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NEWS : Local News  

In Sierra Leone, Can President Koroma Direct Independent ACC?
By Our Reporters
Dec 22, 2009, 17:40
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After listing down in unambiguous, clear and unequivocal terms that the Sierra Leone Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) should act independently, Section 9(2) of the much-touted Anti Corruption Act of 2008 goes further to state, "the Commission shall not, in the performance of its functions, be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority".

However, a recent Press Release from the Presidency would seem to indicate otherwise as it informs that the President is now issuing directions for the ACC to follow. A December 18th 2009 Presidential release whilst citing the ongoing investigation of Revenue Boss Alieu Sesay goes on to state: "His Excellency the President has further directed that the ACC should swiftly conduct the investigations and bring them to a conclusion as soon as possible,"

The Release sparked off a debate amongst the educated citizenry about whether or not the Presidency has now undermined the Anti Corruption Act of 2008 with such publicised directions. It has also gotten critics of the regime, especially the ones in the public sector, to be jittery that if the President can openly direct the ACC, then the ACC could be turned into a tool for the witch-hunting of critics of this regime.

Just a fortnight ago in a press interview, Honourable Abdul Tejan-Cole, ACC Commissioner, hailed Parliamentarians for enacting the ACCs 2008 Laws.

"In terms of the legal framework, parliament has done a tremendous job in terms of giving the commission the capacity. It is also crucial to know that in terms of enhancing the operational independence of the commission, parliament has also given the commission the full powers..." Tejan Cole was quoted as saying in a press interview.

Attempts to get Tejan-Cole for his official reaction to the alleged directive from the President have been futile as he was reported to be on an important provincial assignment and out of communication range. Similarly, when we approached ACCs Communications Directorate, they declined to directly comment on the State House Press Release but requested this medium to "put down questions in writing for the attention of the Commissioner who will be in a better position to address the contents of the State House Press Release".

However, our team of reporters found other stakeholders in the country were very willing to make their comments on the Presidential Direction of the Anti Corruption Commission. For example, the Opposition SLPP Chairman John Benjamin was not at all hesitant to give his comment on the issue. Benjamin is calling on the ACC to publicly denounce the State House Press Release as "containing an unlawful directive".

"Clearly, it is an unlawful directive from the President and we expect the Anti Corruption Commission to come out and strongly condemn it," John Benjamin said.

John Benjamin also lambasted President Koromas apparent selective and preferential actions. He pondered: "I wonder why the President did not see fit to direct ACC to speed up investigations into that 1 Million Dollars Harmony Trading NRA Tax Waiver or the investigations into the 2.3 million Euros NASSIT ferries but only this Alieu Sesay one should be speeded up? Something is suspicious & fishy here."

Benjamins opinion is partly reflected by Civil Society activist Falla Ensa-NDayma who said he was "totally dismayed" at the Presidential Release.

"I strongly believe no-one has any such powers to direct the speed or the timing of conclusions of any anti-corruption investigation. The State House Release as drafted, is jeopardising the independence of the ACC. The ACC will be compromised if the President is now the one directing their operations. What is State House trying to prove? The law is blind and can catch anyone," Falla Ensa-NDayma said.

However, other people believe that no such directive was issued from President Koroma to the Anti Corruption Commission but that the Press Release contained a badly drafted paragraph that was issued with poor oversight of Communications Team of the President. A similar scenario occurred a few months ago with a State House letter which had misled local journalists that the President had directed the Judiciary in carrying out its functions. Back then, following the embarrassment of that poorly drafted Letter to journalists, State House had been forced to issue a subsequent clarifier. It is not clear if State House will leave this Press Release containing the "unlawful directive" to stand unqualified.

At any rate, whether or not the Press Release was just a badly drafted job, the general perception that has followed that Press Release has been one of citizens living in fear that Sierra Leones democratic culture that was so hard-won is now under threat.

"Our freedom is at stake if the Executive President through communications from his office, is seen to be having any control over the Judiciary or over the Anti Corruption Commission," Mr. A.S. Kallon, a new University graduate gave his comment yesterday.

"What makes a country to be termed as a true democratic entity is not only the conduct of multi-party elections but also the upholding of basic tenets like the sacred independence of the Judiciary and select State institutions like the Anti Corruption Commission," said Madam Leonora Koroma, a retired civil administrator along Wilkinson Road.


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