From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

By Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie
Feb 8, 2010, 13:00

While I absolutely admire the candour of HE the President conceding unbridled corruption within his government and acknowledging the active participation of functionaries in his administration in this scam, to the knowledge and collusion of institutional heads including the law enforcement agencies; I am also both incensed and stunned that such an important issue that threatens both our economy and the security and prosperity of our state, can be dismissed with just a final admonition that future culprits will face the full penalty of the law.

My dislike for such devious activities against the interest of an impoverished State like Sierra Leone is further aggravated by His Excellency’s lenient retort to an issue that demands and requires further investigation with just a reprimand. One would have expected a referral to the Anti Corruption Commission to further investigate the evidence in his Excellency’s custody at most, or at least the setting up of an ad hoc Commission of Enquiry to enquire into the several issues that have serious security and socio economic implications for our young democracy.

Selling our passports to citizens of nations with a tendency to employ such privilege to wreak terror and devastation on other nations and people under the guise of religious fundamentalism is not only discomforting for the new image we are endeavouring to shape of Sierra Leone, but can expose our nation to international ridicule and in an extreme case the imposition of sanctions. Mr. President this issue of selling Sierra Leonean passports to undeserved individuals which haunted the NPRC regime but was contained to an extent by the previous SLPP government should not be swept under the carpet but requires a detailed enquiry with a view to reforming and overhauling the Immigration Department to prevent this repulsive incident from raising its ugly head again in the future.

His Excellency’s tirade against functionaries in named institutions like the Sierra Leone Roads Transport Authority, the National Revenue Authority, the National Power Authority, the Ministry of Marine Resources, The Ministry of Internal affairs, the Police Force, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Mineral Resources as organisations and Ministries that are deep  in corrupt practices that is depriving the state of much needed revenue when the rest of Sierra Leone suffers is rather worrying.  A reproach of those who collude to stall the development of Sierra Leone for their own greedy motives is neither justice for the suffering masses nor does that approach represent the attributes or resolve of a responsible and accountable government.

Sierra Leone requires and desire action against misappropriation of public funds as it strives to recover from an internecine war that left it an almost failed state. It was in this stead that former President Kabbah instituted both the Anti Corruption Commission and the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) to ensure probity, accountability and sanity in governance.

The present President on assuming office promised to make the fight against corruption top most in his agenda for change. In this regard he promptly amended the Anti Corruption Act to strengthen the independence and mandate of the Anti-Corruption Commission. President Koroma has repeatedly affirmed his zero tolerance for corruption and that in his drive to rid Sierra Leone of this canker worm there will be no sacred cow.

Today, the Presidency rather than encourage these democratic and indispensable institutions to effectively perform their statutory functions in fighting corruption by providing them with the necessary intelligence and evidence, it appears to be adopting a different approach to fighting fraud in government institutions and agencies, by warning and discharging the culprits in circumstances where Sierra Leoneans voted for and were promised zero tolerance.

One wanders in these circumstances whether the acclaimed zero tolerance against corruption of yesterday and the final warning against those involve in corruption today are not part of APC’s lip service to corruption; which is fast becoming a slogan as opposed to a national policy issue of utmost importance that government must pursue with sincerity. There is also the inequitable and futile practice of selective justice which counters HE’s inaugural adage of ‘no sacred cow’ in his fight against corruption. This claim is supported not only by evidence already available but never pursued in the Income Electrix scandal, the NASSIT ferry debacle and the Indian Rice outrage; but also his own admission that he has evidence to support further incidences of corruption and collusion that he did not reveal or promise to pursue at this stage but rather opted for a final scolding of his functionaries.

Our nation is presently struggling to understand and adjust to a new tax regime namely the Goods and Services Tax aka GST. To further learn from the first gentleman of the state that customs officers are conspiring with Police Officers at our border posts to deprive our nation of essential revenue is disheartening and requires stringent action by a responsible and resolute government that should be focused on redeeming poor Sierra Leone from economic hardship. This situation is further worsened when one further mull over the fact that forewarning government officials and functionaries of their responsibilities and obligations in the light of existing general orders, laid down conditions of service / administrative guidelines and in the case of Ministers their performance contracts and annual assessment in addition to the laws of the land is not only tricky but begs the question who is fooling who?

If corruption, despite an amended Act and a revitalised Commission coupled with a performance contract for Ministers and their Deputies that is annually assessed is still an enigma government is unable to unravel and is now an apparent distraction of government from other key challenges that deserves our critical attention; then those changes the President promised will be apparent, thirty six months into his administration will remain but a fleeting illusion.

Let me further commend this administration for ensuring the implementation and completion of projects initiated by the preceding regime which it seems to be preoccupied with lately. That is indeed laudable, but in the absence of new initiatives and ventures that can practically address our overwhelming problems and the new challenges posed by the global financial meltdown, government’s rationalization for a renewed political mandate in 2012 remain a day light vision.

Today, as His Excellency admits widespread sleaze in government Ministries, Agencies and Departments that are expected to generate vital revenue that will empower us to develop and improve our sinking economy; what hope does mama Sa Lone has almost three years into an administration that promised change and a return to the glory days.

As our President continues to brood over corruption and the level of involvement of his advisers; our nation continues to wrestle with huge challenges that includes: the dismal state of our health service delivery system, our sub standard educational system with exceedingly large class sizes in our public schools, the lack of accessible clean and pure drinking water for the majority of our people, over taxation that for the most part is siphoned by government officials, high prices for basic goods with no corresponding increase in the wages and salaries of public sector workers especially in the light of a new GST tax regime and the high foreign exchange rate both of which has adversely affected the cost of living index of the average Sierra Leonean.

In conclusion therefore, the President’s rhetoric, pronouncements and admonitions on corruption are not reciprocated by his deeds to date. His lethargy to take stern action and make firm decisions on those functionaries who are empowered to assist him in wielding executive power under the Constitution but have opted to collude to defraud the state is a clear demonstration of his Excellency’s weakness to lead in crisis and poor judgement in his choice of personnel. The lack of a resolute approach that guarantees zero tolerance against corruption at the top where it is most prevalent reduces the whole exercise at state House into a meaningless charade that only further exposes the weaknesses of a decadent regime. Sierra Leoneans be steadfast for hope and ‘change we can believe in’ is on its way. God continue to bless Sierra Leone.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.