Francis Ben Kaifala: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 March 2019:
We promised at the end of 2018 that in 2019, we will push the boundaries of the fight against corruption further than ever, and make corruption a very costly and terrible choice for every Sierra Leonean who crosses the line against corruption that has been drawn by His Excellency The President.
To make good on that promise, based on the experiences and challenges with loopholes and weaknesses in the current Anti-Corruption Commission Act, we have now tabled before the current Parliament a very progressive amendment that, if our Parliamentarians do not stand in it’s way, will revolutionise and consolidate the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone for good.
Here are the highlights of that proposed amendment:
1. The assets declaration pool at present is too wide, unmanageable and cumbersome as it comprises every public employee including cleaners, teachers, all police officers, all military, every auxiliary staff of public institutions, etc.
This makes asset declaration management by the ACC wholly inefficient and compliance rate very low. We are now reducing the pool to comprise only persons in elective offices, such as; presidential appointees; public officers in grade 7 and above; and public officials below Grade 7 who handle or control cash payments; make decisions for licenses or income generating processes; and are in regulatory institutions dealing with compliance, monitoring and inspection.
All others will only declare on a need to do so basis, as the commissioner will from time to time direct by public notice.
The punishment for failing to declare assets will now include withholding of half salary of public officials after default pending declaration, naming and shaming and removal of the public official from office after over 3 months default.
2. The minimum penalty for serious corruption will now be increased from 3 years minimum to five (5) years imprisonment.
3. The minimum fine will now be increased from Le30 million to Le50 million.
4. Judges will no longer have discretion to order restitution as conviction for misappropriation of public funds will now be followed by a mandatory order to additionally pay back the full amount misappropriated to the State.
5. The civil powers of the commission will be strengthened to enter into settlements with corrupt persons. But, any settlement emanating from that settlement shall mandatorily recover the full amount at stake as a minimum, and go with an additional mandatory ban from holding public office for 3 years minimum.
6. Since bad contracts are responsible for drowning Sierra Leone into billions of dollars in local and foreign debts, due to overpriced and wickedly negotiated contracts, the ACC will now have preventive authority to intervene in contract negotiations on grounds that they are against the interest of the people of Sierra Leone, and stop any performance on the contract for seven days within which time both parties will be at liberty to proceed to court, before a judge, to consider whether the ACC’s claim is justified or not. This action will be taken in line with the principle of “Prevention is better than cure”.
The burden of proving that justification, will rest on the ACC failing which the order will be discharged.
7. We are re-positioning and tilting the evidential burden of proof as follows:
i. Where it is alleged that a public officer has been bribed, any gift above the value provided in the current Act or advantage given to that officer shall be presumed to be a bribe, until and unless he proves otherwise.
ii. Where it is alleged that money entrusted to a Public Officer has been misappropriated, the full amount will be deemed misappropriated, until and unless that Public Officer sufficiently establishes that it was used for the intended purpose.
8. Witnesses will now be better protected and severe penalties included for anyone who interferes with, unduly impedes witnesses or retaliates against any one assisting the ACC to report, investigate or prosecute corruption.
9. Many other revolutionary provisions to assist Sierra Leone place itself firmly on a footing for sincere accountability, transparency and integrity in Public Life.
Every Sierra Leonean should spread this message. Above all, let your Parliamentarians from your respective constituencies know that this is the people’s amendment.
For me, this is what will firmly help us deal corruption a deadly blow once and for all, as long as the political will remains as positive as our President, His Excellency Brig. (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio, has demonstrated, and we at the ACC remain courageous in executing our duties fairly but fiercely without fear or favour for anyone.
The fight against corruption is actually won on the bedrock of prevention – and this will be our key focus.
While prevention systems are not cheap, we however encourage our government to invest in prevention technology and systems to remove incentives for corruption and make detection and investigation faster, more efficient and better, while we battle on with this malaise that has left us as a country unjustifiably poor and beggarly.
That said, at this stage of our history, where corruption had shackled the soul of the country with public officials selfishly disrespecting their people – overcoming the collective good and benefit, with this amendment we will make any one either bankrupt or go to prison, or both, while we do our best to prevent.
This amendment is the right direction in the new direction.
About the author
Francis Ben Kaifala is the Head of the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission.