Dr. Lans Gberie: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 July 2018:
Strong reactions have understandably accompanied the release, on 4 July, of the Governance Transition Team’s (GTT) report. This is predictable.
The charmed circle of political elite in Sierra Leone is an intimate one, and the unspoken rule has always been ‘speak evil of each other only during political campaigns’. Once campaigning is over, it is business as usual.
Moreover, the report did what white-collar thieves most dread: it named them publicly, shaming them and threatening their baneful political careers. Moreover, it urged that – horrors – they should be prosecuted and punished.
In 2007, when Ernest Bai Koroma became President, he announced a transition team: it produced an incoherent report that said very little. Despite that failing, Koroma’s government whispered to the BBC the titillating news, broadcast on 14 November 2007, that the team had found ex-President Tejan Kabbah’s government “riddled with corruption.”
The BBC cited from the report an allegation that one state agency had lent more than $1million to an unspecified recipient just before Kabbah handed over to Koroma. “We would,” the BBC cited the report’s sedate recommendation, “advise an investigation into the reasons for the loan.”
Some people now affect to be outraged that President Bio has taken steps to order a judicial inquiry in the massive state plunder detailed in his GTT report.
However, it is important to remember that President Koroma did bring in the renown firm, KPMG – one of the four leading global audit firms – to carry out forensic audits of the operations of several key agencies during Kabbah’s administration.
Koroma also brought in a senior judge from the Gambia to head an inquiry into supposed looting by the government of his predecessor.
In an interview with Britain’s Financial Times, published on 14 September 2007, Koroma said: “I believe that a few things are to be investigated.
I think Sierra Leoneans will want an answer to a few issues, and if in the process they have to do with members of the past government, then so be it. But I think the circle of impunity should be checked and we should put an end to it.”
Said Koroma on 30 April 2008, shortly before announcing the inquiry commission: “some people are talking about witch-hunt, but what I am saying is that the people have a right to know about monies sent to this country in their name. It is everybody’s right to know, and then we would be able to correct the system.”
He added: “I said it during campaigning, but some people thought I was joking. I was serious about it, and now the time to give account is here… But if you have skeletons in your cupboard, we will open it so let us all give account for our stewardship.”
The austere former President Kabbah said nothing at the time. Dignified and knowing he had nothing to hide, he simply shrugged off Koroma’s blather. And true enough, Koroma’s inquiry unearthed nothing – in any case, nothing significant or that came close to embarrassing the former President.
Contrast this to the fevered, frightened reaction of Bai Koroma to the release of the GTT report. From an undisclosed location – but certainly outside Sierra Leone – Koroma on 5 July, a day after the report was launched, interrupted his “much-deserved, ongoing vacation” by issuing a rambling, vitriolic statement.
He professed to being “particularly disturbed at the extent of the EGREGIOUS LIES in the Report with respect to the sale of Sierra Rutile.” He claimed that any inquiry would undermine “our multiparty” system because it would show his All Peoples Congress in a poor light.
Theft and plunder of the state for Koroma, in other words, are not crimes but politics. That sort of objection should be beneath a former President, and must in any case be scorned by the public.
One criticism of the report is, on the face of it, justified, however. The report is far from being comprehensive. Almost all the cases of corruption or misuse of authority and looting it highlighted have previously been publicly discussed. Its key strength is the detail it provides and its citation of official documentary authority for those details.
Some minor errors have been pointed out, notably one by the ever-loquacious Fitzgerald Kamara, who however professes to support the GGT’s anti-corruption motivation.
Mr. Kamara, however, did not claim in his pitiful ramble that the bizarre Sewa Grounds project, costing $36.1 million, was not agreed in a June 2014 meeting in the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, or that the meeting was not attended by the Mayor of Freetown and the Acting Director of NASSIT.
The report mis-states names – perhaps because Kamara and the notoriously thuggish Herbert George Williams have recently made themselves the standard for APC clownery.
But what, surely, is the point of the protests by Dr. Julius Spencer and Dr. Soccoh Alex Kabia with respect to the inclusion of their names among the Commercial Bank’s loan defaulters?
The report published prominent names of loan defaulters submitted to the GTT by the banks, and whether they are still servicing those loans or not is immaterial. In any case, the problem is as much theirs as it is that of the bank.
Leaving aside the judicial inquiry that will focus on those former officials found culpable under Section 26 of the Anti-Corruption act dealing with “unexplained wealth” – which surely must now give every APC former ranking official sleepless nights – the mess that the Koroma’s government left the country beggars belief.
A review of the available fiscal statistics from the Ministry of Finance, Bank of Sierra Leone, Statistics Sierra Leone and the Auditor-General’s reports over the past 10 years by a member of the transition team – which he has shared with me – is disturbing.
During that period, with iron ore exports domestic revenue increased by 499% and donor budgetary support by 308% leading to an overall increase in total revenue of 448%. However, the budget deficit increased by close to 300%.
Imports increased by 191%, from $446m to $1.3bn over the period, but perplexingly mainly of food items – which increased by 565% from $68million to $452million.
The value of rice, which under the APC averaged 41% of the total food imports, grew by over 600% over the 10-year APC period, from $24m to $191million, from 67,000 metric tonnes (MT) per annum to 471,000 metric tonnes. And that, despite the fact that, by APC’s government’s own boasts, rice production increased by 104% from 370,000 MT per annum to 756,000 MT per annum during the APC period. Who was eating all that rice?
You now see why the IMF was pushing the APC government to withdraw subsidy – that is simply to impose customs and other taxes – on imported rice?
The fund knew Bai Koroma and his cronies were importing all kinds of taxable goods into the country and labelling them rice, which is not taxed, so as not to pay custom duties and tax, costing the country hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars.
If there is a more ingenious way of destroying a poor country I don’t what is…