SALONE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
By Abubakarr Turay
One of the campaign pledges of President Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 was to ensure zero tolerance for corruption and to toughen the fight against it corruption by strengthening the country’s anti-graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The following year after his election, President Koroma translated his words into action by amending the then Act and enacting the Anti-Corruption Act 2008, which gives more powers to the ACC including powers for the Commission to prosecute its own cases and providing for all public servants to declare their assets with the Commission. The ACC has-especially in the last five years under the leadership of Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara-been using the provisions of the Act to make more gains in the fight against corruption in the country.
The National Anti-Corruption Strategies
The development of strategies to fight against corruption is important in targeting both grand or systemic corruption and petty or ordinary corruption. The Government of Sierra Leone had adopted two national anti-corruption strategies before the current strategy which runs from 2014-2018. The 2009-2013 strategy took a three-pronged approach: public education, prevention and law enforcement or prosecution. Implementation of the strategies has over the years helped to raise more public awareness of issues of accountability, transparency and integrity in public life; stir public debates about corruption and how citizens themselves could play a role in the fight against the scourge. The current strategy is people-driven and the experts that put it together incorporated the need to tackle private sector corruption.
Prosecution and recoveries
One of the major successes of the ACC has been in the area of prosecution. The Commission has successfully prosecuted all levels of individuals, including sitting government ministers, high court judges, heads of government and non-governmental organisations, police officers, and customs officials. For the period spanning January to October 2014 the anti-graft agency secured a one hundred percent conviction rate of all its cases in court. This includes a landmark case in which one of the accused persons was convicted for unexplained wealth and for failing to declare assets. This huge success in the cases prosecuted has resulted in a corresponding increase in the recovery of stolen public funds totalling over Twelve Billion Leones.
Systems and processes review of public establishments
Corruption is seen as widespread in the country mainly because the systems and conditions of public institutions make room for it to prevail. Consistent with its mandate, therefore, the Systems and Processes Review Department of the ACC has been conducting systems reviews of public institutions to unearth how the systems encourage corruption to thrive and what can be done to seal such opportunities in order to improve service delivery and revenue generation, in the case of public enterprises. Systems reviews have produced citizens’ service charters, policy and ethics guidelines on the use of public assets and codes of conducts to regulate the behaviour of civil servants in the workplace.
The government has been demonstrating its political will in the fight against corruption by providing over 90% budget support to the Commission. It has also been providing logistical support to the Commission.
The ACC considers partnerships as integral in the fight against corruption. This spans from maintaining a close work relationship with donors such as the World Bank, European Union, DFID and Irish Aid, who sometimes provide budget support to meet the shortfall in government funding and enables the Commission to implement some of its projects. One of such projects is ‘The Pay No Bribe Campaign’ financed by DFID to tackle acts of bribery in the country. This campaign followed the Global Corruption Barometer Report 2013 by Transparency International which ranked Sierra Leone as one of the countries with prevalent cases of bribery.
In a bid to build a network for intelligence and information sharing, the Commission has also signed Memorandums of Understanding with a host of specialised public institutions and civil society organisations.
Embracing Information Technology
One thing that came out of the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer Report 2013 is that 99 per cent of Sierra Leoneans showed willingness to help the Commission in the fight against corruption. The Commission has been cognisant of this which is why it has been employing information technology, especially the use of social networks, to provide forums for more public debates about corruption and give more opportunities to the people to report acts of corruption to the Commission. Recently, the Commission developed an application for android phone users to anonymously report corruption in a much faster and easier way. The ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION SIERRA LEONE APP is on the SIERRA LEONE APP on Google Play and can be downloaded free of cost.
The outbreak of the Ebola Disease has not only accounted for hundreds of lives in Sierra Leone but also severely affected the socio-economic developments of the country. Consistent with its mandates the ACC’s official response to the outbreak was to sympathise with the families of those who have lost loved ones, acknowledge the strides of those in the forefront in the fight against the disease, and reminding those handling Ebola funds and resources from government and local and international partners to use them judiciously in order not to contravene the provisions of the Government Budget and Accountability Act and the Anti-Corruption Act 2008. The ACC Commissioner and his team also visited the regional cities of Makeni, Bo and Kenema to give words of support to staff of the Commission in those areas and meet with stakeholders responding to the Ebola disease. The meetings with members of the Emergency Response Team were to prevent the situation that led the Geneva-based Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunisation (GAVI) to suspend funding to Sierra Leone in 2013 following an audit report which showed mismanagement of their funds. The matter led to the prosecution and conviction of some top health officials, an intervention that led the Alliance to restore confidence and funding.
Sierra Leone’s strides in the fight against corruption has made been recognised in different quarters, as shown by the country’s rankings in transparency indices by Transparency International and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The Mo Ibrahim Index of 2013 shows the country has the largest 6-year improvement in accountability. The indicators used in the accountability category are accountability, transparency and corruption in the public sector, corruption and bureaucracy, accountability of public officials, and prosecution of abuse of public office. The country’s rankings in the 2013 and 2014 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International show that the country went four places up to 119 (from its 123 position in 2012) out of 177 countries ranked in the index, with a one point increase in the scorecard. This means that Sierra Leone’s steady progress in the fight against corruption has seen it go thirty-nine places up in the index in the last five years. These achievements do not go unnoticed as the ACC has received several local accolades from civil society organisations and a World Bank award in 2010, an award of excellence in 2011, and more recently, in May this year at the Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa in Accra, Ghana, Sierra Leone attained a first place benchmark by the Commonwealth as a country for transfer and peer learning.
In spite of the successes in the fight against corruption, several challenges prevail.
The disturbing scenes of people carrying convicted officials shoulder high is a major challenge in the fight against corruption. There are instances when people celebrated corruption convicts simply because they are not handed stiffer penalties like custodial sentences. Another reason for such unfortunate celebrations is based on the political, regional, religious or tribal affiliations of the convict. Such scenes of merrymaking are seen by the ACC as an inducement for the commission of more corrupt acts.
The Commission has been struggling very hard to retain its highly productive workforce due to better opportunities elsewhere. The lack of training and development opportunities for staff pose a serious threat to the Commission’s retention policy.
The Commission is in dire need of technical assistance especially to help build the capacity of staff of the Intelligence, Investigations and Prosecution Department. This is in order for the Commission to continue making gains in its court cases.
The National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2014-2018 provides many opportunities and bright prospects for the country’s efforts in the fight against corruption. The strategy provides for the Commission to take a risk-based approach in the fight against corruption by putting more attention to corruption prone areas, revenue generating institutions and areas such as procurement where government expends large sums of public funds. The Commission also continues to build more partnerships and strengthen state institutions by ensuring that such institutions mainstream anti-corruption measures in a bid to imbibe the values of transparency, accountability and integrity in public life. In the area of law enforcement, the Commission continues to show its resolve to end impunity by ensuring that those who steal and misappropriate public funds and resources do not go unpunished. With the fight against corruption being one of the key indicators to qualify for the Millennium Challenge Corporation funding, the political leadership is putting more emphasis on zero tolerance for corruption.Start writing here...