The recent corruption scandal that involves the Chief Minister Professor David Francis and journalist Sallieu Tejan Jalloh remains leeringly unresolved in the background. President Bio made the fight against corruption a major signature of his government when he took over last year. There is no need to remind ourselves of the contagion called corruption. Any attempt to tackle corruption head on is a viable road map for Sierra Leone’s recovery. The setting up of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), though not new to the long suffering masses, was a brave act, although some thought that Bio was making a rod for his own back. Many pessimists concluded that Bio would also face such enquiries when he leaves office one day; let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Bio always warned that in the fight against corruption, corruption will fight back. And it is not surprising that the whole fight has been discredited by many as a witch-hunt, harassment, revenge and so on. Was that corruption fighting back?
With the debacle between the Chief Minister and Mr Jalloh, the die of corruption has been cast, and the spectre of accusations has been flying left, right and centre. But in an ideal world where your side, my side, and then the truth matter, it is becoming increasingly imperative to get to the truth. There are those who sympathise with the Minister, that because of his commitment to promote a new direction in this “New Direction”, he has earned himself enemies who want to destroy his hard earned reputation. On the other side of the Rubicon, sympathisers of the 4th Estate believe that an innocent victim has been victimised for ethically going about his lawful business. The dichotomy of opinions is palpable, and we cannot run away from the fact that most are politically marinated; depending on their political persuasion.
The facts are yet to be proven, but that has not deterred many from delivering verdicts from several media pulpits. But where does the burden of proof lie, and who has the burden of proof. The Chief Minister has not only denied the allegations, but has also insinuated from his press release that he has been a victim of harassment, extortion and by implication blackmail. On the other hand, reports indicated that Jalloh had “planned to publish full details of the bribery transactions” The text goes on that “We are already concluding our investigation and we would therefore need your own side of the story before publications. Thanks and we look forward to hearing from you.” Many will struggle to see what’s wrong with such a request. In a follow up interview released in a voice clip on social media, Mr Jalloh described how unknown persons attempted to hoodwink him in for questioning.
If his version is true, such an attempt can only be described as clandestine. Why was Mr Jalloh not just invited to the CID for questioning? Even at that, an allegation of a crime must have been committed for him to require such an attendance. Except if a complaint had been filed for harassment, extortion etc., asking another party to verify an allegation or to give their own side of a story; in the interest of impartiality and fairness hardly qualifies as criminal. Was that an attempt to muzzle a watchdog?
Meanwhile, Patrick Sandi, director of public education and outreach department, Anti-Corruption Commission, stated in a press release that “the Chief Minister, acting in accordance with Section 77 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008, which imposes a duty on all public officers to report where a corruption offence has been committed; or is about to be committed, accordingly informed the Commission” (sierraleonetelgraph.com/13/11/19). Does this mean or confirm a criminal element to Mr Jalloh’s request from the minister? At the time of writing, the ACC stated that Mr Jalloh has refused to comply with its request to help with information for its investigation. Sounds like an orgy of refusals of request for information here.
With the stench of corruption filling the social and political atmosphere, there is no doubt that this matter needs to be resolved as soon as possible. But who has the burden of proof? In a normal situation, the burden of proof lies with Mr Jalloh, who reportedly claimed “we are already concluding our investigation”. Mr Jalloh does not need to reveal his source/s, but would do well to present the facts or proofs. He has been described as a corrupt journalist, hence putting his credibility at risk. But with Ecobank and S.L Mining profusely denying the allegation, don’t hold your breath. However, the allegation is that the “FIU discovered the sum of USD1.5 million which was paid on diverse dates in your account at the ECOBANK”. So now that we have heard from Ecobank and SL Mining, can we have a shout out from the FIU that was quoted by Mr Jalloh?
In a normal situation, the Chief Minister does not need to prove his innocence; because he is innocent until proven guilty. But this is not a normal situation. However, if Mr Jalloh cannot prove his allegations, it is unusually incumbent on the Chief Minister to prove his innocence in this case here. Firstly, he is the primus inter pares in the Bio government; a government that prides itself in its commitment to fight corruption in Sierra Leone. If such a high ranking official is fumigated with the whiff of corruption, it puts the whole fight against corruption into disrepute. Meanwhile, social media specialists have wasted no time in flooding platforms with an old video clip of the First Minister, implicitly giving his blessings to corruption; albeit at 1%. As if on cue, the First Lady was in London when the corruption fiasco broke out. In her speech during a function, Mrs Fatima Bio said that “not everybody that has a PHD is a politician. Some PHD holders dem fool bad”. Some pundits are left wondering who such PHD holders could be. Don’t answer that.
It is a fact that traditional journalism, where reporters deliver information in a balanced and unbiased fashion, is rapidly fading into obscurity. However, if it’s true that nothing is more potent than an idea, then those who control the media can direct minds en masse. Already, an idea or perception has been created. Perception and reality are two different things. One man’s perception may not be another’s reality. Unfortunately, there is hardly any truth in the world we live in today; only “alternative truths” and perceptions. People only see what they look for. Although perceptions do not reflect the truth, they can be 1 millionth of 1% of reality. This issue should not be reduced to a battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate. It is far too serious for that.
So there we have it. In his fight against corruption, President Bio and his government have made friends and foes along the way. With the COI going into 2nd gear and requesting asset declarations, the perception of the High Priest caught in a corruption scandal can be costly. There has been a lot of gas lighting from both sides in this case. The credibility and moral authority of the SLPP government to fight corruption is at stake here. There is therefore a compelling need for the Chief Minister, and Bio’s government by association, to get to the bottom and truth of this scandal. Bio’s government could lose the moral authority to fight corruption, if the sword of corruption is swirling around the head of his High Priest. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
But in order to succeed in the fight against corruption, there should be no impunity; because Impunity serves as the foundation on which systems of corruption are built. If impunity is not demolished, all efforts to fight corruption by this government will be in vain. If leadership by example is the most contagious style of leadership; should corruption be widespread? Corruption is a disease, and transparency should be an essential part of its treatment.
The hope is that Sierra Leone will be corruption free one day. Which tense is that?
Future impossible tense?
Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.