Milton Margai: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 August 2020:
Corruption is public enemy number one in Sierra Leone. It is responsible for the country’s underdevelopment. Hence, there is need to support those at the forefront of the war against corruption.
According to Professor Lumumba (former head of the ACC in Kenya), “Corruption is such an enterprise that there’s no shortage of individuals who want to liquidate you and to eliminate you altogether.”
He said ‘those who have declared themselves to be in the forefront against corruption must know that they’re in the line of fire.’
Few weeks ago, I interviewed Sierra Leone’s ACC czar, Francis Ben Kaifala about the Chinese Rice Saga which was published by the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
I also spoke to Kaifala about the challenges he faces daily; what he enjoys most and the role of Sierra Leoneans in the fight against corruption. This is what he said:
Milton Margai: Since taking over as the ACC boss, what are the challenges you face on a daily basis?
Francis Ben Kaifala: “Many. With all the effort and sacrifice, we are targeted by the people on whose behalf we make decisions that we believe will optimize outcomes for the country. It is like they are waiting for us to fail. With 30 convictions and only 6 acquittals since I came into office, they lay more emphasis on those very few loses than the many successes.
Globally, every international index shows we are exponentially making progress with the fight against corruption – we are in the ivy league of the success in the fight against corruption. Yet it seems our efforts are not as appreciated as we would expect.
It is demoralizing and frankly cynical. But we will continue to do our best to succeed even in the midst of the great personal toll on us and our families with little resources and manpower support. We however acknowledge the support of many other well-meaning Sierra Leoneans.
MM: What do you enjoy most about the job?
FBK: Strategizing and precisely deploying strategies and tactics that lead to the many exploits that produce results amidst the doubts and cynicism. It shows that with determination we can achieve a lot as a country and people to change our story.
Taking the country from a failing position of 49% in the MCC Control of Scorecard to 79%; To pass the MCC Score back to back two years in a row for the first time; helping the country move 11 places in the Transparency International Index from 131 in 2017 to 119 currently and to score the highest score ever; to move government effort in the fight against corruption from 43% to 66% currently; to move citizens confidence in the ACC from 15% in 2017 to 92% currently; for us to experience upward mobility in almost every global and local index and survey; that is something to enjoy about this work; restore the highest ever confidence in the ACC and lead its staff to reach their zenith peak in their 19 year effort and campaign against corruption; to have a near perfect conviction rate; to recover nearly 25 Billion Leones and return it to the people for the provision of social services; to build and watch the scorpion squad show the world how to fight corruption with precision and bring the corrupt to their knees-day in-day-out; to be the example to Africa on how to successfully fight corruption – measurable results that silent the cynics and critics and do it for country.
I feel good knowing that the promise I made to help the President launder the image of the country to a fierce but fair anticorruption fight is bringing excellent results in just two years with three to go.
MM: What’s the role of Sierra Leoneans in the fight against corruption?
FBK: To support the ACC – report corruption, be willing to be witnesses, not engage in corruption themselves. When they see something corrupt, they say something to correct it. They are the supply-side. If they do not engage in corruption, those in positions (the demand-side) would find substitutes to getting money or favour and avoid corruption. The people are a major factor.
MM: What is your message to the people of Sierra Leone?
FBK: When you see something corrupt, say and do something. Help us succeed in controlling corruption. We can only prosper as a country if we control and subdue corruption.
MM: If you were to add a line to a song on corruption in Sierra Leone, what would that line be?
FBK: The most important weapon a man can take into battle is the reason why. My reason is clear – to defeat corruption for Sierra Leone to take its place among countries that are called great which has eluded it since independence to date. I will fight and succeed against corruption no matter what is thrown at me or I die trying.
When Ben Kaifala burst on the scene all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans believed that after more than a decade of a dysfunctional ACC under Ernest Koroma, there was now reborn ACC , as clean and energetic as a newly born baby, both on the inside and outside. To further consolidate the powers of the Commission, prosecutorial power was given to it under the “new direction“ government of Maada Bio. Ben Kaifala took off in calm conditions; visibility was perfect – he even had a tail wind. Suddenly there was turbulence.
Billions of Leones went missing at various government departments; the chief minister was caught with his trousers down when a journalist wanted to question him about a $1.5 million deposited into his account; thousands of bags of rice donated by China to feed children disappeared with the chief minister again allegedly involved in the heist ; belatedly a number of accused were dubiously exonerated by ACC. What is clear is that Ben Kaifala has lost control. The turbulence he is facing is not natural but man-made by the very people who are his bosses. Recently the chief minister was on video tape condoning and giving credence to corruption. It was like that too during the Earnest Koroma days, even if it manifested itself in another version.
For Ben Kaifala to accuse those criticising him of cynicism bears him as being parochial in his understanding of his performance. He paraded helpless immigration officials at our border with Liberia through the streets of Freetown who had been caught in corruption but the chief minister and others are untouchable. The interviewer, Milton Margai,did a disservice to himself by not grilling Ben enough to reveal the part of him which is bound to be in turmoil at the moment as he fights a futile battle to apply the law objectively across all features because of the hinderance of the powers that be who are the real and sophisticated thieves.
Frankly speaking, I was one of the biggest fan of Mr. Ben Kelfala during the early months of the current regime. Like a freshly graduated elite member of the United States special forces, Kelfala stepped into the fight against corruption with stealth, stamina, and a ferocious demeanor, ready to devour any wanted suspect with precision strike whenever an enemy target is identify. Reminiscence of Abdul Tejan Cole stint tenure at ACC, a record amount of stolen monies and properties were recovered within a few months of Kelfala assuming office, with most of the culprits making back door settlements, fearing public humiliation and potential lifetime image destruction.
With majority of the accused being members of the opposition APC party and a few selected past civil servants, Mr. Big Ben was always emphatic, never mincing his utterance that, no stones will be left unturned with no sacred cow under his tenure as far the fight against corruption was concerned. For a moment, patriotic Sierra Leoneans across the divide experienced an euphoria of hope, thinking a new dawn has indeed set foot on the soil of our beloved nation. However, as the list of targeted opposition members get exhausted, with the new boys in town busy helping themselves with our meager resources, the once fiercest, no none-sense Mr. Big Ben suddenly began to backpedal.
In succession, we first witness the 2018 audit report in which billions of leones were either unaccounted for or procurement done with no documentation, sidestepping established protocols for personal benefits. Then the chief minister was alleged to have deposited 1.5million dollars into his account at Ecobank with the journalist that leaked the story kidnapped by orders from the chief minister. Finally, about 50,000 bags of rice donated by the chinese for school feeding get stolen and shared among prominent government officials. Almost on all these cases, Mr. Ben became the defense lawyer, promptly exonerating the accuser or clandestinely doing a shady investigative job hoping the trial judges will throw away the case.
I don’t know why Mr. Milton Margai wasted his precious time in interviewing someone who has broken all his promises to an interview with Tripple A sometime ago. Many people, including myself, will ignore the bluff talk of this ACC boss and suck our teeth. His words won’t fly. Listen to what Mr Ibrahim Fofanah the “plain preacher” with his inspiring message said about this ACC boss.
Many thanks Stargazer for hitting hard on the hypocrisy of a member of the Bio SLPP kakistocracy. State House is in sight. Have they started packing their suitcases to “get SALONE sorted”? I hope they do. God bless Stargerzer and the selected justice victims. See you soon.
Mr Francis Ben Kiafala, as the head of the Anti Corruption Commission, you are occupying the hot seat of mistrust and cynicism. Your job is to prove to the long suffering people of Sierra Leone, your position is not a window dressing, but someone who is ready to take the fight to our corrupt political class, regardless of position and wealth. We are sick to the teeth, to see our country’s security put at risk, because of the greed, and dishonest political class that have driven our country to her knees. Sierra Leoneans have the right to criticise your efforts every step of the way. We have to hold your feet to the fire, because the lives of every Sierra Leonean depends on you doing your job without any fear or favours.
We want to see more convictions, and seizure of unexplained wealth. For far too long, our country has been taken for a ride by corrupt political elites, that have bought nothing but misery to millions of their fellow Sierra Leoneans. Corruption has denied our country the right to development. Right now as the Anti Corruption tsar, your position in the country is unique like the head of state.
If you blindfold your self and pursue these enemies of state, rest assured, the public will be behind you.The dishonest or fraudulent conduct of the political class has not only denied our country a seat along the league of developed nations, but has left us perpetually as beggars to international financial institutions. So over to you. We are watching and waiting. May God bless Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone my only home the outlandish bizarre statements of public officials never seem to end,they are always as countless as the breaths we inhale and exhale (lol) Now this “We are in the ivy league on the fight against corruption” Bwahahaha – say that again Benny. I didn’t quite clearly get it the first time -THE IVY LEAGUE? So with all your tribalism and favoritism, and your noxious ceaseless nit-picking and fault finding on only opposition members, you are still saying that with regards to fighting corruption you are in the highest most estimable category imaginable? Honestly, you cant be serious. How many SLPP officials have been convicted and sent to Prison for robbing and fleecing the scanty coffers of our beloved nation?
And what happened to the Chief Minister’s 1.5 million bribery scandal that the ACC swept quietly under the rug – Is it still there or has it been thrown discreetly into the garbage heaps of nepotism and tribal partisanship? Answer – why didn’t the puppet ACC investigate JJ the “HANGMAN” saffa that still keeps on strangling our people with his ill-advised policies for overspending his ministry’s budget by billions of leones?
And again how did those Corrupt SLPP Officials that stole rice intended for the poorest of the poor and vulnerable among us end up walking as free as prowling hyenas that raided and ruthlessly grabbed a bunch of chickens from a farmer’s unprotected chicken barn? Hey Benny I could go on forever (lol) Come on man, lets be real you are not even close or anywhere near Ivy League status in the fight against corruption – yours is a flimsy superficial ostentatious scheme – a mindless witless partisan Charade – live with that!(lol)