THE ACC AS AN ANTI-BODY IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
By: Martina George
An antibody is like an immunoglobulin, which is a large, Y-shaped protein used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects, such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The antibody recognizes a unique molecule of the pathogen called an antigen. In the same vein, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) recognizes its resources to curbing graft.
Corruption, in actual sense, is an abstract virus that resides in the minds of selfish and greedy individuals that tend to catapult themselves overnight into rich people without any thought on the subsequent adverse effects of their actions on the general populace. Corruption is a disease that has been eating the very fabric of our beloved nation, and has caused enormous drought in terms of the actual benefits of allocated resources to citizens reaching them. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report singled it out (corruption)as one of the main reasons for the decade-long civil war that brought the country almost to its knees. Corruption was so rampant that it became a norm and an attempt to be morally and civically upright was regarded alien.
Fighting corruption is a complex and resilient assignment, especially the process of moving from highly corrupt to a low corrupt society, which is a long but achievable process. Nonetheless, there are many forms and degrees of corruption within the country and the Commission’s interventions need to be based on a context-specific understanding of multiple reinforcing drivers of corruption as well as the wider political economy.
There is no single treatment in fighting a disease, every medical practitioner gives different prescriptions but nonetheless the end goal is to get rid of the disease which a patient suffers from. This certainly applies to the fight against corruption as there is no single blueprint in the fight against the scourge. There are however unique combination of approaches, tools and actors that are needed to address the root causes of corruption in the most robust context possible.
The Commission, as an institution created by an Act of Parliament in 2000 as repealed and replaced by the 2008 Act, which was also amended in 2019, employs Prevention, Public Education, Intelligence and Investigation and Prosecutions as antibodies in the fight against graft.
The prevention aspect of fighting graft serves as an antigen. It neutralizes the bacteria of corruption before they metamorphose into full blown disease that is perhaps harder to cure. The Prevention Department, carries out its mandate pursuant to Section 7(2) (f), (g) and (h) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019: “To examine the practices of public bodies in order to facilitate the discovery of corrupt practices or acts of corruption and secure revision of those practices and procedures which in the opinion of the Commission, may lead to or be conducive to corruption or corrupt practices”. This section categorically explains the functions of the Department in the fight against corruption.
The interventions of the Prevention Department in some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have yielded tremendous results; namely its interventions in the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), the National Revenue Authority, the University of Sierra Leone and more recently, the Serabu Community Hospital in Bo District, among many other examples. In the case of the SLMA, as a result of the numerous challenges faced by the Administration in terms of operating cash flow and other related matters, the Management of the Administration requested the ACC to conduct a systems and processes review of the institution. The findings of the review indicated the lack of transparency and accountability measures as one of the reasons for the financial weaknesses and the institution’s inability to manage its debts.
Another strategic corruption prevention outfit at the ACC is the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) Secretariat. The NACS is the country’s roadmap for the suppression, prevention and eradication of corruption in the country. Section 5(1)(c) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 mandates the Commissioner of the ACC to coordinate the implementation of the NACS. That is why the NACS Coordinating Secretariat, which is under the direct supervision of the Office of the Commissioner, often works directly with public institutions to address incidences of corruption in public service delivery. The Secretariat has established Integrity Management Committees (IMCs) in most public institutions.
As an antibody they serve as internal test kits for identifying corrupt practices and other accountability issues in MDAs and proffering recommendations for reforms, for effective service delivery.
Public Education and Outreach Department, on the other hand, consistent with the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019, is primarily responsible for educating the public about the ills of corruption and the need for a corrupt-free society. The Department also conducts media and public relations and outreach engagements, to promote the image of the Commission and inform the public about its work through traditional and social media channels. It also serves as a means of soliciting and enlisting public support in the fight against corruption by building partnership and collaboration with Government and Non-Governmental Organizations. The Commission also uses this outfit to empower the public with relevant information that would help citizens stand up against corrupt practices.
Consistent with section 7 (1)(b)(c) and (d) of the Act, “ to investigate instances of alleged or suspected corruption referred to it by any person or authority or which has come to its attention, whether by complaint or otherwise”, the Commission has an Intelligence and Investigation Department. It is mandated to investigate alleged or suspected acts of corruption referred to it by any person or authority and ensures the prosecution of same where the evidence from the investigation craves for such action. The Department operates the highly effective Elite Scorpion Squad, which undertakes covert operations to nab persons or criminal enterprises engaged in acts of corruption.
The Prosecution Department is primarily responsible for the prosecution of all corruption cases investigated by the Investigation Department. It is a product of Section 7 (1) (d) of the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008 as amended in 2019, which charges the Commission “To prosecute all offences committed under this Act"
The prosecutorial powers of the Commission are set out in Section 89 of the Act. The Department basically functions as a referral outfit in the treatment phase of eradicating corruption, just as the doctor after conducting thorough examination on how best to treat an ailment. The potency of the teams of investigators and prosecutors has helped the Commission in achieving a very high conviction rate, which currently stands at over 95 percent of all cases charged to court since 2018.
In recent times, the Commission, under the leadership of the current Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq, has set historic standards in the fight against corruption as indicated in the Millennium Challenge Corporation ‘Control of Corruption’ Indicator, with a score 71% in 2018, 79% in 2019 and 81% in 2020. All these came at a time when Sierra Leone had failed this indicator up until 2017 with a scire 49%. In effect, this shows that a corrupt-free nation is achievable if there is pragmatic leadership and when the right approaches are used in enforcing the laws.
When corruption is systemic, the Commission employs a systems and processes approach that goes beyond targeting individuals. In some cases, it forces the Integrity Management Committees (IMCs) of MFAs to be operational and functional to address institutional corruption and integrity issues. Public education and coalition building have also proven to be very effective. But, perhaps, what most times resonates with people, are the many arrests of especially high-profile persons and the sting operations which have caused corrupt individuals to be investigated and prosecuted.
All these approaches have served as antibodies which have helped in controlling corruption in a manner that has completely changed our previous grim statistics.
Therefore, every step and approach in this fight is crucial and critical to curbing this menace.
©Public Education and Outreach Department ACC