By:Bernard Abass Kargbo – Public Education Officer, ACC
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) being the lead institution that is tasked by the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019 with the responsibility of maintaining integrity, accountability and transparency in the public service, and also ‘to take all steps necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption’pursuant to Section 7 (1)(a), has over the years diligently carried out this mandate to the admiration of all. This has made the ACC a worthy and trusted partner that people always turn to when the country is faced with any kind of public or administrative malfeasance, irrespective of whether such matters fall under its purview.
Due to the Commission’s diligence and result-oriented nature, backed by its gains in the areas of convictions secured, the Billions of Leones recovered, the local and international accolades bagged, the general public now trusts the Commission to always act or intervene in every single offence committed by members of the public. For instance, the Commission on a daily basis receives calls for cases related to land grabbing, domestic violence etc. which should be handled by other public institutions like the Sierra Leone Police. In most instances, the ACC would take its time and resources to refer such matters to the appropriate authorities.
In the past few weeks, members of the public have been calling on the ACC to intervene in theDominion Christian University (DCU) and the African Graduate University matter by instituting an investigation and or arrest person(s) alleged to have attained degrees conferred on them by the said institutions. Some would often make the call by making reference to the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act 2019, which gives the Commission some powers to address academic malpractices.
What does the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act 2019 say about academic fraud/malpractice?
Before the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 was amended in 2019, there was little the Commission could do when it comes to malpractices in academia, as provisions were not made to tackle academic malpractices, which were becoming a serious public concern. Upon his appointment and subsequent Parliamentary approval, Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. heeded the cry of Sierra Leoneans for the ACC to help sanitize the educational system. In tandem with the commitment he made to transform Sierra Leone on the day he took his oath of office, the Commissioner, with the help of Parliament, granted the people their wish to include academic malpractices to the offences under the jurisdiction of the ACC.
As enshrined in Section 128(3) of the amendment, the Commission is now able to look into academic malpractice that confers an advantage on an individual(s). According to this Section, the emphasis is on conferring of an advantage – where, for example, an awardee of a non-accredited institution uses such a degree/qualification to get an appointment (confer an advantage on himself) knowingly or unknowingly of which that job/appointment requires that a particular degree/qualification is the requirement. Another area is examination malpractice, where a pupil/student confers an advantage on himself/herself to pass an examination using prohibited materials for that examination.
The ACC is a listener and respecter of whistleblowers. It has instituted lots of investigations from information received from and provided by such people. The Commission has even reintroduced its reward scheme for whistleblowers to encourage citizens to give cogent information that will expose corrupt practices. But the Commission is equally a respecter of existing laws, rules and regulations and the mandate of other institutionslike the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Human Resource Management Office (HRMO), the Public Service Reform Unit (PSRU), Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, etc, who clearly should be at the forefront in the handling of this matter.
The ACC is still committed to the fight against graft and is looking forward to receiving complaints from citizens on allegations of corruption. The Commission is still encouraging whistleblowers, informants and members of the public to always provide useful information that will help the Commission bring the corrupt to book. But, again, the Commission will only look at such reports if they fall within its mandate to warrant an investigation. Not instituting an investigation in this particular matter does not mean the Commission will never institute one when something completely under its purview comes up. It is all about what the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019 requires the Commission to do. If a matter falls within this bracket, the Commission, as it has done in the past, will dispassionately look into such matter and take an action that is in the interest of the public.