BY: DAVID YUSUF KABIA-PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSISTANT
Some twenty two (22) years ago, spurred by the recommendations proffered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Government of Sierra Leone established the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) through the promulgation of the Anti-Corruption Act 2000, which saw for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone, an institution exclusively established to combat corruption. This came after the signing of the Lome Peace Accord on 7th July, 1999, which paved the pathway to the end of the decade-long civil conflict.
Prominent on the country’s agenda was the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “to make findings in relation to the causes, nature and extent of violations and abuses during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone”, as stated in Section 6 (1) and (2) of the Truth and Reconciliation Act 2000.
Upon the establishment of the ACC in 2000 to address what the TRC Report referred to as the “main cause of the war”, there was need to protect public funds and property, which according to the TRC Report, were the resources the elite few within the public service enjoyed at the expense of the suffering masses.
When it was established in 2000, the Commission, as a law enforcement institution, lacked the legitimacy to prosecute its suspects. That is to say, it could only conduct investigations at the time and after attaining the evidential threshold, file for prosecution to the Law Officers Department. The Law Officers Department is the Government’s Legal Department.
This structure was criticized by many legal, constitutional and governance commentators on the stance that, the Department is headed by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, which makes it difficult for him to prosecute many of the suspects of the Commission who are Government ministers or officials themselves.
During the existence of this “ACC-investigates-and-the-Law-Officers-prosecute” structure, the citizens of Sierra Leone saw no seriousness in the number of prosecutions especially against those who occupy public offices, most of whom are ministers and other Government appointees.
At this juncture, the Commission was fast dubbed by Sierra Leoneans as a “ toothless bulldog” . That is to say, a bulldog that only barks and cannot bite. The citizenry almost lost faith in the fight against corruption as a closure of the main reason that led to the civil war.
In 2008, the need to attract international partners to further strengthen the fight against corruption surfaced and the Government of Sierra Leone on the 24th July, 2008 amended the Constitution of Sierra Leone (Amendment) Act, 2008, “Being an Act to amend the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 so as to grant to the Anti-Corruption Commission the power to prosecute offences involving corruption”.
This amendment saw the inclusion of Section 89 of the ACA which allows suspects to be prosecuted where the Commissioner is of the opinion to do so. While suspects of corruption or other instances of corruption were now to be prosecuted by the Commission, many alleged that those who really needed to be prosecuted enjoyed protection from the central Government. One central case was the then Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources matter which many commented on as a lost opportunity to Sierra Leone’s seriousness in nailing big fishes on corruption.
However, since 2018 when Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. was appointed as Commissioner of the ACC, the narrative changed from a low-prosecution-and-no-conviction rate to a more-prosecution-and-high-conviction rate. This change is as a result of the many actions taken by the Commissioner to ensure that corruption is tackled head on, which he promised during his maiden press conference after his appointment.
Other strategic actions he promised to undertake include; the strengthening of the Public Education and External Outreach Department, to lobby for the amendment of the 2008 Act to further strengthen the Commission and the establishment of a Special Division within the High Court of Sierra Leone for the hearing of ACC matters, the recruitment of more prosecutors, and a robust prevention drive. The aim, according to him, is to make corruption a high risk and low return venture.
First, the amendment of the Constitution of Sierra Leone by means of Constitutional Instrument No.4 of 2019, provided for the addition of a special division within the Criminal Division of the High Court of Sierra Leone for the hearing of ACC cases. By this, the high prosecution and conviction rate attained by the Commission cannot be celebrated without this amendment. This currently stands at over 90 percent. From the said convictions, the courts were able to levy total fines of Two Billion, Thirteen Million, Nine Hundred and Ninety Leones, which were paid to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).
In addition to the aforementioned prosecutorial achievements of the Commission, it is of immeasurable significance that the amendment of Sub Section (1) of Section 89 of Act No.12 of 2008 is mentioned. Section 89 of the ACA 2008 was amended with a new subsection (1) (b) that allows the Commission to recover monies and properties stolen or misappropriated where the recovery option is considered.
Since 2018 to date, the Commission has been able to recover over Thirty-four Billion Leones from out of court settlements.
Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala, over the last 4 years, has been able to fight corruption this hard in a way that has never been seen before. This, he has achieved through the maintenance of an open policy structure the Commission now operates in, to allow public participation in the fight. As the former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kofi Annan once said: “If corruption is a disease, transparency is a central part of its treatment.”
Let the reluctant corrupt keep on their acts; let them continue beating the drums of fallacy against the effectiveness of this fight until their nemesis catches up with them, for I know that this once dubbed “ toothless bulldog” can now bite, rip flesh and recover resources.
©️ Public Relations Unit, ACC