ACC frowns at forceful admission of oath of secrecy

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ACC Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifafa

By Ishmael Dumbuya

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has in a recent release raised concern about how the leaderships of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were creating and forcing their staff to sign what they call “Oaths of Secrecy and Confidentiality.”  

The commission noted that the said designed oaths prescribe coercive undertones and punitive sanctions for non-compliance by staff or set consequences for divulging information that the staff comes into contact with by virtue of their position or duties.

According to the commission, such practice raises significant questions regarding integrity, transparency, and accountability, which are values public institutions must uphold at all times, noting that there is often no legal and policy basis for such moves outside of proper but limited best practice justifications like national security, public health, law enforcement, or specific fiduciary responsibilities like banks.

“Even more concerning is that they are drafted so broadly that they are designed to operate simply as a “gag” on staff. Therefore, outside of the minimal spheres where such secrecy requirements may exist, compelling staff to sign Oaths of Secrecy in Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, outside of standard professionalism requirements generally required for all public officers, can undermine transparency and accountability and create an unsafe space for subordinates in their professional public duties,” the statement underscored.

The Commission emphasised that it views the new spate of forced proliferation of “Oaths of Secrecy and Confidentiality” as deliberate and intended to avoid public accountability and scrutiny, more so when they deter employees from speaking out on issues of public concern, thereby stifling whistle-blowing efforts and hindering efforts to address systemic problems and sometimes maladministration, corruption, and corrupt practices.

The ACC called on public officers not to be unduly burdened with constraints that inhibit their ability to fulfil their duties professionally, ethically, and responsibly, nor should they be coerced into silence regarding matters that affect the public interest.

“The Commission wishes it to be known that these secrecy documents cannot override the laws of Sierra Leone and may be used as evidence of deliberate failure to follow processes and procedures, corrupt enterprises aimed to gag staff, and abuse of authority or power.”

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