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Politics, Character Assassination and the Fight Against Corruption in Sierra Leone

Politics, Character Assassination and the Fight Against Corruption in Sierra Leone

That the fight against corruption in the West African state of Sierra Leone is a herculean task would surely be an understatement. This is one of the conclusions reached at a two-hour interactive session on the topic “Di Corruption Fet: Salone Go Able”? (The fight against corruption, will Sierra Leone be able?) organized by the BBC Media Action Wednesday, May 01, 2013 at the British Council hall at Tower Hill in Freetown.

Indeed, the BBC Media Action has every reason to organize such a forum, recognizing that corruption, wherever it exists, would not only have the potential to undermine democracy, but the negative impact it would have on the general socio-economic development of the state and service delivery would just be too enormous.

It is against this background that the erstwhile Sierra Leone People’s Party led Government under President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah should be heartily congratulated for enacting the 2000 Anti corruption Act as a mechanism of formally fighting graft in a country whose civil war in the 1990s was partly attributed to high profile corruption.

Just last year, that global anti graft agency, Transparency International (TI) published its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report in which Sierra Leone was ranked 123 out of the 176 countries surveyed thereby making the country leaped 11 places up in the fight against corruption. This, according to many social observers, has largely been attributed the bold steps being taken by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who had cause for the ACC Act to be revised in 2008 and the political process removed when it comes to prosecuting graft cases.

However, in spite the cogent strides the government is making in the fight against corruption, the role of the media and politics has also become very suspect. It is common knowledge that a cross-section of the press has allowed itself to be used and misused by opposing political camps under the guise of fighting corruption. And, this is where one would readily agree with one of the lead-discussants at the BBC Media Action forum at the British council, Nanette Thomas who unapologetically singled out a cross-section of the media and lavished them with barrage of criticisms for its irresponsibility in berating personalities, sometimes unfoundedly, in their reportage of corruption allegation against public officials.

This brings to mind the unfounded allegations the opposition trumpeted and published by the main stream media that president Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had bought a house in London, UK at the staggering sum of two million pounds. When this assertion boomeranged, another allegation was manufactured against the sister of the President to have been awarded a contract worth about 30 million United States dollars for the installation of solar street lights. This proved to be futile allegations and President Koroma won a resounding 58.7 comfortable win in the last November 17 presidential elections.

But it was not President Koroma alone who has been singled out and pounded by the press and the opposition. One could recall the brash Dr. James Jonah, a Sierra Leonean who made us proud as a country by virtue of his tremendous contribution to global peace and security through diplomacy in his capacity as UN Under Secretary-General responsible for Political Affairs. No sooner rumuors started making the rounds that he was going to be President Tejan Kabbah’s successor than he attracted the wrath of the press. With many options under his belt, Dr. Jonah packed and left for the US where he continues to enjoy respect and value for his work.

As if history is repeating itself, one person that has come under a barrage of press criticisms is erstwhile Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Health and Sanitation respectively during the presidency of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura.

First, immediately she was made Foreign Minister (second female to hold that position in the country’s history after Shirley Gbujama) than patriarchs who felt threatened by Mrs. Bangura’s steeled personality went to work attacking her feminine disposition in the office. One scandal and another ranging from the sale of rice meant for poor mother Sierra Leone to soliciting thousands of dollars from Sultans in the Middle East in readiness to challenge incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma were manufactured and sold through the mainstream media. Indubitably, the public saw it as a foregone conclusion when a cabinet reshuffle saw Mrs. Bangura moved to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Even though I would have loved to meet with Mrs. Bangura before she left Sierra Leone to up a United Nations appointment as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General, still I felt bad, if not guilty, to have been remotely part of a grand conspiracy hatched against her when the misappropriation of GAVI funds at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation came to light.

Even though Mrs. Bangura has been exonerated by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and also by the GAVI Alliance of her non-complicity in the misappropriation of GAVI funds because the said act occurred before she was even posted to the said Ministry, yet politics has come into play again.

Some insiders in the All People’s Congress Party (APC) and in government who have failed to live up to President Koroma’s expectations for the rapid transformation of the country are stoutly bent on assassinating the personality of Mrs. Bangura amidst rumuors that President Koroma has touted her as a possible successor come the 2017 elections. This is where one would only wished Mrs. Bangura can come out with a decisive statement confirming or debunking such thinking.

However, what baffled me the most that also clearly resonated with Nanette Thomas’ position pull him/her down syndrome as part of corruption is when one highly-placed but mercurial Ministry of Health and Sanitation official (real name withheld for now but only MM) masquerading as Sheku Boimah contacted some colleagues and I to form a grand movement in complementing the ACC in the fight against graft. At first, we warmed up to the invitation not until when it dawned on us, following some investigations, that he personally has a bone to pick with Mrs. Bangura.

The so-called Boimah, a die-hard maverick in the opposition, has been issuing press releases copying staff at the UN including the Office of the UN Secretary-General without our general consensus. To some of us in the movement, we felt being innocently used by people like MM at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to satisfy their political goals.

Whilst it is okay for some to politically disagree with the likes of Dr. James Jonah and Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, we should be seen out of patriotism and nationalism to be proud of the duo for representing the green, white and blue thereby making Sierra Leone proud as a serious international player in the international system. Afterwards, is this not part of the rebranding effort President Koroma is talking about?

Therefore, by way of conclusion, unless and until the fight against corruption in our country is devoid of character assassination and cheap politicking, the journey the ACC has set itself to accomplish would a long way ahead. And that was exactly what Nanet Thomas underscored at that British Council BBC Media Action public forum debate!

By Abdul Rahman Kamara*

*Author, Abdul Rahman Kamara is one of the highly respected journalists in Sierra Leone. He is presenter of the “Sixty-Minute Encounter” programme at Star Radio FM 103.5, Editor of the “Owl Press”, one of the leading weekly tabloids in Sierra Leone, and a regular panelist  on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation “Inside the Media” programme . He can be contacted at +232-76-853-634, E-mail:chiefdura@gmail.com

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  • The successes or failures about reducing corruption depends primarily on the characteristics of ethics, sincerity and effectiveness of any Executive President of any country, including Sierra Leone.
    In this regard, we must confront the reality that some of our National Institutions such as our Police, our Anti-Corruption Commission are cosmetic and selective about who the dutifully challenge, our practices of The Rule of Law(- a Mnister of State is again currently aaleged to be publicly challenging a Judge’s Court Ruling outside of any legitimate Court).
    Any Sierra Leone Government sincere about our national interest and progress would by now be dealing with our National Auditor-General’s 2011
    Last week, I was again told that our UK High Commission have again not paid their telephone bills so they may get cut off – I would have expected such bills to be on direct debit, similarly to SALARIES!

    6th May 2013
  • dera friend show me 30 million USD how much coast of each 1 solar lights pl. .i show u how much u can get solar street lights from india.

    5th May 2013
  • This is a very interesting analysis of a complex situation that seems to be well balanced. It describes the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone as herculean, but in my view, corruption might never be totally eradicated from any country in the World. This is even more so when he includes the wretched tactics in politics that have always universally rendered that occupation a “dirty game” from time immemorial. Indeed, we cannot allow one to cloud the issue over the other, and if an individual needs to answer a genuine question on financial corruption then the fact that some political dirty tactics are employed should not necessarily serve to absolve completely. So, on the one hand, I strongly agree that public debate on national and political issues must be conducted openly and constantly not only by our elite brains, but by the people who need to be sufficiently educated to enable them to do so using all available media including the written and spoken word. This should help us avoid pointless and destructive character assassinations, but the level of our integrity, and morality in public service continue to leave much to be desired so individuals continue to have little compunction when they set about to “eat or chop di money wae nor belong to dem but to di State!” The harm they do to the whole country does not match the penalty meted to them, so far. We must also seriously consider asset stripping of those that are found out, because when others see that anybody can get away with it they continue to believe it is well worth it so to do.

    5th May 2013

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