By Guabu Moi
Commissions of inquiries are not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone. The National Reformation Council (NRC) did set up various Commissions of Inquiry in 1967 to investigate and report on the act of corruption and other financial malpractices in public offices. They included the Beoku-Betts Commission of Inquiry on Special Coffee Deal in the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SPMB) in 1967, the Forster Commission of Inquiry on Assets of Ex-Ministers and Ex-Deputy Ministers, the Percy Davies Commission of Inquiry on the Activities of the Freetown City Council among others. As recent as 2007 the past All People’s Congress (APC) party government set up a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge hired from The Gambia to investigate the SABABU Education project that was operative under then Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government. The findings and recommendations of those commissions helped the incoming administration to gain a thorough understanding of the status of governance in the country.
In other words, Commissions of Inquiry are best practices used in many democracies around the world today and have been found to be a useful tool in curbing the excesses of those in authority and preventing them from relegating the majority of the populace to permanent abject poverty. They help non-administrators to set up the right framework for future and credible interventions that would provide lasting solution to the plight of the national economy.
Several major events have happened in Sierra Leone that remain largely unexplained which outcomes and consequences still linger in our minds. As a growing society anxious to catch up with others, there is need to know what happened and why they happened and how they could be solved to deter future occurrence.
Few months back during the erstwhile APC party administration, austerity was declared. This simply means the economy was in severe recession and decline. The financial experts then promised to mitigate the situation in six months time which they were unable to do. The recession continued unabated posing harsh economic consequences on the poor, deprived and marginalized. The exchange rate was nothing to write home about; the rate of inflation remained on the high side, domestic output fell and all other macro and micro variables were sluggish. Issues like these should not be allowed to lay dormant and uninvestigated otherwise posterity will judge us unkindly. Something went wrong that led to the recession hence as a nation there is need to find the answers as to why the austerity and economic stagnation. This is a public concern that must be investigated through the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry.
It is no longer a hidden fact that our legal system is significantly challenged in respect of the delivery of justice in the country. This was not the case few decades ago. Today the laws are not regarded and as a result ethical values and social morals have deteriorated to a level which allows corruption to flourish. The situation cannot be left uninvestigated or else things will become more troubling in the future. Mediocrity must be challenged for future stability. As a nation, we need to establish what led to all the appalling developments in the APC party administration. Specifically some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are alleged to be involved in massive corruption and financial malpractices. The classical case in point is the National Revenue Authority (NRA) – the nation’s bread basket – where nepotism, sycophancy, tribalism, favoritism and other ‘isms’ were a ruling passion of the APC party government. For the past ten years, the Deputy Commissioner General and the Director of Internal Audit – key control functionaries – were not recruited. The public would like to know why the Transit Accounts at the Commercial Banks cannot be reconciled.
The sale of African Minerals, Sierra Rutile, National Petroleum and other state owned institutions is one of the greatest challenges to revenue mobilization. For example, some years back with the coming of African Minerals (AML) the public was informed that the company will continue to operate for the next 100 years. During the few years of operation the company benefited immensely from duty waivers including GST. Not too long AML was sold to Shandong, creating more problems for our economy. The out gone APC party government was involved in signing several bad contracts bilateral as well as multilateral such as Toll Gate and the Mamamah Airport. These contracts were unpatriotically signed on the eve of the party’s last days in governance. There were other contracts also signed for road construction, acquisition of land for investments, Gold Tree in Daru, Kailahun district and Soffin Palm Plantation Company in Pujehun, rehabilitation of Lungi International Airport, Rehabilitation of Fourah Bay College among others.
More interesting is the conflict of interest that engulfed the insurance industry with all government vehicles and other properties that were compulsorily insured under RITCORP owned by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. The use of poor pensioners’ contributions by NASSIT to buy two rotten ferries that cost billions of Leones that were not fit for purpose remains a public concern. Bad debts given out by two government – owned commercial banks: Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB) and Rokel Commercial Bank (RCB) to politicians’ relatives and friends were recapitalized by poor pensioner’s contribution managed by NASSIT. These two issues and other white elephant investments like the Shopping Malls in Kenema, Bo and Makeni need to be properly investigated. By and large, the privatization of state owned institutions remains a thorny issue. The public wants to know who the new owners of these institutions are.
Bad governance in the parastatals has been responsible for the inefficiencies in our economic system. In the past years the emergence of ‘a one man’ control became glaring. Even though parastatals are supervised mainly by the Financial Secretary, Accountant General, Bank Governor and other relevant heads of institutions the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) became so powerful as to have ignored those ethical considerations for good corporate governance.
The National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) rules and regulations governing the procurement of works, goods and services were not followed by ministries, departments, agencies, commissions and parastatals. Tender board procedures were ignored with impunity causing serious financial losses to government; for example, the purchase of the celebrated 100 buses by the transport ministry.
In the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry tractorization, distribution of seed rice, unrecovered loans given to non-existing farmers have not brought the desired food security. The less one talks about the Ministry of Health, the better because anomalies highlighted in the Auditor General’s Ebola Audit Report still remain unanswered; the procurement of ambulances and free healthcare drugs and their distribution was faced with a lot of malpractices.
Again, the payment of high salaries to less qualified contract workers as compared to better qualified civil servants in the Ministry of Finance, Accountant General and other sectorial ministries and agencies could not be unconnected with corruption, favoritism and nepotism.
All the concerns highlighted bordering on corruption, mismanagement of our meager resources require immediate attention. They can be adequately addressed by a Commission of Inquiry that will investigate and bring to book those found wanting. Investigating the activities of past government officials as pointed out earlier is not new and cannot be considered as witch hunt.
Instituting a Commission of Inquiry into those corrupt practices in the last government will save the reputation and good standing of those who have patriotically worked and had shown commitment to our national development. Government cannot allow the opposition APC party’s empty propaganda about ‘witch hunt’ at the expense of losing the billions of Leones and millions of US dollars that they have squandered from the public coffers.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Those former government officials found wanting must face the music without further consideration.