In a letter dated 28th October 2020 signed by over fifty Civil Society Organizations and addressed to the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Francis Ben Kaifala, copying the Secretary to the President, with a caption, “CSOs CALL ON THE ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION TO PROTECT PERSONS WHO SUPPORT THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION” certain issues were highlighted.
The CSOs asked permission from the ACC Commissioner to share the private letter to him with the wider Sierra Leone public and international partners, whom they say, are equally concerned about the issue of accountability and protection of whistleblowers in the country.
They continued that the undersigned group of 54 organizations sincerely applaud his efforts in fighting corruption and would like to draw his attention to the plight of two Members of Parliament – Hon. Hindolo Gevao and Hon. Ibrahim T. Conteh, who have remained suspended from all Parliamentary Committee proceedings despite demonstrating a great deal of commitment to the fight against corruption by acting as whistleblowers in respect of alleged acts of corruption and abuse of power in Parliament.
The CSOs say they believe it is useful to draw his attention to the fact that President Bio came to power on the laudable promise to fight graft in Sierra Leone.
“The President made good on his promise by setting up three Commissions of Inquiry to investigate officials who served in the previous administration. Those actions resonated with a majority of the citizens who gave a nod of approval as expressed in almost all local and international corruption studies,” they maintained and added that in a recent (2020) Afrobarometer survey for instance, an astonishing 66% of Sierra Leoneans in 2018 said the Bio administration was doing well in fighting corruption, as compared to only 18% in 2015.
Additionally, in 2019, they furthered, Sierra Leone passed the Control of Corruption indicator on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard for the first time in the nation’s history and made significant inroads in the Global Corruption Barometer.
They lamented that it is extremely sad to say that the nation risk reversing all of those gains because of the draconian actions of the Honorable Speaker and the Parliamentary Leadership in suppressing whistleblowing and dissent.
For the avoidance of any misgivings or doubts, it was stated, they shall endeavor to outline below the specific events that have prompted this le
“In April 2020, a DFID-funded CSO Consortium on Public Financial Management released a Corruption Perceptions Survey report that named the Parliament of Sierra Leone as the fourth most corrupt institution in the country and Parliamentarians as the second most corrupt set of individuals in public service,” the content of the letter pointed out.
The CSOs said following the publication, the Sierra Leone Parliament on 7th September 2020 released a public statement essentially berating members of the institutions that released the report and wholly dismissing their observations and demand for ethical leadership.
According to them, the act of dismissing the genuine concerns of citizens who interact with MPs on a regular basis and have a good knowledge of the activities of Parliamentary institutions was an unfortunate move that could only serve to stop citizens from questioning leadership behaviors.
“In September 2020, Hon. Hindolo Gevao, MP of Constituency 003, in an interview on the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, confirmed that the perception of corruption within Parliament had merit and should not be ignored,” they highlighted continuing that it was followed by a publication of the Afrobarometer on 15 September 2020, in which 81% of the respondents said “All” or “Most” Parliamentarians were corrupt.
Based on what they communicated, the release was again dismissed in a Press Conference in Parliament on 30th September 2020, where the Hon. Speaker, Dr. Abass Bundu, made strong statements aimed at intimidating both the authors of the reports.
They said it is with deep regret that they noted that the Parliamentary leadership has decided to dismiss and suppress all legitimate calls for accountability and instead, have moved swiftly to suspend Hon. Conteh and Hon. Ngevao, who have separately spoken out about alleged corruption and arm-twisting in Parliament.
“Civil Society and human rights defenders are deeply concerned that the high-handed actions against the whistleblower-MPs would have a chilling effect that could negatively impact on the country’s fight against corruption, especially as 61% of citizens already fear the risk of retaliation for reporting corruption (Afrobarometer 2020),” they underscored adding how they also note with concern that both parties are complicit in this act of suppressing whistleblowing on corruption and stifling citizens’ feedback to elected officials.
They said it is clear that the motion to suspend the two MPs was moved by the Leader of the governing party in Parliament and seconded by the Leader of the main Opposition.
According to them such raises serious questions about Parliament’s ability to hold itself accountable, or to Police itself.
The CSOs expressed the belief that both Hon. Gevao and Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh were assisting the Commission in the fight against corruption by sharing information that could provide leads to the Commission.
In this regard, they said they deserve the protection envisaged under Section 86 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended, which states the following: “No action or proceeding, including disciplinary action, may be instituted or maintained against a person in respect of assistance given by the person to the Commission or an investigating officer”.
They expressed hope that the Commission will be guided by the provision above and intervene in the matter saying that they are worried that unless something is done urgently to remind the leadership of Parliament about the need to protect those who assist the Commission in its work, they will soon start going after ordinary citizens, including the leadership of local civil society organizations, especially those that hold institutions to account.
The CSOs ended up calling on his good office to take immediate steps to ensure that all whistleblowers on corruption within and outside Parliament are protected in accordance with the laws of Sierra Leone.
“We stand ready to support the fight against corruption and protection of human rights.”
The CSOs include: ActionAid Sierra Leone, Advocacy Movement Network (AmNET), African Women Leaders Network – Sierra Leone, Amnesty International – Sierra Leone, Budget Advocacy Network (BAN), Campaign for Good Governance (CGG),Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI),Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL),Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR), Centre for the Coordination of Youth Activities (CCYA), Chair CS BO, Chair CS Bonthe, Chair CS Kailahun (CCWA),Chair CS Kenema (MORRD),Chair CS Kono (KOCEPO),Chair CS Moyamba, Chair CS Port Loko (CGG),Chair CS Pujehun, Chair CSO Karene (Children’s Foundation),Child Rights Coalition, Children’s Forum Network, Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN), Civil Society Movement, Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, CSO Chair Tonkolili (Women’s Initiative for Democratic Development ), DADA-SL Kambia, Defense for Children International, DEMOCRACY SIERRA LEONE, Fambul Tok International, FORWARD SL, Foundation for Rural and Urban Transformation (FoRUT),Health for all Coalition, Human Rights Defenders Network, Human Rights Defenders Network –SL (HRDN), Institute for Governance Reform (IGR),Market Women Association, Movement for Restoration of Democracy, National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives (NACE), National Elections Watch (NEW),Native Consortium Research Center, Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD),Network Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (NMDHR),Network Movement for youth and Children’s Welfare (NMYCW),Sierra Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Sierra Leone Labour Congress, Sierra Leone Market Women Association SLMWA, Sierra Leone Union of Disability (SLUDI), The 50/50 Group Sierra Leone, WASHNET, West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) Sierra Leone, Western Area Development Organization, Women’s Forum Sierra Leone, Young Men’s Christian Association, Youth and Child Advocacy Network (YACAN).
(C) The Calabash Newspaper