By Amin Kef Sesay
During a press conference held at the Siaka Stevens Stadium Atlantic Hall in Freetown on the 2nd December 2019, members of Youth Against Corruption (YAC) engaged the media on the importance of the amendment of the ACC Act, with the view that the message will be disseminated across the country for citizens to know about the provisions of the Act.
Speaking on behalf of the ACC, Morris Kante, a representative of the institution, explained that the bill is an effort to ensure that the Commission get the required legislation to effectively fight corruption in the country. He expressed appreciation to YAC for their good work in the fight against corruption noting that Sierra Leone is where it is today because of corruption, with citizens being deprived of the basic amenities of life, namely: electricity, health care services, water and food. He gave a brief history about the evolution of the Commission from a toothless dog to one that has prosecutorial powers.
Over the years, he went on, the fight against corruption was launched by the Late President Kabba, with the setting up of the ACC in 2000, but it lacked prosecutorial powers. In 2008 it was given powers to prosecute by the then Ernest Bai Koroma Government, but at present there has been the realisation that though it was fine yet it did not yield the desired goal and corruption is till rife in the country. With the advent of President Bio, the need for an amendment of the Act to further address the existing loop holes, constantly being manipulated by public officials to deprive the nation of huge amounts of money, these and several factors were looked at and amendments made to make the process effective.
Among the objectives of the amendment are to strengthen protection of those who assist the Commission and make corruption a risky enterprise for public officials, increase penalty, provide the Commission with an alternative to prosecution and widen the scope of the offence and reduce the period for Asset declaration after leaving office, from 1 year to 3 months. This, it was pointed out will make the Act functional and provide the desired result.
Corruption evolves with time and laws are needed to be amended to meet the challenges. ACC can now prevent contracts deemed to have elements of corruption taking place, in consultation with the NPPA.
Making his own submission, Hon. Mustapha Sellu, Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Corruption, explained the status of the bill that has been passed by the House, stating that the said bill is now awaiting Presidential assent to make it become law, according to the provisions of the constitution. He stated that during the deliberations in the House, MPs were able to thrash out all the sticking points and have finally approved the bill and sent it to the President for signature.
Hon. Sellu further stated that information brings transformation. He noted that specific sections and areas were looked at namely asset declaration in a bid to harmonise them with the Constitution. He also referred to Section 126 (a), stating that what is being looked at mainly in the COI is that of contracts. In this area he dilated that in respect of proposed contracts, the ACC Commissioner will consult with the NPPA boss on whether the contract is in the interest of the people. Thus the ACC can in consultation with the NPPA stop such contracts from being signed as long as they are not in the interest of the people.
He further stressed that a party to the contract who feels dissatisfied can go to court to seek redress. He also stated that a huge percentage of what is going on at the COI is on procurement and not about salaries etc, thus it is wise that the ACC captures such in their fight against corruption. He further disclosed that the use of cash in every transaction is responsible for the corruption taking place, unlike in the developed world where transactions are done with cards, which can be easily detected and the culprits nabbed.
In his own submission, Moses Mambu, a Civil Society activist of Consortium on Service Delivery, said that since independence, with all the resources that the country has, the country is still grappling with the basic amenities of life. He warned that if Sierra Leoneans fail to take action now to curb corruption, the future generation will be doomed. He expressed happiness to see young people taking the destiny of the nation in their hands, for it is only in so doing that the nation will develop. He assured YAC that they are ready to support them in any endeavour that will enhance the development of the nation.
He spoke about the Wellington–Masiaka road contract, stressing that the road provided by the colonial powers and our fore fathers is now being used as toll road. He stressed that in his view an alternate road should have been made of quality for those who do not wish to pay any toll. “It is their right to choose and should not be forced to use the only road that the colonial master left for the people as toll road,” he bemoaned referencing the tragic situation that truck drivers who could not afford the toll are faced with to navigate the so called alternate road, which he described as a death trap.
Sheku Koroma, Executive Director of YAC expressed happiness in seeing a good number of young people in the audience. YAC was established in August 2018 to help the ACC fight corruption. He re-echoed the views of Moses Mambu on the need for youths to embrace the fight against corruption. The ACC, he went on, cannot fight this war alone. He called on the media to take the message abroad and disseminate to the nation the provisions of the Act and how citizens can participate in the fight
Other speakers included Success Kamara, Assistant Public Relations Officer of the ACC. He reminded the media that Section 11 of the Constitution gives the media the obligation to ensure they hold State institutions and officials accountable to the public. Imran Sillah of the Ministry of Information also added his voice to the discussion.