By Edie P. Vandy
Sierra Leone’s Corruption: A Strategic Review of Corruption under the SLPP vs the Unchecked corruption in the Past (APC) administration
Sierra Leone’s development efforts have been stifled because of corruption, until now with real progress matched by political commitment made by President Bio upon assumption of office on 12 May 2018.
The 18 months’ stewardship of the current administration has done much more in tackling corruption than the 11 years (2007-2018) management of the past APC government led by former President Koroma, which saw corruption thrive despite granting of independent prosecutorial powers in 2008 to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Corruption & Systemic Failure
The anti-corruption strategies witnessed during the APC rule (or mis-rule) were mere rhetoric, empty talk rather than doing the walk and making the hard decisions. There were systematic institutional failures on pursuit of prosecution with an Anti-Corruption commission invested on petty corruption\bribery through the DFID funded “Pay No Bribe” platform, whilst looking the other way when it involved cronies, family and public officials of the president. What we had was massive revenue misappropriation, with little or no transparency and accountability on the part of the administration. Auditor General-Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce was consistent in making the case for the government’s ‘corrupt financial practices’, citing leakages in the public accounts: in the area of cash management, procurement of public goods and services, poor records management, and asset protection. The political will was missing to fight corruption, with an APC controlled parliament complicit in providing oversight and scrutiny on the nation’s public accounts submitted year in and out by Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL).
The 2012 Audit report of Sierra Leone for instance showed that between 2003 to 2012, the treasury was depleted by some Le1,166,564,381,817.40 (over one Trillion Leones) or over USD 292 million, with over USD 100 million in 2012 alone misappropriated or stolen from the country’s coffers. These missing funds belong to the people that could have been used to fast track development, but diverted to personal accounts, starving the economy and withholding the much needed funds to pay decent salaries and improve public services for the common man. But with the new administration in play, business is no longer the same, given the introduction of a Treasury Single Account (TSA) to promote accountability, reduce bank costs and leakages in the use of public resources.
The former ruling party’s grasp of corruption now and then is denial and no culpability to avoid taken remedial actions. That administration was in complete denial when Transparency International (TI) reported in July 2013 that Sierra Leone had the highest incidence of bribery in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 87 % of the population having paid a bribe for public and private services. Former chief of staff to President Ernest Bai Koroma, Richard Konteh blasted the report as flawed and skewed, saying that the report is a demonstration of TI’s misunderstanding of Sierra Leone’s cultural practices and norms. He, Richard Konteh, referred to bribery as “kola given to those in authority, such as paramount chiefs, as a sign of respect and gratitude for good things that have been done.” Ironically, a year after coming out in strong defense of bribery as standard practice, the former Chief of Staff, Richard Konteh was himself sacked by the President in June 2014, on allegations of bribe taking and corruption, and not being open and transparent in the conduct of official mining negotiations with a private sector operator – Timber Harvesters, Processors and Exporters (SL) Ltd.
Too many sacred cows & recycling of corrupt politicians
Former President Koroma and his APC campaigned on the ticket of ending corruption, with a pledge of No sacred cows and none preferential treatment to families, cronies and ministers, with full penalty of law upon default. The reward system for families and cronies with lucrative contracts took a new high from the norm, to include the President’s younger brother, Sylvanus Koroma and his company Harmony Trading Company , granted duty waiver to the tune of one million dollars. The president’s elder sister, Admire Sesay (Nee Koroma), equally became a government contractor overnight from been a mere secretary within the civil service and granted preferential treatment on public tender without competition.
Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption commissioner, Mr. Joseph Kamara in September 2015 had his $11,200 monthly salaried contract renewed for another five years to ‘continue to rid the country of corruption.’ This increase came at a time when himself in an interview in May 2015 accepted responsibility for the commission’s failure in getting the job done. The question then and now is, “why reward failure and admission on lack of performance?”
The renewal of mandate for the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), came in the wake of some high profile graft scandals, like ‘EbolaGate’, ‘BusGate’, ‘MudGate’ and ‘HajjGate’, etc. all laden with heavy financial losses. Sierra Leone’s Auditor General – Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce , is the whistle blower on the mismanagement of Ebola funds to the tune of USD14 million flagged as missing due to lack of supporting documentation, leaving the public equally frustrated with the ACC’s mishandling of the ‘BusGate’ scandal, which saw USD$12 million of public money spent on the purchase of 100 buses, without following due procurement policies. Some closure has been attained on the ‘EbolaGate’ and ‘HajjGate’ by new ACC boss, with pending verdicts on ‘BusGate’ and several high profile unexplained wealth acquisition by public officials.
The Koroma and APC administration had too many sacred cows protected and recycled from one office to another posting in what can be described as a musical jamboree. David Tam Baryoh, Radio commentator and journalist (of the weekly Monologue show), who is himself a member of the ruling All People’s party, couldn’t stand by and not condemn the spate of rampant corruption and the near negligence of the President not to investigate his own men/women committing such impunity into fueling a financial stagnation. Journalist David Tam Baryoh before his marriage with the APC was an adversarial critic of the party, which saw him being beaten and jailed at the maximum-security Pademba Road prison in Freetown for criticism of the then government’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.
Take the case of former Transport minister, Kemoh Sesay sacked in 2008 on allegations of cocaine smuggling, but brought on to serve as Minister of Public & Political Affairs/ Special Presidential Adviser; a position he openly decried as ‘broke’ without any ill-gotten wealth, which saw him moved to the lucrative ministry of works, housing and infrastructures. Kemoh Sesay in a video shared was seen making cash campaign donations of LE 100,000 million to the governing APC, where he bragged about his current position at Works given him the space to loo and accumulatet ill-gotten wealth. But, his assets are now being investigated by the ACC and a person of interest to the Commission of Inquiry.
Former Transport Minister-Mr. Balogun ‘Logus’ Koroma, who replaced Dr. William Konteh, then National Coordinator of the 50th Independence celebrations, was sacked when serving as Minister of State in the Vice President’s office in March of 2010 ‘for unknown reasons’. The name ‘Logus’ in Sierra Leone is linked to what is being referred to as the ‘BUSGATE’ deal. The former minister is back in Sierra Leone after a long absence awaiting formal verdict from the Commission of Inquiry on his alleged role in a transaction that wrecked the nation of some $12 million dollars.
Karamoh Kabba, Coordinator of the Open Government Initiative (OGI) and Dr. Michael Sho-Sawyer, head of the Diaspora Affairs, were relieved of responsibilities, but brought back in active politics, with the former re-appointed as Resident Minister – East, whilst the latter contested to serve as honorable member of parliament and won. In the eyes of President Koroma, corrupt behavior was a trigger for greater compensation and additional pilfering of state funds. Given the compensation and minimal risk, public officials were willing to take the ‘risk’ knowing that at worst, they can be content with payment of mere fines, rather than serve jail terms. Mixed signals were flashed in the APC’s anti-corruption strategy, from the courts that left perpetrators walk free with payment of pittances, to their re-hiring with even better paying jobs; made it all inconsistent with the political rhetoric of fighting graft and ending corruption in Sierra Leone. Festus Minah, chairperson of the Civil Society Movement of Sierra Leone, said: “We are already seeing a pattern of cronyism and tribalism in the awarding of contracts and jobs. The president must address the concerns raised by the opposition, and put an end to speculations.”