April 2, 2019
By Jariatu S. Bangura
Lawmakers in Sierra Leone have unanimously disagreed with few clauses in the new Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) amendment bill, and have asked the commission’s chief, Francis Ben Kaifala, to go back and have a second look at it.
The Parliamentarians stated that neither the Commissioner of ACC nor the Speaker of Parliament has right to dismiss any elected sitting Member of Parliament for not complying with the Commission’s new Regulation on Asset declaration.
The ACC chief has made some amendments on its 2008 Act with the view of making it more rigorous in the fight against corruption.
But Hon. Bashiru Silikie of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) argued that Members of Parliament are not Public Officers as stated in the ACC bill, stating that the bill has given more powers to the commissioner than the commission.
He observed that the ACC boss was occupying a public office; hence he should realise that another person will someday occupy his office.
“This is a public office you are occupying, and if you want to see this country grow, you must note that another individual will one day occupy that seat. Assuming the other individual misuses that clause for his benefit, what will happen? This is too much for the Commissioner, that particular section must be expunged from the bill. The HRMO, Speaker or the ACC cannot relieve any MP from his office as we are all elected members. The Constitution is supreme and it gives us our powers and the ACC act cannot supersede it,” he said.
The main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) lawmaker, Hon. Amadu Kanu, said in the last elections, Public officers, who wanted to contest at constituency level, were asked to resign from their offices, thus arguing that there was no need for the Commission to be given powers to expel MPs from their offices for failing to adhere to the Commission’s Regulations.
Another APC MP, Hon. Dr. Mark Mahmoud Kalokoh, said they were not against the declaration of asset, but all other laws must follow the national Constitution which is supreme.
“It is clear in the Constitution that MPs cannot be suspended by the HRMO.They have no power to do such. Let us find ways to address this as to who should be suspended or dismissed,” he said.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Osman Abdal Timbo, cautioned the Commission to look into the issues discussed with keen interest, and added that the commission has no right to withhold the salaries of MPs or to dismiss them.
“It is an impossible provision. We are asking you to rethink. We should be seen at the forefront in the fight against corruption. We don’t want to make laws that can bring chaos at the end of the day. Our concern is not to protect MPs, but that of other officials as well. Go and distinguish the term ’Public officer and elected officers’ and then come back to us on a more appropriate date,” he said.
Earlier at the Pre-Legislative hearing, the ACC Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala and his team presented the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the Anti-Corruption Commission (Asset Declaration) Regulations, 2019, to lawmakers at the Committee Room No. 1 for them to have a clue to the amendments before the actual debate.
According to Commissioner Kaifala, it was in their opinion that the amendment made in the 2008 Act would be of great importance in the fight against corruption and matches international standards.
He said before the bill was taken to Parliament, they did extensive consultations with stakeholders in order to address the menace in the 2008 Act, which has been in used for the past decade.
Explaining the compliance rate of asset declaration, he said administrative sanction has been given in Section122 (4) of the new Asset Declaration Regulation, 2019 which states that ‘where a public officer fails to comply with a default notice issued by the Commission, the Commissioner shall direct the Accountant-General or the Director General of the Human Resource Management Office to withhold the salary within one month.”
“After the said one month, if the Officer fails to comply within three months, the Officer will be suspended. And also after another three months, he\she will be dismissed from his office by the directives of the Commissioner of the ACC,” he said.
However, Commissioner Kailfala said they did not want to disrespect MPs as the issues at hand were taken to Cabinet for discussion and was approved with the consent of the Attorney General, but ‘if Parliament thought it fit to change it, the Commission will accept it’.
“The ACC’s Act deliberately specifies who is a Public Officer as to that of the national Constitution but if you think we are wrong, you can find way to address it. After 7/9 months of chances given, am not sure any MP will not rush up to declare his/her asset once such directives be given. We will go and do as you all have suggested and send you the revised bill and we will come back as soon as you call upon us to explain,” he said.