By Amin Kef Sesay
On the 9 December 2019 the Anti-Corruption Court was commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards. Prior to its commissioning, the Anti-Corruption Court has been refurbished and equipped through judicial funds and support from the Department for International Development (DFID) for the purpose of trying cases that are charged to court by the Anti-Corruption Commission following investigations.
It could be recalled that earlier this year, the Chief Justice created the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court by Statutory Instrument and five (5) Judges and Justices of the Superior Courts of Judicature had been designated to sit specifically on ACC cases.
The commissioning of the Anti-corruption Court on 9th December, 2019, completes the process of establishing the Special Court for Corruption that had been promised the people of Sierra Leone by His Excellency the President, Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio at the State Opening of Parliament; which commitment was re-echoed by the Commissioner of the ACC who set to action, in partnership with the Judiciary and the DFID, to ensure it is delivered for the People of Sierra Leone. The court will immediately commence hearing cases charged by the Commission to ensure speedy and expeditious trial and conclusion of anti-corruption cases.
The new court is specifically designed with modern technology and is equipped with ultra-modern transcribing, recording, audio-visual and other supporting technology and resources to ensure and aid the work of the court. It has its own sub-registry, filing and case management processes, and is managed by a carefully recruited and vetted new staffing to ensure insulated but fair processing of cases with integrity of the court and its outcomes maintained.
With the commissioning of the court following the successful enactment of the Anti-corruption Amendment Act, 2019; the proper foundations have been laid for a more robust consolidation of the gains in the fight against corruption and ensures a more efficient control of corruption by the Commission and all stakeholders in the fight against corruption.
The Commission thanked His Excellency the President; the Learned Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and her team; the Chief Justice and the entire Judiciary; the two consultants who put a lot of effort in realizing this goal – Bakhethisi K.T Mlalazi (Baki) and Madam Aminata Kandeh; and all other stakeholders who in diverse ways contributed to this effort and continue to support the conscientious fight against corruption.
In another development, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone, in partnership with the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), has on Monday 9th December, 2019, joined other anti-corruption agencies in the world, to commemorate the International Anti-Corruption (IAC) Day 2019. The International Anti-Corruption Day is observed annually, on 9 December, since the passage of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption on 31 October 2003, to raise public awareness about the ills of corruption and what Governments can do to combat the scourge.
In commemorating this year’s IAC Day, the ACC, in partnership with CARL, staged a grand symposium at the Miatta Conference Centre, Youyi Building, in Freetown. The event brought together a body of experts in the anti-corruption space, Government officials, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, civil society organisations, the media, students and ordinary Sierra Leoneans; under the distinguished Grand Chief Patronage of His Excellency the Right Hon. Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Dr. Mohammed Juldeh Jalloh, with the theme “United Against Corruption to Ensure Quality Education”. The symposium created a platform for a national conversation around the standard of the country’s educational system which many Sierra Leoneans view as being near collapse.
Delivering the Keynote address on the theme “Reinforcing the Anti-Corruption War in the Education Sector: Connecting the nexus between accountability regimes and ensuring quality education in Sierra Leone”, the Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Mohammed Juldeh Jalloh started off by thanking the ACC for choosing him to give the keynote address on a topic that is dear to him as an individual, but also relevant to the government’s New Direction Agenda, which has education at the heart of their priorities.
The Vice President said that education is the measuring instrument of the rise and fall of a State. He said that, once prided as the best you could get in black Africa, our educational system, prior to the advent of the New Direction administration, was in a state of decadence. “Academic malpractice has become a routine exercise for schools across the country. It is sad and unacceptable”, he said. He furthered that what is prevailing in the country currently is a product of history, as educational institutions over the past decade were starved of the required resources to survive; and became centres of contestations.
In order to reverse this trend, the Vice President stated that his administration has allocated the highest portion of the country’s budget to the educational sector. “Out of every ten (10) Sierra Leonean kid, eight (8) are now rushing to school because it is free”, he said.
The Vice President noted that, for the country to reclaim its past educational glory, requires three main approaches: process, structural and societal. He ended by reminding all that, state-centered approaches have their limits, but the inclusion of societal approach (including parents, civil society and media) is the only way out of the current malaise.
In his address, the Commissioner of the ACC Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. stated that the celebration of the day was an opportunity for the country to come together and reflect on what has happened in the fight against corruption over the past one year; and to strategize on how to attack the scourge going forward. He further stated that the selection of the theme for this year -United Against Corruption for Quality Education- by the ACC was deliberate, as corruption in the form of rampant examination malpractices is an existential threat to the future of the country; noting that desperate measures should be adopted to reverse the ugly trend.
Giving a brief report on the status of the fight against corruption, the ACC Boss stated that, more than ever before, the country is now firmly positioned to effectively control corruption. “The message is going; there is a united cloud building against corruption. Sierra Leone just passed the strongest anti-corruption law -The 2019 Anti-Corruption Amendment Act – in Africa; which is going to be the blueprint in the fight against corruption across Africa. To complete the cyclone that is building against corruption, the Chief Justice will today be commissioning a space at the Law Court Building dedicated to host the Special Division in the High Court to deal with corruption cases.” The ACC Commissioner further elucidated that the President has shown tremendous Presidential will by assenting to the new Amendment Act, amongst other support to the ACC.
Commissioner Kaifala ended by admonishing the public that he and his team at the ACC are prepared to lead the national crusade against corruption for the good of the country. He however stated that, as soldiers sent to the battle field to confront the monster of corruption, his team at the ACC will always need the unwavering support of the people of this country in this difficult war. *”When we look back, we want to see the people standing behind us; especially when the going gets tough; when we take courageous and uncommon actions. Instead of asking “why did we do it”, we want the people to say “this is why they (ACC) did it”, because corruption has held the destiny of our country to ransom for a very long time.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Ibrahim Tommy, stated that all forms of corruption are bad; but grand corruption in the form of state capture hurts the country the most. He called on his colleagues in the civil society world to unite against the common enemy of corruption.
The British High Commissioner Simon Mustard, and the Nigerian High Commissioner Dr. Habiss Ibrahim Ugbada; both offered statements of commendation to the Government of Sierra Leone and the ACC for the tremendous progress made in the fight against corruption; and assured support on behalf of their nations.
A panel of experts comprising Lara Taylor Pearce (Auditor General), Dr. Brain Conton (Director Leone Preparatory School), Joe Pemagbi (County Director OSIWA), Ndeye Fatu Koroma (Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Unit), thoroughly dissected the theme of the event, in a panel discussion moderated by Justice Miatta Maria Samba, Justice of the Court of Appeal.
A performance by the Freetown players; and a resounding poetry presentation on corruption by teen sensation, Vicky de Poet; and a performance by Michael Faada George formed part of the event.