October 2, 2022

Delay in the Investigation of the Office of First Lady is raising a big cloud of suspicion of collusion between Sierra Leone’s graft agency, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Office of the First Lady. It is clear that the investigation is being carried out in the dark as there is no constant communication between the ACC and the public.

The people of Sierra Leone expected a flow of information from the ACC to know the latest progress about the investigation. Investigation mounted by this press has shown that pleas have been made on behalf of the First Lady to get her freed from the claws of the law.

But, arguments within public domain hold that even if the First Lady is freed owing to the largesse of presidential power she enjoys, Money Laundering and Financing of terrorism laws would be invoked after her husband, President Maada Bio leaves office.

Following Africanist Press Publications few months back, Pressure fell on the ACC to go after the First Lady, Mrs Fatima Bio.

The publications accused Office of the First Lady to have siphoned off state funds. These funds the publications note came from the consolidated fund and the international community.

The amount, reports say, amount to over US$2M apart from other several amounts alleged to have been misappropriated. These funds which were meant to bolster the Hands Off Our Girls Campaign were allegedly illegally spent on the First Lady’s travels.

It was a clear case of corruption, but the ACC was jittery of going into action in the face of wide powers and influence of the First Lady. In most of the interviews to which Lady Fatima Bio responded, many Sierra Leoneans say, are indicative of corruption.

A civil servant who spoke to this press on condition of anonymity made specific reference to international media interviews conducted on the First Lady.

When asked about moneys donated by the international community, the First Lady answered in the affirmative. She however refused to answer to questions about documents in respect of procurement processes and activities she embarked on since the Hands Off Our Girls Campaign was launched.

The First Lady did not hesitate to refer media interviews to the Office of the President. She believes that her office is an extension of Office of the President. Her argument was supported by many who subscribe to the notion that the existence of Office of the First Lady is owed to the pleasure and comfort of His Excellency, the President.

Press Secretary, Keketoma Sandi did not respond to interviews about the alleged corruption in the Office of First Lady. He thought it better to refer the interviews to the Minister of Information, Mohamed Rado Swarray who also failed to respond to the interviews.

Many say, ACC was coerced into investigating Office of the First Lady owing to the urge by the international community.

The investigation had commenced for months, but result is yet to come out.  ACC has lost touch with the public since the investigation commenced. The usual press release which the ACC used to send out during investigations of high-profile personalities are not released when the First Lady is being investigated. Allegations made against the ACC indicate that the graft agency is carrying out a snail-pace investigation into the matter.

“We want to see quick result,” a local activist, Yusif Bangura told this press in an interview.

Bangura opined that the investigation would have been fast-tracked if it were an official of the former government. He cited the case of Haja Kallah Kamara which, he said, was speedily investigated, and results made known to the public.

Apart from quick investigations usually conducted into matters of corruption against past government officials, Bangura went on, the ACC would constantly engage the public on every step taken in the investigation. He also cited the case of the former Minister of Basic and Senior School Education, Alpha Timbo now Minister of Labour and Social Security. Bangura said Timbo’s case was speedily investigated and charged to court.

Comparatively, he said, Fatima’s corruption case has lingered too long without any information released to the public to know the status of the case.

Taking sides with Office of the First Lady was a move initiated by ACC on the day the publications came out. When the allegations were made, many had hoped that the ACC would institute an investigation into the allegations.

But, the expectations were counter-productive. Sierra Leoneans were taken aback when the ACC announced that it would first investigate the former First Lady, Sia Nyama Koroma.

ACC’s position on the investigation was a complete disaster prompting critical views and arguments. Most of the views and arguments advanced were not in favour of the ACC. A retired Police Officer who spent almost the rest of his service in the Criminal Investigation Department was highly opposed to the investigation.

He told this press that he had never seen and embarked on such investigation throughout his police career.

The ACC, he said, myopically leaped in the dark to begin the investigation with the former First Lady.

“The current First Lady should be first investigated in respect of allegations made against her. But, where during statement making, the current First Lady makes a water-tight allegation against the former First Lady, the ACC could invite her for statements,” he explained.

In his analysis, the former First Lady believes that the ACC has not shown any neutrality in the investigation. The officer cited judges Rules which, he said, were developed by the King’s Bench Division in the centuries. He said Rule-One of the nine rules empowered a police officer who is endeavouring the author of a crime is empowered to question anybody whether suspected or not from he thinks useful may be obtained.

But, such rule, he said, would only be applied to a situation in which locating the author of a crime is a hard nut to crack.

He however argued that the rule would not be completely applied to the investigation of the First Lady as  evidence against her is penetrating. As the ACC continues to drag its feet in the investigation, the matter is almost dying in the waters.

The move embarked on by the ACC is one that waters down a campaign considered as a government flagship project. The New Direction is known as a government of anti-corruption.

In the Pre-campaign and campaign periods, President Julius Maada Bio has always assured Sierra Leoneans and the international community that he would block leakages in his administration. The President also assured Sierra Leoneans that money derived from leakages would be used in the provision of essential services to the people of Sierra Leone.

The President believes that persistent leakages during the former administration were a blatant form of corruption that considerably weakened the state’s capacity to serve the people of Sierra Leone.

The Issue of leakages in the past administration was also captured by the current Commissioner-General, Dr Samuel Jibao who was a lecturer and researcher in one of the universities in South Africa.

Dr Jibao, in a research paper he presented at the Ministry of Finance in the presence of the former Deputy Anti-Corruption Commissioner almost six years back, accused the then government of 5% wastage of the country’s national budget.

He further alleged that the 5% is spent mainly on administrative activities especially purchase of stationery instead of spending on activities that bring tangible national development. Fighting corruption occupies a prominent place in the New Direction Government’s Manifesto, 2018.

But, the fight is turning into mere campaign rhetoric through compromise and favouritism.