This success story has been provided by the Sierra Leonean Anti-Corruption Authority and is posted on this site in its original form.

Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara*

1. Background

Sierra Leone is one of the smallest countries in Africa endowed with rich natural resources but also the poorest in terms of our income per capita and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Indeed, one may be tempted to ask the question; what is the cardinal reason for this paradox? The answer is simply corruption. This was clearly articulated in the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) report which states that corruption is one of the major reasons for the 10 year rebel war that plagued our nation between 1991 through 2002. It is now becoming an acknowledged fact, that one of the serious, if not the greatest threat to true democracy in Sierra Leone, as in elsewhere, is corruption. The level and depth of this plague is as alarming as it is enormous, rippling through the political, governance and moral fibers of our different societies. The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission was set up by an Act of Parliament in February 2000 being an Act to provide for the prevention of corruption and other related matters. The Commission was structured as a hybrid of the Botswana and Hong Kong model, using the three prong approach of prevention, public sensitization and investigations in the fight against corruption. Since the inception of the Commission a lot has been done to address the level of impunity perpetuated by corrupt individuals. The Commission is now a household name and many offenders, both high and low profiles have been targeted irrespective of their political or social status.

2. National Anti-Corruption Strategy

In order to address this problem on a more comprehensive manner, the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) was adopted by Government which laid the foundation for the involvement of every stakeholder in society called pillars of integrity in the fight against graft. The basic assumption of the strategy is that the fight against corruption cannot be left entirely in the hands of a standalone institution like the Anti-Corruption Commission.  It needs the support of everyone in society including civil society to effectively deal with it.

3. Commitments to international treaties/conventions

Further to this, Sierra Leone as a member of the international community has signed a number of conventions including the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union (AU) Convention on Combating and Prevention of Corruption. These conventions have not only been signed but ratified and domesticated; the latest of these, is the AU convention that was ratified in 2008.

4. A Robust Anti-Corruption Act

Following the call for a review of the Act in the NACS, the Anti-Corruption Act 2000 was repealed and the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 was promulgated, being an Act to provide for the continuance of an independent Anti-Corruption Commission for the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of corruption and corrupt practices and to provide for other related matters. As a result, a number of wide ranging issues were incorporated into the new Act that is considered to be one of the toughest anti-graft Acts in Africa.

a) Independence of the investigation and prosecution of cases: The Commission now has powers to independently investigate and prosecute its cases without recourse to the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. This singular provision has greatly enabled and embolden the prosecution of high profile persons for corruption offences. The force of this legislation manifested itself two weeks ago when we secured a conviction for misappropriation of public funds of a Government of Marine Resources and ordered to pay back into the Consolidated Fund the sum of Leones 450 Million. In a country where the average citizen lives on a dollar a day, that‘s a huge sum of money. She was further relieved of her position and office by the President. This is the second conviction of a Minister of Government within the last two years. Again, last week we filed an Indictment against the Commissioner-General for misappropriation, violation of procurement regulations, abuse of office and conflict of interest. Additionally, the Commission is empowered under section 59(1) of the ACC Act 2008 with the toolkit of restricting the disposal of property of persons under investigation with an order of Court. This has proved to be particularly effective in avoiding misuse and transfer of pillaged funds before trial. The power is even extended to the disposal of property by third parties, where we have reason to believe that a third party is holding any property, including moneys in a bank account, for or on behalf of or to the order of a person under investigation. Restrictions on Income from property may also be imposed.

 b) Inclusion of asset recovery in the punishment of offenders: The common saying by most pundits in the anti-corruption crusade is; where necessary, get the culprit and get the loot. However, if you cannot get the culprit, then get the loot. In the recent past in Sierra Leone, punishment of corrupt offenders was restricted to ridiculous fines and or imprisonment. The new Act of 2008 has now made provision for the recovery of stolen wealth by persons found guilty of misappropriation of public funds. With the passing of the new Act in 2008, the Commission has been able to recover about Le 3 Billion (Three Billion Leones) which is equivalent to about USD $1.2000,000 (One Million two Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) from offenders, mostly corporate bodies. These amounts were paid back into the consolidated revenue.

 c) Declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants: The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) requires state parties to consider establishing policies requiring officials to reveal “to appropriate authorities … their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits” (Article 8, UNCAC). The National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) also advocated for the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants to be made compulsory. In ensuring compliance to this requirement the Commission in its review of the anti-corruption Act 2000 incorporated the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants as a major step in ensuring probity in public life. A disclosure allows public employees wealth to be monitored, it deters the less determined to steel public funds and an important tool for law enforcement. Over 17,000 public servants have so far declared their assets including the Executive (President and his Cabinet). Verification of these assets especially for Politically Exposed Persons (PEPS) is underway. Both the declaration and verification exercises are meant to keep in check the excesses of certain corrupt individuals in power.

d)  Systems Review and Monitoring Compliance: The Commission’s effort in ridding our country of corruption has also been through systems review as well as policy recommendations and compliance to recommendations proffered to our clients. These recommendations in the form of reports sent to our clients have hitherto not been complied with owing to the weaknesses of the previous Act to address this. The Anti-Corruption Act 2008 now has punitive sanctions including administrative sanctions for defaulting entities that fail to implement its recommendations and this has greatly improved the implementation of our recommendations by clients. Also, offences such as bid rigging and other related offences in procurement and public auction has also been incorporated into the new Act which makes it difficult for corrupt individuals and businesses to escape the net.

 e)  Service Charters: As part of our prevention strategy in the fight against corruption, the commission has also been able to develop its service charter to provide an opportunity for the public to better understand the services we offer and how they can access it without any bias. This is essential to enhance transparency and openness in the delivery of our service to the people. This has also been replicated in some other institutions such as the immigration and the National Registration Secretariat. Plans are underway to have all public institutions to develop a service charter. Other institutions like Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority (SLRTA), and the 34 Military Hospital have also received their Service Charters.

f) Witness Management and Protection Unit: A Witness Management and Protection Unit has been established, to cater for the well-being and security of witnesses and confidentiality of source information.

5. Conclusion

The various measures outlined above have yielded a humongous dividend in the anti-corruption crusade in Sierra Leone such that various stakeholders are now acknowledging the fact that the Commission is becoming more and more effective. The ACC is now the watchword in Sierra Leone as we dominate news headlines on a regular basis reporting to the people the nature of our work. One major consideration is the drawing up of a National Anti-Corruption Strategy to guide the fight against corruption in a structured way involving all partners including civil society. This is crucial at the initial stage to keep the momentum of national involvement; otherwise the public may perceive the fight as the sole responsibility of the anti-corruption agency and may tend to be dispassionate about it. The capacity of an anti-corruption agency to effectively deliver on its mandate would require multiple approaches to make it more meaningful and sustainable. Key among these approaches includes adequate funding and capacity building. This is to suggest that in the world arena there is need for better collaboration and synergy in the anti-corruption crusade at national and international levels involving the public and private sector as well as civil society and the media.

I thank you for your attention.

*Joseph F. Kamara is currently the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone. First Vice President of the West African Bar Association (WABA). Formerly, the Deputy Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He served for eight years as a Senior State Counsel in the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

Source: The World Bank Department of Institutional Integrity