15, because there were other witnesses to be heard.
On Friday February 15, when the commission resumed sittings, another witness was led in evidence by state counsel R.B Kowa. Mr. Amara Hydara Sheriff described himself as the Chief Agriculture Officer and that he had worked in the ministry for about 30 years. He said he acknowledged knowing about the supply of fertilisers to farmers but that the technical specifications were not met.
The commission sitting in Court Number Two was adjourned to next Tuesday February 19.
Court Number Three focused more on the ownership or sale of land by vendors and the distribution of the monies to all parties concerned. Witnesses continued giving evidence and tendered documents in respect of same matter. There were allegations of illegal sale of land with some people in high offices benefitting from the proceeds who otherwise should not have.
Notable among recipients of money from the sale of land were Kemoh Sesay former minister of works who received Le 200,000,000 (two hundred million) at some point in 2015, and Ahmed Kanu former deputy minister of lands who received Le 500,000,000 (five hundred million leones) and Le 70,000,000 (seventy million leone) respectively, through a lawyer Ashmia Fofana to whom Le 6.45 billion was paid for land transactions.
Proceeding at Court Number Three was also adjourned to next Tuesday February 19.
Source Credit: The Outreach Coordination Unit of the Ministry of Information and Communication, Freetown.