- Sierra Leone courts have treated their first major corruption case, ending in the conviction of two superior officers of the Ministry of Defence. President Ernest Bai Koroma is now acting tougher action against corruption.
Sierra Leone remains the second-poorest country in the world. And yet, large parts of scarce public funds are lost to corruption, any Sierra Leonean will tell you. Corrupt officials are seen by the public as one of the main obstacles for quick economic recovery in the country.
Therefore, the first major corruption case treated in a Freetown court was seen as a key test on whether the anti-corruption policies announced by the President and the judiciary would yield results. It was also a test case for the 2008 Anti-Corruption Act.
The two accused were no nobodies. They included the Director of Procurement at the Ministry of Defence; and a major in the Armed Forces. Both had wide access to government accounts in terms of procurement of military equipment. They were jointly charged with abuse of office; abuse of position; and using office for advantage.
The accused were said to have abused their office and position by "seeking to influence the successful bidder into purchasing the required supply" from them.
Judge Mary Sey, presiding the High Court of Sierra Leone, convicted the two officials on all counts. The two were fined a total of 90 million leones (euro 17,000) and sentenced to a three-year term of imprisonment.
In her judgment, Judge Sey said the accused knew what they were doing as it was "clear from the video evidence tendered and played before the court." She further stated that the prosecution had proven its case "beyond all reasonable doubt."
After this victory in the fight against corruption, yet another and more prominent case is to appear before the courts. On 4 November 2009, the Minister of Health was relieved of his duties and charged with offences under the Anti-Corruption Act, including failure to comply with regulations concerning the issuance of contracts and abuse of office.
Further cases are being rolled up. In December, President Koroma directed that the Head of the National Revenue Authority be suspended from office pending investigations by a newly shaped Anti-Corruption Commission into the misappropriation of donor funds, the corrupt acquisition of wealth and related offences.
The many emerging corruption cases caused President Koroma to call an emergency cabinet meeting on 26 January. During the meeting, the Sierra Leonean cited several instances of corrupt practices in a number of government entities and unequivocally demanded that immediate steps be taken to prevent their recurrence.
The strong efforts to fight corruption in Sierra Leone, although coming late, are being welcomed by the population, but also by the country's many international donors. The UN and Ireland already have granted increased funds to help authorities fighting embezzlement and corruption.
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