By Amin Kef Sesay
His Excellency the President, Julius Maada Bio on the 3rd December, 2019, appended his signature on the ACC Amended 2019 Bill that was proposed by the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. The Bill has now become law.
The new progressive and very strong anti-corruption law increases the minimum punishment for major corruption offences to a minimum of five (5) years or a fine of not less than Le50,000,000.00 (Fifty Million Leones); strengthens protection of those who assist the Commission – witnesses, informants and whistle blowers; allows the Commission to either prosecute corrupt public officers or recover from them all monies they misappropriate plus a minimum of 10% interest and a mandatory exclusion from holding public office for not less than 3 years; allows the Commission to proceed with trial of accused persons and convict them in absentia; shifts the evidential burden for offences involving offering or receiving an advantage (bribery); and allows the Commission to appeal against sentences that are deemed lenient or disproportionate to the offence charged.
Furthermore, The Anti-Corruption (Amendment Act), 2019, widens the scope of corruption with respect to Offering and Soliciting an Advantage to include accepting, obtaining or receiving an advantage; reduces to three (3) months the hitherto year-long requirement for Public Officers to file asset declaration upon leaving office; Reduces the pool of categories of public officers who are required to declare their assets which will now be limited to Persons in elective offices, Persons appointed by the President, Public officers in grade 7 and above, and Public officers below grade 7 who –(i) handle or control public cash or goods, (ii) make official decisions or recommendations relating to the granting or denial of licenses in regulatory sectors, (iii) conduct research or prepare analytic reports for higher level officials who make critical decisions on financial, economic or regulatory policies, (iv) are in regulatory agencies responsible for regulatory compliance, monitoring and inspection; and further empowers the Commissioner to specify categories of Public Officers outside the foregoing who are required to declare their assets for various reasons and as may be expedient.
Additionally, the Anti-Corruption (Amendment Act), 2019 provides for administrative sanctions for Public Officers who fail to submit their Asset Declaration Forms as and within the time prescribed by the Act including withholding their salaries, suspension from public service after 3 months and removal from public service after 6 months (the last two do not apply to offices for which removal from office is prescribed by the Constitution; but their salaries can be withheld); provides clear redress for public officers who knowingly record false, inaccurate or misleading information; changes the interval for declaring assets from annually to bi-annually to give room for analysis and proper tracking; dispenses with need for Commissioners of Oath to attest Asset declaration forms and replaces it with Penal Affirmation either electronically or personally; and creates room for the digitization of the declaration process and regime.
Finally, The Anti-Corruption (Amendment Act), 2019 vests in the Office of the Commissioner power to direct that contracts may not be proceeded with where the Commissioner, in concurrence with the Chief Executive of the National Public Procurement Authority, has reason to believe that a contract is not in the national interest (having corrupt elements which are clearly defined in the Act). It also adds severe consequences for a public officer who proceeds to sign the contract having received the Commissioner’s notification including imprisonment and a hefty fine after summary trial. It also creates a clear power for the Commission to investigate examination malpractices with punishment including 5 years imprisonments for culprits who engage in, aid, abet, counsel or procure it; etc.
The Commission thanked the President for courageously promulgating and enacting these far-reaching and very progressive reforms that will certainly revolutionize the national campaign against corruption in the country, consolidate and expand the gains made so far by making corruption a high risk and low return venture, and making corruption control legal and regulatory framework more robust.
The Commissions assures that it remains committed to introducing legal, policy and regulatory reforms that suit the corruption culture and environment to make the difference required in Sierra Leone’s long battle against historically endemic corruption.
In another development, the ACC has completed investigation on Ambassador Osman Yansaneh , Secretary General of the All People’s Congress (APC) and Sierra Leone’s former High Commissioner to Ghana, who was also serving as Ambassador to Burkina Faso, and Togo, between 19th November, 2007, and 11th August, 2015.
He was accused of deliberately abandoning his duty station whilst he was still designated as Ambassador and High Commissioner, and was mostly in Sierra Leone, but continued receiving salary and other emoluments.
The ACC said it initiated investigations into allegations of Abuse of Office, and Misappropriation of Public Funds, both contrary to Sections 42 and 36(1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2008, respectively.
The investigations, among other things, revealed the following:
• That Ambassador Yansaneh was appointed High Commissioner to the Republic of Ghana on the 19th November 2007 and recalled on 11th August 2015;
• That he was appointed Secretary General of the All People’s Congress (APC) in August 2013 while still in his post as ambassador;
• Ambassador Yansaneh insists that his absence from post was at the behest of the Former President who wanted him to be in Sierra Leone for various reasons;
• That he finally returned to Sierra Leone in January 2016 following the repatriation;
• That during his tenure as Ambassador to Ghana, Ambassador Yansaneh was absent from his duty post for a total of 708 (seven hundred and eight days);
• That during this period he was receiving full salaries, and the Head of Chancery, Mrs. Remoe-Doherty, was receiving full acting allowance for serving as Charge d’Affaire of the Embassy when Ambassador Yansaneh was away;
• That the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation did not have any policy guidelines on the conduct of officers on foreign missions with regards absenteeism; and
• That Ambassador Yansaneh received salary for the month of January 2016, after his end of mission in January 2016, as evidenced by the LCP, dated 31st January 2016, and did not receive any other salary after this period.
The investigations further exposed risky practices in the management of Public Funds; an absence of a systematic and appropriate monitoring of attendance; and the lack of functional standards in Sierra Leone’s foreign embassies and high commissions. Consequently, we believe many foreign state employees have been taking advantage of the lack of policy guidelines militating against bad practices, including, but not limited to, staying away from their post for onerous periods, and continue receiving salaries; while other staff normal salaries receive hefty acting allowances in their places, leading government to serious unnecessary financial loss.
The Commission concluded that though the actions of Ambassador Yansaneh were clearly preposterous and a bad example for public service, the necessary evidential threshold required to proceed with prosecution was not attained.