The High Court Judge in Makeni, Justice Unisa Kamara, has cautioned local court authorities to refrain from acts of extortion as such acts are inexcusable and attract punishment by law.
The Judge issued the warning in a customized meeting with local court authorities organised by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) office in the North-East region in Makeni intended to raise awareness about corrupt practices. The meeting targeted Local Court administrators in Bombali Shebora, Makarie, and Gbanti chiefdoms to resist corruption. The engagement, which was held in the Conference Hall of the Commission’s office on 6th July 2021, was necessitated by repeated public reports on multiple forms of perversion of justice in the Local Courts in the chiefdoms.
The learned Judge, who also attended the meeting, condemned corruption and, in clear terms, said that local court officers ‘are sometimes excessive’ in leveling fines or charges, adding that receipts are usually not issued once payments of fines or charges have been made to the court.
He underscored the fact that funds raised by the local court belong to the public, and should therefore never be utilized personally. ‘You are not in these positions to amass wealth at the expense of the locals,’ the Judge strongly said. As the ‘first port of call in the justice system’, he went on, you should ensure you fairly dispense justice in order to maintain peaceful co-existence in the localities. Any action that gives you undue advantage in your various offices should equal an act of corruption, which cannot be justified.
According to the ACC Prosecutor based in the region, the courts fall within the informal justice sector and have jurisdiction to apply customary laws in rural localities, and should refrain from corruption by maintaining a high level of integrity. Timothy P. M. Sowa Esq., stressed that a corrupt local court system was recipe for violations of human rights, particularly, to resources such as land. He therefore, called on the chairmen, court clerks, and treasury clerks to uphold the ethics of their different offices in dispensing justice.
He made known to the court officers that corruption ranging from extortion of money from both plaintiffs and defendants to outright misuse of public resources are often reported against them. These acts amount to serious offences and are punishable by provisions in the anti-corruption Act of 2008 as amended in 2019. He decried corruption at every level of Public Sector Institutions, and cited examples of offences in Part IV of the Act; Misappropriation of Public Funds or Public Property and Misappropriation of Donor Funds or Property, stipulated in Sections 36 and 37 of the said Act respectively. Lawyer Sowa added that in three years, under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala, stiffer provisions in the Act have been passed with the establishment of an anti-graft court within the High Court of Sierra Leone. He said: ‘The fine on one count of corruption has been increased from 30 Million Leones to 50 Million Leones in the Act. Similarly, imprisonment term has been increased from 3 to 5 years upon conviction.’
In his contribution, the Senior District Officer (SDO), Abu Kamara, also confirmed corruption in the local regime of justice, disclosing that most local courts discard the General Receipt books administered by the Central Chiefdom Administrative Clerk to keep correct and full records of funds. They have illegal receipts produced instead, according to him. By this means, the SDO averred, no one can track accurate and comprehensive records of funds at the courts. ‘Funds raised by the local courts should be deposited into the chiefdom account, but this is largely not the case at all,’ he lamented.
Drawing from the testimonies that emerged, the ACC Senior Prevention Officer, Sylvester Sowa, suggested the need for a review of the processes and procedures of the local courts in an effort to empower them to fairly deliver justice. He said, for him, the meeting was an inception gathering as he assured the court authorities that the Prevention Unit, which has been recently deployed in the Northeast, would be of great benefit to the administration of customary laws in the nine local courts within the Municipality of Makeni and those from Makarie and Gbanti chiefdoms.