Anti-Corruption: I share your pains
The recent report by the world’s corruption watch dog, Transparency International (TI) named two state institutions as the most corrupt in many parts of the world, namely, the police and the judiciary. The report further opined that instead of declining, corruption was in fact growing rapidly in many countries of the world including our own very Sierra Leone which had an excellent pass grade of 84% of its citizens fallen within the vicious circle.
Invariably, some government officials took offence to the latest TI score sheet for Sierra Leone including the Information Minister, Alhaji Apha Kanu who took a swipe on the report, dismissing it as ‘erroneous’, a reaction many say did not go that far to convince the ordinary man on the street that such magnitude of corruption doesn’t exist in Sierra Leone. Interestingly, the report was published in the wake of what appeared a classical case of a 21st century bank robbery that rocked this country’s international profile. The rippling effect is still being felt in many quarters.
Apparently, past and present governments all over the world have ever struggled with the pandemic, making genuine attempts to minimise corruption in their societies. In Sierra Leone, on her part, parliament had enacted an Anti Corruption law to rid our institutions of the cankerworm, but since its creation a decade ago, the anti- graft commission has never been a sweet sound in the ears of state criminals. Even those that created it have tended to hate it. At one point, one of its earlier commissioners, Val Collier, was hunted out of office when he tried to cast his dragnet farther afield while the other, a young resourceful barrister, Abdul Tejan Cole, bowed out of the heat after he realised that the forces that engineer corruption were far greater than his personal resolve to tighten the noose around corrupt officials.
Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, himself a lawyer, took up the challenge, hoping that he can cause a miracle and succeed where his predecessors had failed. Frankly, he is doing his own bit. Under his tenure the ACC has performed remarkably well. High profile criminals including ministers of government have been prosecuted and convicted and in the process recovered billions of leones of our stolen moneys. That’s a feather in his cap.
Sadly though, the more grounds the commission seems the cover in his corruption crusade, the higher corruption seems to be on the rise. The latest in the series of corruption saga involving bank managers and custom officials has caused tongues wagging, increasing speculations that Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara is only throwing water on a duck’s back, as the case may be. I only hope he too doesn’t land in the same soup like his predecessors.
But the ACC boss is treading cautiously, knowing fully that any mishap would earn him the displeasure of the powers that be. I can therefore understand why in this spectacular bank fraud, Joseph Kamara has to seek audience with the President to get his blessing before commencing the prosecution of what he has classified as a ‘high profile’ case.
I have not been clear on the definition of ‘high profile’ as it applies in the case of those caught in the current saga. For me, a fraudster is a fraudster, just as a thief is a thief no matter his status. A small thief and a big thief are all thieves. What makes these ones ‘high profile’ and the previous ones just ordinary? In the past, cabinet ministers have been dragged before the ACC. Before now an NRA Commissioner General was prosecuted by the ACC. Just recently, dozens of medical personnel of the Health ministry were before the anti-corruption court for various corruption charges. Among them were medical doctors in-charge of the lives of millions of people in this country. I guess all of these are ‘high profile’ state officials but I cannot remember if any presidential opinion was sought before prosecuting them.
In any case, Joseph Kamara expected nothing other than a political will, as he put it. I am sure President Koroma, a no-nonsense man when dealing with corruption, did surely give the political support the ACC boss needed. But the question on the lips of pundits is will he succeed in the twin case of the Kalu led bank robbery and the NRA-Eco bank conspiracy?
At a recent news conference, the ACC boss declared that no less than 30 lawyers have stood up to defend the accused persons. Why the huge number of legal representation, one may ask? Is it that the intention is to cause another embarrassment for the ACC in its fight against corruption? The commission has just lost a case against Momoh Konteh of Transtech fame in the Al Jazeera matter.
The other question is what if the Kalu matter is thrown in the face of Joseph Kamara for lack of credible evidence? Already, the case against the Medicos in the GAVI fraud hangs in the balance. That too could be thrown out of court. I am not praying for that, but like the Transparency International report suggested, judicial manipulations in some of these instances cannot be over looked. President Koroma might have assured the ACC of his political support; the court can come up with a verdict today that might not favour the ACC, all depending on the internal dynamics of the judicial process.
This is where I pity the ACC. The fight against corruption, according to the commission, is every body’s business. But that statement does not seem to work in some cases as in the case of the thirty or so lawyers standing up for the accused persons.
This time round the ACC cannot afford to lose this case otherwise Sierra Leoneans would start to question the relevance of the commission in the fight against the giant monster called corruption. This is not however indicating that the ACC is impotent. None of it! After all it has won major corruption cases that carry with them political implications. We can still recall how the ACC caused the tragic fall of great ministers including some political heavy weights in the ruling APC party. When it lost the case against Allieu Sesay of the NRA in 2011, many eye brows were raised: for an accused to be set free by a court in a 157 count charge was too much to stomach.
My fear is history can always repeat itself but that should be the case this time round; not when it involves ‘high profile’ fraudsters; not when the reputation of the ACC is at stake; not when Sierra Leone has scored excellent grade in the corruption index. This is a case against the state of Sierra Leone; against the poor people of this country; against the territorial integrity of our beloved country. I hope all of us shall live to see this case to its logical conclusion.
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