By Amin Kef-Ranger
In a Public Notice released by the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) and signed by Ms. Femi Claudius Cole as Interim Chairperson it was highlighted that they received a news item published on the 4th May 2021 by the ACC Public Relations Unit entitled: “ACC Commissioner Responds to Political Parties’ Concerns”, furthering that they would like to state in no uncertain terms that such a news item is a lopsided and totally distorted account of the meeting which was attended by at least ten parties in the Consortium.
It continued that whereas the news report goes into lengthy detail about what the Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala, said nothing is reported about the several thorny issues raised and questions asked by political parties from the floor giving the impression that the Commissioner successfully educated an ignorant group of political party leaders who went home satisfied.
“COPPP finds this style of reporting to be unprofessional and intended to mislead the public,” the Public Notice continues.
Further mentioned was that in response to their observation that the ACC, in its fight against corruption, is more focused and efficient in investigating past Government officials than current ones, the ACC Commissioner delivered a laundry list of past and present cases including convictions and acquittals of Government officials, references to international recognition of the Commission’s good works, their focus on evidence and legality, and their extensive engagement with the public.
They expressed the view that ,however, his inability to provide satisfactory answers on some key issues raised left them with no other option than to conclude that the Anti-Corruption Commission finds it difficult if not impossible to handle corruption cases that involve top political officials in the current regime.
According to COPPP some of the highlights of the meeting were as follows: that the Commissioner categorically stated that it is more difficult to probe public officials when they are in office because they have control over evidence.
They said that statement alone answers their question on why the Commission seems to be better at investigating top officials in the past Government than those in the current administration.
Members of COPPP said the Commissioner described himself as a “realist” indicating his acceptance of the status quo and that he is trying to do his best within the constraints of current realities.
They hold the view that unfortunately, that self-characterization appears to be a surrender to the norm and complete abdication of those high principles and ideals that are vested in his position.
COPPP pointed out that the Commissioner maintained that he does not do political bidding and claimed to be independent in the execution of his duties.
They said, however, when asked if he would prefer if the Anti-Corruption Commissioner was hired and fired not by the President but by an independent body, his reply was that it is what it is and this was the “reality” in most countries.
Again they pointed out that on the question of the huge amounts of money paid to the Office of the First Lady, the Commissioner repeated the official explanation that those payments were legal because the Ministry of Finance is authorized by law to spend 1% of the country’s budget to a good public cause, in this case the First Lady’s pet project: “Hands off our Girls”.
They stated that on that subject, so many questions remain, for instance, which proportion of the amounts paid to the First Lady was for the project and did it fall within the 1% limit?
COPPP said considering the plethora of good public causes being pursued by civil society programs did the First Lady’s project receive preferential treatment compared to others because of her position? What is the level of oversight exercised on the spending of public funds disbursed to the Hands off our Girls project considering that the Auditor General’s report has revealed the extreme deficiencies in financial management at the Office of the First Lady?
It was also revealed that on the very controversial case of the missing 49,000 bags of rice donated by the Chinese Government for the Free Quality Education project the impotence of the Commissioner in prosecuting cases involving very highly placed people came out very clearly.
They said he explained about the impediments he had to contend with such as not being able to access documentation relating to Cabinet decision on the distribution plan for the rice and the refusal of the then Attorney General to grant his request for the normal trial by judge alone as opposed to the risky option of trial by jury.
COPPP maintains that case remains unresolved and the Commissioner stated clearly that he will not take up this case again because he does not stand much of a chance to win it.
They said the Chinese rice case therefore stands as a monument to the ACC’s inability to function independently when potential big names are involved.
Also stated is that when asked whether the data given by the Africanist Press can be disputed, the Commissioner responded that they were factual but that they are technically not indicative of corruption since procedures like sole sourcing were perfectly legal.
They said on the issue of “wasteful spending of public funds” the Commissioner basically avoided the subject by suggesting that money can be spent as long as the law is not broken.
COPPP stated that in order to redeem its image as an impartial body that does not bend to the power of Government, the Anti-Corruption Commission needs to prove to the people that in the execution of their duties, there are no sacred cows.
“The litmus test will be for the ACC to find out who stole the rice from China,” the Public Notice ends.
It must be noted that the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) is a union of thirteen (13) registered political parties representing over 60% of the electorate in Sierra Leone from all regions of the country. Although the constituent political parties maintain their individual identities, COPPP provides a platform for them to pursue their primary aim and objective which is to protect democracy in Sierra Leone.
(C) The Calabash Newspaper