Salone Commission of Enquiry: Time to Disrupt the Corrupt?

                 Abdulai Mansaray, author

The long awaited Commission of Enquiry in Sierra Leone has been slated to commence in the New Year. There is no doubt that among other policy changes and statements, this has been one of the most eye-catching statements of intent from the embryonic Bio government. There is also no doubt that while the people of  Sierra Leone have waited with baited breath to see where it all ends, the criticisms that have been bandied around is evident for all to see. Since the announcement of the Commission of Enquiry, conspiracy theorists have gone to town on the driving force behind it  all. This is especially so of the erstwhile APC party. Members, sympathisers and loyalists of the APC party have labelled the proposed enquiry as nothing short of an attempt by the SLPP to politically decapitate the APC. It has been described as a witch hunt, a vendetta, or payback time. While many will find solace in justifying their accusations, the man in the middle would be inclined to see the proposed enquiry as a necessity; if Sierra Leone’s economic malaise, which had degenerated into pervasive corruption, is to be tackled.

One of the most touted reasoning behind the conspiracy theories of vendetta lies in what many see as the peculiar composition of those accused of corruption. We would be lying through our teeth or doing injustice to our nation, if we don’t acknowledge this peculiarity. There is no doubt that the APC party members account for about 95% of those accused with embezzling funds. What is ironical in all this is the attempt by many APC sympathisers to defy logic in trying to shore up their conspiracy theories of vendetta. We all know and may agree that our country has a world cup medal for corruption. So if a new government comes in and promises to investigate alleged corruption, is it not obvious that the members and civil servants at the time of the erstwhile government will form the bulk of those to be investigated? The SLPP was in comatose opposition at the time. Most of its current members were either unemployed, were in private business or in other walks of life, far removed from the higher echelons of the APC party at the time. The question therefore is, why would you investigate someone who had little or nothing to do with the government at the time? But what the APC party may be saying is that, “those who fight corruption must be clean themselves.  Hmmmmm.  All yours. But if the APC members, or so called northerners form the bulk of the accused, should that mean that the APC government was guilty of nepotism or tribalism?

But conversely, some members of the APC party that are crying foul have maintained that most of these alleged corruption charges would not have been perpetrated without the knowledge of top ranking civil servants. They also maintain that some of these top ranking civil servants now occupy mouth-watering positions in the current government. Their argument therefore is that, if such persons were directly or indirectly involved is such alleged corrupt practices for which APC members are to be prosecuted, how come that such persons are not in the net for possible prosecutions? Irrespective of your political persuasions and against the grain of logic, there are many who would feel that in spite of the apparent political psychosis that seems to afflict our country’s political landscape, there may be some food for thought here. Take your pick.

We have had Professor Lumumba to lecture the country on corruption. The make-up of the presiding judges have been given an international flavour; supposedly to imply or inject some sense of impartiality or neutrality. It is one thing to do justice, but an entirely different thing to see justice done. When President Bio launched the Commission of Enquiry, there were many who had little hope of seeing this brought to fruition. There are still many out there with little hope about how effective it will be. Such doubts are understandable; if past commissions of enquiries are anything to go by. We all know how past Commissions of enquiries have ended. It is understandable if many conclude that most of these enquiries had been paper exercises or megaphone diplomacy.

Maada Bio is known for his discipline; thanks to his military background and humble beginnings from Pujehun. . There are some who feel that by embarking on this investigation, he may have made a rod for his own back. Those are the disciples and merchants of pessimism, who think that upon leaving office, he will also be a subject of any future enquiries. That is the view of doom merchants, and should be treated as such. This is the kind of mentality that you find among those who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of corruption.

In the meantime, we have noticed some of the accused taking the less arduous route of out of court settlements. Others have been fined and ordered to pay upfront and in instalments. There is no doubt that President Bio has raised the bar in trying to arrest this vice on the corruption Richter scale. The well-meaning Sierra Leoneans would hope that the enquiry will be judiciously expedited; and not end up as a PR exercise or another misuse of our meagre coffers.  Notwithstanding the conspiracy theories, the distractions, and foregone conclusions, I believe that the majority of Sierra Leoneans would like to see justice done. Many would like to see the investigations and possible court trials conducted in fairness, equality and transparency.  By so doing, this enquiry will give the sitting government the rare opportunity to dispel all the conspiracy theories that have been propagated since the inception of the whole exercise.

As Sierra Leoneans, we should see this proposed Commission of Enquiry as a national litmus test; to test our desire and appetite to address corruption in all its forms. It may not be palatable to some, but irrespective of one’s political plumage, the nation can use it to show how united or disunited we are, against the fight against corruption. This is the time for honesty. This is the time for fairness. This is the time to demonstrate how true we are to ourselves. This could the beginning of a culture shift. Fighting corruption is not a one night affair, and fighting it cannot be compromised.  As Sierra Leoneans, we could use this as a watershed moment; to take our country to a different direction (pardon the pun). 

As a nation, we are all guilty of burying our heads in the sand. We have all sat by and seen corruption fester and flourish. We have all been active and passive participants of corruption in our country; by allowing it to grow with an “how for do”? mentality.  We have all been active spectators; watching the normalisation of the abnormal. We have passively accepted corruption as a way of life in our society. This situation has gone so bad, that it is now considered a treasonable offence to fight against corruption. It is time we woke up and accept that “those who elect corrupt politicians….are not victims….but ACOMPLICES (George Orwell). It is the corruption of our leaders that has made the 99.9% of us look bad. For evil to triumph, it takes the good to do nothing.

This is the time for well-meaning sierra Leoneans to stand up and be counted. It could be a litmus test for our country, but it could also be the time to get a marker on the Bio led government. It is time to walk the walk, after all the talk. There is no doubt that this is an ambitious feat, and ambitions should be made of sterner stuff. For all we know, and it may be too early to say; but it could be the making or destruction of President Bio’s legacy. The fight against corruption in our country should be among others, a major benchmark in this government. Fighting corruption should be a national call to all. But in fighting corruption, we must ensure that it is done fairly, equally and truthfully. We cannot fight corruption with “the end justifies the means” approach or mentality.  For you cannot fight corruption with corruption.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (M. L. King).

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