Socialize

FacebookYoutube

CORRUPTION IN HIGH OFFICE: …OMBUDSMAN ACCUSED

When President Ernest Bai Koroma was elected in 2007, he admonished all citizens to change their attitudes and work for the good of the country. However, it appears that there are some Sierra Leoneans who no matter what the President says, they will never change their attitudes for the good of Sierra Leone. Their interest is to reap profits for themselves to the detriment of the citizens of the country. President Koroma also promised to fight corruption and the ACC has been faced with some serious challenges in the fight against corruption. Many people in the country hold the view that the ACC does not go after ‘big fishes’. Investigations carried out into the office of the Ombudsman has revealed that the current Ombudsman Justice Edmund Cowan may be collecting money from the tax payers that he is not entitled to.

Justice-E.-Cowna1

The Office of the Ombudsman is a constitutional appointment by virtue of Section146 of the 1991 Constitution which provides:

“146. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament shall, not later than twelve months from the commencement of this Constitution, or so soon thereafter as Parliament may determine, by an Act of Parliament establish the office of Ombudsman.

(2) The Act of Parliament shall define the functions and duties of the Ombudsman which shall include the investigation of any action taken or omitted to be taken by or on behalf of—

a. any department of Ministry of Government;

b. any statutory corporation or institutions of higher learning or education, set up entirely or partly out of public funds;

c. any member of the Public Service, being an action taken or omitted to be taken in the exercise of the administrative functions of that department, ministry, statutory corporation, institution or person.

In addition to the above constitutional provision, the Office of the Ombudsman was set up by an Act of Parliament. The Ombudsman Act 1997 provides the basis for the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman and provides in relation to the appointment of the Ombudsman in sub sections 3,4 and 5:

“Section 3. The Ombudsman shall be appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.

Section 4. The President shall appoint as Ombudsman a person with proven administrative and conspicuous probity, but no person shall be appointed Ombudsman unless –

(a)    He is qualified to be appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Judicature; or

(b)   He is a person who has held office as a judge of a Superior Court of Judicature, whether in Sierra Leone or in any country having a system of law analogous to that of Sierra Leone.

Section 5. (1) The Ombudsman shall hold office for a term of four years and shall be eligible for appointment to one more term of four years.

(2)  The Ombudsman may resign his office  by written notice to the President and may be removed from office but only for inability to perform the functions of his office, whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or for stated misconduct………..

Section 6 (1) The Ombudsman shall be entitled to such salary, allowances, gratuity and pensions as  may be determined by parliament and such entitlements  shall not be varied to his disadvantage.

(2)   The Ombudsman shall also be entitled to such privileges, right in respect of leave of absence and other terms and conditions of office as may be stated in his letter of appointment.

These provisions of law are clear and unambiguous and for a retired judge of the Court of Appeal and former speaker of parliament he should not have any difficulty in reading and understanding these provisions of law. It is therefore of some surprise that Justice Cowan is still in Office as Ombudsman, collecting tax payers monies as salaries and allowances when his term of office ended in 2012. In March 2008, following his appointment by the President, Justice Cowan appeared in Parliament for approval and was approved by Parliament in March 2008 and took up office for a term of FOUR YEARS. The term of four years ended in April 2012. Rather than seek a new mandate from Parliament, Justice Cowan has continued in office whilst probably ignoring the provisions of the law he swore to uphold as a judge. He recently signed a Performance Contract at State House, which is not a Constitutional requirement, but an administrative style of governance introduced by the Ernest Koroma Government. When Judges get appointed from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, they have to go back to Parliament to seek fresh approval, despite having sat as a judge in the court below. What is unclear is whether Justice Cowan forgot his term had expired or whether his refusal to step down or seek a new mandate from the current Parliament is probably not necessary.

These events came at a time when Justice Cowan was presenting the 2008-2009 annual report to the President and was admonished by the President to “change people’s perceptions about the office of the Ombudsman”. Such behaviour of the Ombudsman cannot change perceptions about the office as required by the President. Justice Cowan told the President that he had a- five -year plan which included five objectives, namely, awareness raising, accessibility, capacity building, resource mobilization and networking with institutions with similar objectives. According to Justice Cowan, his office received 73 complaints in 2008, 203 in 2009 and, outside of the report, 114 complaints have been recorded in the first five months of 2010, while stating that most of the complaints, covering a wide range of areas, are mostly coming from ordinary people. Apart from recording complaints, he failed to tell the president how successful his investigations have been in to all of these complaints. There has been no success stories from satisfied customer as a result of investigations carried out by his office neither does his annual report show how successful the office has been in resolving complaints. It is not known why the office of the Ombudsman was not audited in the last audit report, which is a serious issue for the ACC to investigate. The ACC Act makes provisions for offences of corrupt acquisition of wealth ie acquiring wealth one is not entitled to contrary to Section 26 of the Anti Corruption Act 2008 which provides: “26. (1) A public officer commits an offence of corrupt acquisition of wealth if it is found, that he is in control or possession of any resources or property or in receipt of the benefit of any advantage which he may reasonably be suspected of having acquired or received corruptly or in circumstances which amount to an offence under this Act.

The ACC can also investigate an offence of Misappropriation of public Funds contrary to Section 36 of the Act which reads: “36. (1) A person who misappropriates public revenue, public funds or property commits an offence.

(2) A person misappropriates public revenue, public funds or property if he willfully commits an act, whether by himself, with or through another person, by which a public body is deprived of any revenue, funds or other financial interest or property belonging or due to that public body”

The ACC may also investigate the Judge for Abuse of Office contrary to Section 43 of the ACC Act 2008 which reads: “43. A public officer who knowingly abuses his position in the performance or failure to perform an act, in contravention of any law, in the discharge of his functions or duties commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than Thirty Million Leones or to imprisonment for a term not less than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Justice Cowan is now the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee to review the 1991 constitution. The question in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans would undoubtedly be if this man cannot respect the very Constitution he swore to respect, how would be faithfully review the Constitution? Reader who are in doubt should read the book SIERRA LEONE: THE FIGHTER FROM DEATH ROW By Hilton Fyle and pay attention to these words of Justice Cowan, the trial judge in a treason trial where the lives of the accused were at stake, which was made to members of the public gallery: “Ladies and gentlemen please listen to me. I know you are upset at what has happened in this country and you are looking for justice. I would like to promise you that justice will be done in this court. Unfortunately, there are certain procedures that have to be followed and we must observe them. So I am appealing to you to be patient. The trial will not take too long but in the end you will get justice. So please be patient”

In addition to the position of Ombudsman and his recent appointment as Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee, it is also reported that he is the Judge Advocate for the Armed Forces Court-martial. The question now on the lips of many Sierra Leoneans is where is Justice Cowan getting all these money from? Is it from the Consolidated Fund?

Posted by on 9:28 pm. Filed under Breaking News, NEWS, OTHER NEWS, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login