By: Winstanley. R. Bankole Johnson
Since his appointment by President Bio as the substantive Anti-Corruption Commissioner in 2018, a thin but clearly discernible divide has emerged between those who believe in Francs Ben Kaifala as a man on his own – as in to think and act independently of political influences – or as in the case of precious metals he is (and can be) malleable. That growing divide has been engendered (and sustained) by what many have come to perceive as Francis Ban Kaifala’s seemingly selective modus operandi or methodology in the conduct and prosecutions by the ACC between matters impacting the memberships of the ruling SLPP as against those directly impacting opposition political parties memberships, especially so when they involve members of the main opposition APC party.
As a matter of fact, it was that same perception that I daresay prompted one-time American Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria Brewer (Oct 5th, 2017 to 22nd Feb 2021) to have urged Francis Ben Kelfallah to: “….also start looking inwards amongst sitting SLPP government functionaries instead of just focusing on the guys on the other side……”.
The inference there was that her pampering of this government notwithstanding, she had (like a good many of us) noticed that the ACC’s means of investigative techniques against particularly APC opposition elements were looking more painstakingly vigorous, merciless and unnecessarily protracted, sometimes even involving long incarcerations within police custody (C.I.D) or Pademba Road Prisons walls, either under sustained abuses or outright refusal of access to bail conditions.
In an instance narrated to me by one victim, direct instructions were allegedly given by the ACC Czar himself to C.I.D authorities “…..not even to allow him access to baths in between Court appearances”. Again according to that particular victim, that instruction to the CID was rigidly followed until threats of political reprisals against the SLPP by a high-powered delegation comprising his Fulani tribespeople to the Hon. Vice President forced the CID authorities to recant.
My own suspicions that the ACC Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala could be malleable or possibly be on a leash of sorts were triggered from the very moment he sought (and obtained) additional prosecutorial powers, including that of revisiting convictions (or acquittals) and resuming prosecutions afresh which, if in his discretion the ACC feels dissatisfied with. My initial fear then was that by such extensive powers on the ACC, Sierra Leone could easily lapse into the brink of a “Gestapo State.”
Four years on and counting, those views haven’t changed and have even been sustained by empirical evidence as under:
- When the ACC Commissioner acted ultra-vires the law and frog-marched Teachers who were supposed to have been presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent Court of Law – in broad daylight to the Cotton Tree – for allegedly being involved in examinations malpractices. The Commissioner remained stoically obdurate throughout, and it was President Bio who personally apologized on his behalf. That apology spoke to two things: (a). The ACC is working directly with the Executive and (b). The premature death of that case, of which nothing has been heard about since.
- Newspaper information on the President’s disgust over massive thefts of the SL New York Embassy Chancery Renovation Funds attributable to the ACC Commissioner also speaks to the fact that as an institution that is supposed to be independent of the Executive, the ACC Commissioner was, in fact, sharing daily updates with the Executive. A puzzling gap in this New York Chancery building saga to dispute any insinuations to the contrary is that none of those alleged to have recommenced refunding funds allegedly diverted/converted from the Chinese donations into personal accounts is among the indictees in the ongoing court proceedings.
- The ACC Commissioner’s exoneration of the Office of the present First Lady, Mrs. Fatima Bio, from allegations of malfeasances by the Africanist Press was based more on his whim (that is to say, his opinions, using the occurrences in the Office of former First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma as antecedents), than on jurisprudence. Observers concluded, therefore, that the ACC Commissioner craftily and deliberately shielded the present First Lady away from rigorous cross-examinations in open Court (from which she enjoys no legal or constitutional immunity). Thus, the nation was not only shortchanged, but a sad cumulative detriment to this country is that an opportunity to have checkmated unauthorized fiscal excesses within appendages to the Executive, if any, was lost for good.
A precedent not based on jurisprudence was thus set that could open the Offices of future First Ladies to unbridled fiscal latitude, which office though not on annual budgetary appropriation, can still continue to be accessing from our Consolidated Single-Treasury Revenue Fund balances with the Central Bank. No Civil Society has challenged the ACC on that decision to date because, of late, they are all each other’ keepers, not so? (“Bu N’de: Bu N’de Mia Hiyei??””
- Then there is that over fifty thousand (50,000) bags of missing Chinese Rice Donation saga – a wholesomely SLPP affair from “Pape!” to “Paye-Aye-Aaaape!!!” That is to say, from start to finish, everything about that alleged theft happened by and/or under SLPP – the Consignment, the victims, the accused persons and or suspects, the evidence and witnesses – and of course, the Courts. The ACC perfunctorily charged the matter to Court but more dutifully and selectively withdrew the same, purportedly so that they could re-strategize, reconsider, reconnoiter and re-launch their prosecutions with much aggravating legal intensity, but for which we in the opposition have been anxiously waiting since. That, despite the fact that everyone deemed to have been connected to that Chinese Rice saga, has long resumed their posts.
- There is also this massive fraud eclipse in another totally SLPP environment to wit: The Year 2020 Auditor General’s Reports that many believed warranted the unconstitutional exit of both the substantive Auditor General and Deputy from their posts for the very first time in the post-independent history of West Africa. Francis Ben Kaifala was peeved, but instead of the ACC springing to action, the Commissioner publicly lamented the incapacity and under-resourcefulness of the institution to robustly address the over 1,200 evidence of clearly documented malfeasances within MDAs. In my humble view and by their track record, such an excuse would have been untenable had the evidence included a speck of reference to a single member of the main opposition APC party.
There is no Constitutional pre-requisite for Parliament to defer addressing critical issues in the Auditor General’s Reports until after scrutiny by the ACC, neither is the reverse a requirement – (Ref; Sec 119 (5), but against a backdrop of sustained Cash Losses now aggregated at over Le150 billion annually, Audit Reports dating back to 2019 have remained unaddressed by the Public Accounts Committee. Yet the ACC will want me to believe their fight against corruption is neither selective nor is it that, as an institution, they are leashed or malleable.
From allegations of massive corruption unearthed at various other MDAs – principally the SL Maritime Administration – and /or by the consistency of allegations against holders of fake university degrees and certificates unearthed by Dr. John Idriss Lahai, very little interest would appear to be manifested by the ACC in their prosecutions, probably because the bulk of the offenders belong in-house. Recent reports on piecemeal conclusions of investigations by the ACC into allegations of Fake Degrees would seem to suggest that the government’s concerns for quality education notwithstanding, insofar as the holders are not using those certificates to secure employment advantages, then no offense is committed.
So, from the perspectives of the “Africanist Press,” the Francis Ben Kaifala’s approach to fighting corruption would seem to have been turned into a political tool to muzzle the opposition into permanent or subdued silence. And it is looking like a sad reality unless the ACC Commissioner works harder at diffusing those perceptions to convince a majority of us that he is neither malleable, nor is the institution on a leash of sorts, nor is he on duty as a “Check Point Officer” to be frustrating the opposition.
And that overdue clarification will be in the best interest of this country.