To date, there have been very few public or civil society institutions monitoring the activities and efficiency of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in Sierra Leone. In any democratic state the exercise of power critically hinges on questions of accountability. The challenge is how we make our systems functional to deliver the outcomes and results. If the ACC is prosecuting corrupt public officials as one of its key strategy in fighting corruption, then prosecuting corruption thus becomes a major input in building a democratic state. The quality of such input needs to be critically assessed. This will help ascertain whether the ACC and other public authorities such as judges, are working as a team and delivering on the expectations of Sierra Leoneans. The cumulative effect thus presents an outcome where both the ACC and the judiciary will stand as pillars of integrity in our fledgling democracy.
It is against this background that Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) and Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) instituted a corruption case monitoring process in May 2014 where ten (10) trained monitors followed all corruption cases in the high courts of Sierra Leone’s headquarter towns – Bo, Freetown, Kenema, and Makeni.
Quintessentially, the first sets of monitoring reports (May-July 2014) are released in the wake of Sierra Leone’s non-eligibility for compact assistance from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Despite major policy commitments from government in transparency, Freedom of Information and open governance practices, the control of corruption indicator cannot be passed twice in a row. Notwithstanding, the MCC still sees Sierra Leone as a major partner even as the country is in transition and there is room to institute major institutional reforms to rid the masses from the scourge of poverty. The country will be enlisted for the threshold grant but the political will and institutional capacity by lead agencies is needed to fight corruption.
It has come to the fore, that a number of opportunities are available for a cleaner and corrupt-free society. Development assistance is mainly focused on less corrupt countries that are ready to show the gains of real investment. In such circumstances corruption is no longer fashionable; it’s not just a question of morality but a development question. Corruption stifles development outcomes and the fight against corruption must not be cosmetic but effective enough to bring about the desired change. Countries therefore need to work within the good governance framework. The two sets of reports being released reveal that the ACC has been proactive in prosecuting a wide range of actors, including government ministries, local councils, school authorities, civil society, business-men, and traffic wardens. Some of these cases involve high profile individuals or situations. One can safely ascertain that the presence of the ACC continues to serve as a check on corruption practices in Sierra Leone.
On the other hand the two sets of reports however reveal a need for systems improvement and those institutions charged with reversing the culture of corruption in the public sector must take the lead. Such issues as the absence of ACC prosecutors from hearings were mostly observed in proceedings in the high court in Kenema accounting for 70% of adjournments in the period under review. Also concerning is the fact that certain high profiled cases currently prosecuted by the ACC has been going on for a considerable length of time, a case in point is the one involving the chairman of the 50th Independence Anniversary Committee i.e. the State V. Dr. William Conteh and Others. The case was adjourned six times in the June – July 2014 monitoring period and as of July 2014, the case has been adjourned 70 times. The monitoring process also revealed potential disparities in the manner in which the court dealt with the issue of bail administration; whilst certain accused persons were denied bail, others were granted bail.
Concluding cases also stands as a major challenge, in Bo and Makeni a number of matters that were field two or three years ago are yet to be concluded.
The monitoring has also revealed serious structural and administrative issues. The courts are not only logistically handicapped but the only records of trial are judges having to make handwritten notes and compiling the transcript in longhand.
The ACC in validating the report highlighted deeper concerns into the problem: regarding the cost involved in sending prosecutors from Freetown to the provinces only for judges to have asked for adjournment; and a restriction policy on prosecutors in the wake of the Ebola Viral Disease vis a vis going to the provinces for court hearings, thus accounting for their absence. The report failing to look at adjournment called by judges but blamed such adjournments mainly on prosecutors. A systemic failure of the justice system as ACC has finalized a number of cases which have not been concluded by judges, among others. The validation therefore brought to the fore the need for a deeper analysis of the problem and examining the challenges outside the court room and beyond the review of court records and files.
Corruption case monitoring has played an invaluable role in bringing a number of issues to the forefront, encouraging debate and action. CGG and CARL as non-state actors can only do as much as raising the issues. The function of the state is to deliver the goods (results). The pillars of integrity in the state in this case the ACC and the courts need to form a stronger partnership and work towards more effective prosecutions in a bid to fight the cankerworm and stigma of corruption.