'Office abuse' returns to haunt Sierra Leone ex-president

Monday July 9 2018

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KEMO CHAM
More by this Author

Former Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma risks prosecution following revelations of massive corruption and abuse of office under his watch.

The Government Transition Team report on the state of Sierra Leone’s economy calls for a commission of enquiry and possible prosecution of the perpetrators of abuse of office during Mr Koroma's 10-year reign.

The report accuses the former president of presiding over a tribal and regionally biased regime, which plundered the West African country under a ‘criminally masterminded’ scheme.

Awarding of fake and inflated contracts and the illegal sale of government assets, were identified as the hallmark of the Koroma regime.

Local currency

Mr Koroma is also blamed for the failure of the economy as manifested in the huge debt he left and a failing local currency.

The Transition Team was constituted by President Julius Maada Bio, just two days after he was sworn into office following his landmark election victory last March against Mr Koroma’s All Peoples Congress (APC).

Mr Bio contested under the ticket of his then opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

The 12-man committee head by Prof David Francis, who is now Chief Minister in the cabinet, was tasked with taking stock of the state of the country under the last regime.

Fiscal indiscipline

The report was officially presented to President Bio last week, before being presented to the general public via a press conference hosted by the Chief Minister.

Prof Francis told reporters that their findings revealed an “astonishing level of fiscal indiscipline and rampant corruption” by the former administration which led to the near-collapse of the country’s economy.

The 124-page document alleges that in spite of its rhetoric of inclusive governance, Mr Koroma’s administration promoted a policy of tribalism and regionalism in appointments at State House, in government agencies and commissions, as well as diplomatic postings.

It said ethnically favoured appointments constituted roughly 71 per cent of all senior and middle-level positions and postings to foreign missions.

Newly elected Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio.

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

SLPP and APC have dominated politics in Sierra Leone since independence in 1961, but the latter has had the longest stay in power.

It last took charge in 2007 elections lost by the SLPP government after 11 years in office, characterised by war.

The Transition Team report says the APC-led government back then inherited a debt free solvent nation with millions of dollars in reserve. It added that in the subsequent five years, it received over $1.3 billion in external development assistance.

The ensuing boom in the mining sector and other economic activities increased the export value to an unprecedented $1.6 billion, it added.

According to the report, the Koroma administration went on a spending spree instead of embarking on programmes that would better the lives of the masses.

Style of governance

Consequently, it went on, the economy was left burdened with external debt amounting to $1.6 billion, domestic debt amounting to Le 4.99 trillion or $658 million, and an exploded payroll.

The report authors also blamed the style of governance of Mr Koroma for the fall of the national currency which was trading at Le.7600 to a dollar when power changed hands. It said servicing those debts alone amounted to $262 million per year.

The former government also rendered ineffective the fight against graft by the politicising the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

They facilitated inappropriate acquisition of state’s assets and properties by relatives and close friends of Mr Koroma. And government contracts were inflated and inappropriately awarded to such relatives and friends, it said.

“This unacceptable practice exacerbated poverty and illiteracy and helped erode confidence in the integrity of Government,” it states.

The report proffered a series of recommendations, notably an immediate special audit of all government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to establish how public assets and funds were utilised by the former government.

Require clearance

It also recommends the immediate institution of a Judge-led Special Commission of Inquiry with a limited timeframe and mandate to recover all stolen or inappropriately converted state funds and other assets, including buildings, land and the hundreds of vehicles still unaccounted for (presumably stolen by officials of the APC government).

“The Commission should recommend for prosecution former APC officials whose corrupt conduct is found to be particularly egregious. The Commission should also seek an explanation from former officials, under Section 26 of the Anti-Corruption act dealing with “unexplained wealth”, if it determines them to have accumulated such wealth during their time in public office,” it adds.

Some of the former officials named in the report were already out of the country. And the report authors have also recommended that all those in the country currently should require clearance from the Justice ministry before traveling out.

APC immediately issued a statement condemning the report as witch hunt and it said it had instituted a committee to study it properly and would give an appropriate response later.