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Fighting corruption in Sierra Leone: Dishonesty, political lineage and nationhood

October 2, 2020

By Alusine Sesay

After a while without putting pen to paper on several burning issues, I have decided to poke-nose or rather have my say on the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone. Although it has become a cliché to say that corruption is largely responsible for the backwardness of our country, but emphasy in communication is very important to effect change. As a nation, we have suffered a lot under the claws of wicked leaders whose utmost desire to hold public office is to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor masses.

When President Bio assumed office in 2018, he declared war on corruption, indiscipline and poverty. To a certain extent, he should be commended for taking the bold step, in diverse ways, especially with the setting up of the three Commissions of Inquiry as a way of holding public officials of the past regime accountable for their stewardship. Unlike those who shared the loots of the past administration, but a larger portion of the public would appreciate the move, as it has set a pace for those in governance to be aware that their own day of reckoning will come one day. When God created Heaven, he also created Hell and all of us will face judgement one day -to determine our direction-either Heaven or Hell. Therefore, the Commissions of Inquiry and the subsequent release of the Government White Paper upholding recommendations in the commissions’ report is a welcome development.

Since the inception of the Commissions of Inquiry, there have been hues and cries from the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) that the move is a calculated political witch-hunt because it focuses mainly on opposition politicians. The government on the other hand is arguing that the move is a way of retrieving state funds fraudulently acquired by officials of the past regime. The argument goes on and on- and that is largely expected. In the Commissions’ report, names of serving public officials including the current Minister of Agriculture, were mentioned and the only way the president could disabuse the notion that the inquiry is a mere political witch-hunt is for him to sack all those serving officials named in the report.

While launching the report at State House, President Bio vowed to implement recommendations of the Commissions of Inquiry to the letter. And the implementation must not only be seen targeting members of the opposition, but also officials serving in his administration that are mentioned in the report.

After the release of the White Paper, however, the media has been inundated with series of drama, with individuals challenging the content of the COI report. One of the leading government mouthpieces, the Global Times, has dedicated part of it content to stoutly defending a serving public official whose name was mentioned in the report. Do I have the gut to say they don’t have right to do so? No.Sierra Leone is a democratic country and everybody has right to his or her opinion.

The Global Times has put up an argument that Denis Vandi, who is the current minister of agriculture, was unfairly treated because he was neither invited nor declared as a Person of Interest by the Commissions of Inquiry. He was quoted by Global Times in their Wednesday edition saying that: “I was in this country throughout the sittings of the Commissions…I was never invited…I was never notified of being a Person of Interest…Above all, I was never interviewed by any one working for the Commissions.

He further told the Global Times that he has studied the report carefully and found out with dismay that ‘I was wrongfully indicted for every bit of malfeasance which took place at the Ministry of Education from 2007 to 2018…I served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education from 29th March to 31st August 2016…I was never invited to the Commissions, and I was never declared as a Person of Interest to the Commissions”.

Similar tale was told by Kerefa Kargbo, but the bottom line is that these people should neither be declared innocent nor found guilty by the court of public opinion, but rather go to court and defend themselves. That is the beauty of the game! And President Bio made it clear in his speech that those mentioned in the COI report have the opportunity to challenge the findings in court. Denis Vandi and other serving public officials named in the report are no exception to the rules. These people, in my own view, might have even done something more damning to the state because they were seemingly more loyal to their political parties and in the event undermine the past regime in the name of politics. They must face the music!

Yes, Vandi must have been sidelined by the previous regime, but could that be a yardstick to declare him a saint? Hell No! And I believe the man in question must have openly displayed his partisanship to the extent that he landed himself in the bad books of the then minister of education. This trend is glaring even with the current dispensation wherein people suspected of having any lineage with the main opposition APC are sidelined on a daily basis. Some are even sacked. But should we continue to use that as a yardstick to let them get away with their evil deeds? 

Civil servants should be loyal to the state and not political parties, but in Sierra Leone the case is far different. They are perhaps the most dangerous politicians and the worst corrupt elements that have the potential to wreak havoc on the country. They would always complain of receiving meagre salaries, but you see them building mansions. Where are they getting the money to undertake such projects?

Thankfully, Denis Vandi, as a seasoned civil servant, according to the Global Times, has worked in several ministries including the Office of the President where he served as Secretary to the President before he was appointed minister. In my view, this man must have acquired some unexplained wealth at the expense of the state. But alas, he is stoutly being defended as a saint. I am not against anybody defending him, but the fact remains he must be sacked and be allowed to defend his sainthood in the Appeals Court. For now, he stands accused of corruption and the only favour Mr. President could do us as citizens, is to relieve him of his duty.

If really the New Direction is honest about fighting corruption, we should see them also chasing their own and not only members of the opposition. One of the impediments that have plagued the fight against corruption over the years in Sierra Leone is that, our political leaders have been displaying outright dishonesty and biasness. They will shout aloud about fighting corruption but have people they would always protect. If they cannot do it openly, they would go through our kangaroo and humpty-dumpty judiciary to get them off the hook. The only way we could succeed in minimizing corruption is to put the nation first or else we are heading for doom. There should be no sacred cows!