Dec 20, 2014

Sierra Leone Parliament Accused of Corruption

Sierra Leone ParliamentThe Sierra Leone Parliament has been accused of massive corruption. The accusation was levied by Joseph Kaifala, Mayor of Kenema City, in a radio interview on the popular FM98.1 Radio Democracy Good Morning Show on Tuesday Dec. 16. The Sierra Leone Parliament is the authorizing body for government funds allocated to districts, cities and towns all across the country, The various budgets for 2015 have been prepared by the various local authorities and subventions from government are currently being approved by Parliament under the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Finance Committee. Almost all budgets and subventions have been approved with the exception, mysteriously, of Kenema. When FM98.1 Radio asked Mr. Kaifala the reason for this he shocked a national audience by revealing that Parliament had refused to approve the budget because Kenema had been unable to pay a bribe of twenty million leones (Le20,000,000.00). Not only that, he added that this was common practice within Parliament and that councils throughout Sierra Leone were similarly required to pay bribes in order for their budgets to be approved. (Later testimony in Parliament revealed that the President of the Local Councils Association, Mr Munir Fofanah of Port Loko District negotiated the payment of these brbes with Parliament) An undercurrent to Mr. Kaifala's interview is that Kenema is a stronghold of the opposition SLPP, at daggers drawn with the ruling APC. In a tone of frustration and despair, perhaps not far from tears, the Mayor called for a change in the country as he referred to Parliamentarians who had previously gone on air to cast aspersions against the Kenema City Council. (The Chairman, Parliamentary Finance Committee, Hon. Hassan Sherriff,  had previously gone on air to accuse the Kenema City Council of not providing the necessary documents in order for their appropriation to be approved.) The Mayor went on to say that he had told his officials to pay the money if they could raise it, but Kenema simply did not have the money because they had been under an Ebola quarantine for the last seven months.

That the highest law-making body in Sierra Leone could be brazenly involved in bribery and corruption is indeed an earth-shaking revelation to many Sierra Leoneans. Over many years, there have been strenuous efforts to stamp out corruption, supported by massive amounts of funds from the British, through DFID. The Anti-Corruption Commission was set up some fifteen years ago at the instigation of the donor community, and it is still today heavily funded by Britain. President Koroma himself has invested a large amount of time and energy in the fight against corruption, and he has claimed to be winning the struggle. Just recently however Sierra Leone was removed from the list of countries eligible for US government Millenium Challenge funding principally because the country could not pass the control of corruption indicator. To now hear this most recent allegation that the Sierra Leone Parliament is itself involved in this kind of behaviour must have come as a further bitter blow to many Sierra Leoneans. What is the man in the street to make of it all? What are the Police, the judiciary, the taxi drivers, the doctors and nurses, the teachers, what are they to make of it all if it is confirmed that their political masters are asking for bribes? What of the international community, what are they to make of it? It makes a laughing stock of all their efforts to straighten out this country.

Doubtless, there will be those close to power who will now attempt to discredit Mr Kaifala and cast him as the villain in this piece. This has been Standard Operating Procedure in the often perverted value system of Sierra Leone. We at natinpasadvantage have no reason to doubt the truth of his statements. We can see no reason why he would fabricate such a story at great personal risk, and we salute his courage and pray that he and Kenema City Council remain steadfast in their principles. We in fact have heard other similar stories of Parliamentary corruption from highly credible sources relating to approval of budgets even of Ministries, Department and Agencies, but none was prepared to go public with the allegations. It is hard to imagine a government bribing itself, but this is what it amounts to when a government ministry pays off Parliament in order to get its budget approved. A government ministry, Finance, in turn prepares the national budget that includes Parliament's allocation. We wonder what happens there!

Officials from Kenema Town Council were summoned to Parliament on Thursday Dec. 18, in the wake of Mr. Kaifala's interview, and Parliament decided to refer the matter to the Anti-Corruption Commission. We pray that a fair and thorough investigation will be conducted.

Download audio excerpts from Mr Kaifala's  interview here