Being a government minister in today’s Africa is probingly a menacing reality; a reality not of a Hollywood style, but one of fact of living. In Hollywood it’s good to be yourself, but it’s even better to be someone else. Being oneself in a today’s African cabinet is to know that you are among a group of poor people being assembled for the purpose of leadership. Thus intrinsic about the leadership group is that it’s an opportunity for poor chosen friends, brothers and relatives to govern their own people diligently for the good of all. But humanity being what it is, greed and avarice usually would take the better part of such assembled leaders and often we begin to hear the most hated friends of the African; corruption and graft. In the case of corrupt African states, and by national standards, everyone is poor, safe for a few, including their Presidents and heads of state. But what distinguishes people in governance is not just individual wealth they had before or after engagement with national leadership, but the judicious handling of public wealth and trust for the greater good, instead of personal aggrandizement. Since the governed and the governors are all poor and from poor backgrounds, it is thus from such background assessment that people view leaders whose personal quest to rape and misuse peoples’ trust and resources, that create the necessary condition to support anti-graft institutions in African countries.
From Tunisia to South Africa, Ethiopia to Sierra Leone, the need today for clear and national support of Africans for their anti graft institutions cannot be overemphasized. However, it is not often likely that such national anti graft institutions will get the unalloyed support from all citizens. Take the case of Sierra Leone; a small West African country relying on external aid to fund 65% of its national yearly development budget, mainly from the World Bank and the British government. Established in 2000, the national Anti-Corruption Commission, ACC had very little powers to minimise corruption in the country. It did not have the mandate to charge and prosecute investigated cases to court. It had to rely on the advice of the Attorney General’s office before bringing its alleged corruption cases to court. Because of such a state of things, the country’s avowed promise to fight corruption in high places could not win a very good benchmark position on the UK government’s stated conditionality of transparency.
This situation continued until June 2006 when the British government withheld aid worth 40m pound sterling. A year later, the new administration in Freetown thought it wise to revisit anti graft laws and after taking office, Ernest Bai Koroma in his inaugural address to parliament on October 5, 2007 said, “during my campaign for President, I emphasised zero tolerance for fighting corruption. I intend to implement that strategy by strengthening the powers of the Anti Corruption Commission and ensuring its independence in investigations and prosecution”. In 2008 as a follow up to that national promise, the restructured and amended ACC Act 2008 gave more powers to the commission, allowing it to independently investigate, charge and prosecute its own cases in a special court assigned for such trials.
Already, several government officials accused of graft of different magnitude have paid the price; some paying heavy fines while others have been jailed. Recently, the health minister, Dr. Tejan Koroma was found guilty of misappropriating government funds, not following the proper rule of procurement as well as embezzling of funds meant to buy drugs for poor people. Upon conviction, he was asked to pay an alternative fine of $37,500 or face five-year jail term in prison. Prior to that, the country’s esteemed Ombudsman, lawyer Francis Gabidon was found guilty of several charges leading to his payment of millions of local currency, the Leone into government coffers before being released. And while the country’s deputy immigration officer was being charged to court for selling national passports to foreigners, the marine and fisheries minister, haja Afsatu Kabba was whisked away to court on March 15, 2010, on 17-count chare ranging from misuse of office to fraud and bribe-taking. An extra six count charge from a previous handling of electricity contract for the country is pending.
Thus, within the spirit of a new political dispensation, the anti-graft commission, which had been given teeth to bite properly since 2008, has begun having the desired effects. Nonetheless, these successes are not without problems and anxiety. In a country of lesser opportunities, corrupt government officials have the resources to co-opt the services of even those supposed to fight the course of the down trodden. The media are often divided on such issues as support for the ACC, as pay masters have more resources to seek and identify media practitioners ready to put aside professional and sound ethical standards for payment. Budding newspapers have often supported alleged state thieves who were later to be convicted in court for stealing from the people. In stating their defence for their clients even before the lawyers begin to do so in court, such journalists go out of their way to attack the personalities of some high ranking personnel, including the chief commissioner, Abdul Tejan Cole at the ACC as well as impinging upon the credibility of the courts; either to distract the attention of the suffering masses from those alleged state thieves responsible for their poor plight, or to do trial by media in order to save the skin of their political pay masters. Recently, one such bad media insinuated that the President of the republic, Ernest Bai Koroma might have paid the fines for the convicted health minister. What an absurd reality of conflict!
Despite these distractions by certain sections of the politicised media, and other interested family relatives of these accused and convicts, the cases of the Ombudsman Fransis Gabidon and minister Tejan Koroma were expert examples, while charging of the country’s marine minister Afsatu Kabba to court; a woman regarded as being very closed to the President, is a pointer to show how serious the President is at the moment, in fighting corruption; a phenomenon which the former President of the country, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, described as “state enemy number one”.
And now again, with 17-count charge and more to come, the marine minister, though by the dictates of natural justice, she is innocent until proved otherwise, some newspapers have already pitched camp with the rich and accused minister. However, with the country’s new pride in trying to see that the people do not suffer again because of corruption and misuse of public funds supposed to be for building of schools, clinics and homes for a devastated nation after ten years of war, time is of the essence to prove such journalists again wrong. Meanwhile, the poor masses do generally know which media are on the side of the many! Accused minister Afsatu Kabba’s trials start earnest, in April.
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