October 30, 2019
By Jariatu S. Bangura
Lawmakers yesterday unanimously agreed after a heated debate to send back the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Bill titled ‘Amendment Act 2019’, to the Legislative, Transparency and Accountability Committees for further deliberations.
Majority of the lawmakers observed that if passed into law, the Amendment Act would make the ACC Commissioner more powerful than the commission.
Meanwhile, the amendment is seeking to modify the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, to specify categories of public officers to whom the declaration requirement under subsection (1) of Section 199 applies, to increase penalties for offences under the Act and for other related matters.
Speaking at the first and second reading of the bill , Independent Member of Parliament, Hon Shiaka Sama said President Julius Maada Bio did promise to fight corruption and that the amendment of the Act will be a clear manifestation of his promise.
He said MPs should be seeing helping the president to achieve such aims and objectives in the fight against corruption, but that whilst doing so they must be mindful of the powers they would give to the commissioner.
“We need to give the commission more power to operate and increase fines on defaulters. But while giving these powers, we must be very careful as we saw the last time when the Commissioner publicly displayed principal and other teachers. President Bio apologised on his behalf. We don’t want to see such discrepancy again. We must look at it carefully because if they fail, we all will fail. If they want powers, we must be able to advise them critically,” he stated.
P.C. Sahr Y. K Mbriwa II from Kono District observed that corruption is a menace that has the potential to destroy the economy of the country, thus calling on his colleagues to support whatever measures needed to address it.
“Corruption produces autocratic politicians and leadership and could also lead to conflict and war. We need to handle it carefully and properly. The people need this Act, therefore we must give it the support it deserves,” he said.
Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh of the ruing Sierra Leone Peoples Party said the objective of the bill is to fight corruption, but stated that those fighting against it must be sincere and honest.
“We cannot fight corruption when Parliament is not seen to be an example. We must be seen to set the ACC straight. We must fight with sincere minds and set the pace for the next generation. Section 86 of the National Constitution states that Parliament shall sit for a period of not less than 120 days in each year’, but if my memory could serve me well, we have only sat for only 32 days. The Clerk should also help in the business of the committee, but he is nowhere to be seen in the chamber,” he stated.
He further took a swipe on Parliament, which he said only sits under the command of the Executive.
”We have become the puppet of the Executive. We only have sittings when MDAs come with documents to ratify. The system is paralyzed and we must be sincere and find ways to help the president. Parliament must help in the fight against corruption. What should be used to fight corruption is in the well, as the battle is not only for Ben Kaifala or the president, but that of the country,” he said.
He said the Auditor General’s report recorded that most MDAs collected withholding taxes, but failed to pay into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
He charged that nothing has been done by Parliament to address the issue, with defaulting MDAs still provided with funding despite their huge corrupt activities.
Earlier in his presentation, Deputy Minister of Justice, Umar Napoleon Koroma said the memorandum of object and reason behind the Amendment Act was to amend the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008, to increase penalties under the Act, strengthen protection of those who assist the Commission, and provide the Commission with alternatives to prosecution.
He added that the bill would help widen the scope in the fight against corruption in the country, noting that the war is a continuous fight but that the commission needs the appropriate weapons.
Meanwhile, Presiding Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Segepor Solomon Thomas, said the House should hurry in amending the bill because it has caused lot of embarrassment for Parliament and the country.
He urged the various committee and MPs that have serious concerns to witness the hearing critically and make the necessary corrections.
The bill will be scrutinised today (Wednesday, 30th October) and might be amended on Thursday 31st October.