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President Bio’s War on Corruption: Why He Should Declare His Asset Publicly?

June 13, 2018

By Alusine Sesay

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PART VIII, Section 119, Subsection 1 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008 stipulates that: ‘Every public officer shall within three months of becoming a public officer deposit with the Commission a sworn declaration of his income, assets and liabilities and thereafter not later than 31st March in each succeeding year that he is a public officer, he shall deposit further declarations of his income, assets and liabilities and also while leaving office.’

Subsection 13 of the same section states that: ‘Subject to this Act, the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Directors and other persons having an official duty under this Act, or being employed in the administration of this Act, shall deal with all documents and information, and all other matters relating to a declaration under this Part, as secret and confidential, except where a particular declaration or record is required to be produced for the purpose of, or in connection with any court proceedings against, or inquiry in respect of a declarant under this Act, the Commissions of Inquiry.’

Further, subsection 14 notes that: ‘The Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Directors and other persons referred to in subsection (13) shall make and subscribe such oath of secrecy as the Commission may prescribe.’

Conflicting as the above provisions of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008 is, the crafters of our laws, as always, have found ways to escape public scrutiny in ensuring transparency and accountability in our governance system. Same as our national constitution of 1991, most of our laws are meant to protect the interest of public officials rather the public good to end endemic corruption. To many, the above conflicting provisions of the Act make room for our public officials to be more corrupt since information about their assets remains secret. As I write, the public is finding it difficult to judge their past leaders in Sierra Leone because they are not privy to information regarding declaration of their asset before and after they leave office. It is the view of many that in a liberal democracy, the public must be abreast with all relevant information that would guide them to make future decision.

In his address on World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd 2018, Kelvin Lewis, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), called on President Julius Maada Bio to publicly declare his asset so as to set the pace for transparency and accountability.

“In line with our avowed role in holding our leaders to account, we are mindful that former President Koroma did declare his assets to the Anti-Corruption Commission as by law established for all government officials. We are therefore in line with the Citizens Manifesto calling on President Bio to declare his assets. In the same vein we are also calling on former President Koroma to declare his assets on leaving office, as the law demands. It is our wish that these declarations are made public, so that we bring to the table the transparency and accountability, which is in the spirit of the law and the spirit of our Citizens manifesto.”

The fight against corruption has been thorny in Sierra Leone. It started with late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah who set up the Anti-Corruption Commission upon the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 2000. When President Koroma assumed the mantle of leadership in 2007, he vowed to fight corruption and reviewed the Act, thus providing the commission with prosecutorial powers.

Under the President Koroma’s All People’s Congress regime, several highly placed personalities, including the former Minister of Energy Haja Hafsatu Kabba, Health Minister Sheku Koroma, erstwhile Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority Alieu Sesay, former Mayor of the Freetown City Council Herbert George Williams, among a host of others, were indicted and prosecuted in court. While this effort was glorified by a large majority of supporters of the then APC regime, those in the opposition then described the move as a complete hypocrisy because majority of those convicted were either recycled to other ministries or sent on diplomatic missions. A case in point was Haja Hafsatu Kabbah who controversially got her conviction overturn by the Court of Appeal before she was sent as High Commissioner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

A large majority of those indicted were let-off the hook, either through insufficient evidence or political interference. The then ACC Commissioner Abdul Tejan Cole resigned his position and went on to head the Open Society Initiative of West Africa. Many, including this writer, had insinuated that he might have resigned due to seeming political pressure, which may not too far from the truth.

President Julius Maada Bio has made several promises, perhaps more than any other President in the history of Sierra Leone’s democratic governance. Aside from the free education, which is the flagship programme of his New Direction agenda, President Bio has placed a lot on the table that people are patiently waiting to see implemented to the letter. As lucky as the public servant NUMBER ONE in Sierra Leone, President Bio is enjoying a lot of goodwill from the public, including the media, who have decided to give him a grace period for hundred days before they start judging him. The beauty of African democracy though!  Although it has been argued in several quarters that it would be too early to judge him on his words, I believe a gentle reminder about his promises, including the public declaration of his asset, would cause no harm.

During the presidential debate at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown, President Bio promised to publicly declare his asset if elected President. He again reiterated the promise during his inauguration at the National Stadium in the presence of supporters and the international community. Now that he has been given the baton to rule, he must walk the talks and put the doubting Thomases to shame. When President Buhari was serious about fighting graft in Nigeria, he started the ball rolling by publicly declaring his asset and placed the public in a better position to ascertain as to what he brought in before assuming office as President. While he has declared war on corruption, President Bio should do the needful by publicly declaring his asset so as to tell the world that he could really stand by his word. Charity, they say, begins at home and if President Bio is really serious about fighting corruption, he should go beyond the norm and do something unique. The Anti-Corruption Act was not written on stones; hence subject to review, and his singular action in publicly declaring his asset would go a long in achieving the desired goal of minimising corruption in the country.

President Kabbah and the immediate past President Ernest Koroma did theirs in the fight against corruption. It is now time for President Bio to contribute to that fight. We are waiting patiently and believe he is a man of his words and won’t disappoint us at all. We would like to remind him that he has inherited a population that takes note of all his policy statements and are ready to judge him when the time comes.

Here’s hoping heeds to calls at greater transparency to declare his asset and lead the war on corruption by example.

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