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CORRUPTION-SIERRA LEONE: Anti Graft Now in the Hands of Civil Society

Mohamed Fofanah

FREETOWN, Sep 30 2009 (IPS) - The fight against corruption in Sierra Leone has taken on a new face. Government and civil society are now working together to stamp out rampant fraud.

The national anti-corruption agency, previously a toothless body with no power only recently bolstered by amendments in the law, has now invited civil society to play a significant role in ridding corruption in the country.

According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index Sierra Leone is still among the 70 countries in the world that are considered to have rampant corruption.

Civil society members, recently trained by the national Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), have been asked to monitor government institutions to make sure they are trying to be corrupt-free.

The ACC has been tackling fraud through a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS). The strategy means that the ACC works hand in hand with government institutions to identify corruption hotspots in their organisations and to also find various solutions to this. The documentation drawn up as a result of this process has been given to civil society so they can monitor government institutions.

Ngolo Kata the head of a leading coalition of civil society groups said they have always wanted to play a role in the fight against corruption.

Ngolo explained the ACC has already trained various civil society members in the process of monitoring. "Members were nominated by their different organisations all over the country to form a core of monitors."

This team of monitors recently completed the first and second quarter of the monitoring process and is now compiling their reports.

"To regulate our work we have signed a code of ethics that controls the conduct of our members during the monitoring and among these rules maintaining a tight lip with the media is underlined," Ngolo said

Coordinator of the ACC project, Sholay Williams, explained that the monitoring reports will be put together at regional level and then presented to a steering committee that oversees the implementation of the NACS. "This core will make recommendations to government on what action to take against defaulting institutions," Sholay told IPS

According to the new ACC Act defaulters will be fined up to five million Leones, (about 1,4 million dollars) fired from their jobs irrespective of the provisions in their letters of appointment.

In the past, the ACC was been described as a "toothless bull dog". But under the new regime of President Ernest Koroma – who came to power on a ticket of zero tolerance – it has been recovering its teeth. Whent Koroma’s regime took power in 2007, it was quick to review the Anti Corruption Act of 1991 and strengthen it with a new one last year.

The new act gave the ACC the power to send cases directly to court, for the first time. Previously the ACC was required to send all their cases to the Attorney General for approval first. As a result many cases against top government officials perished on the table of the Attorney General who never prosecuted these matters.

The ACC had also lacked the capacity to thoroughly investigate cases. There was a lack of cooperation from civil society and the public in providing relevant information or tip-offs about corruption. This was because many mistrusted the commission’s ability to pursue corruption cases.

However, an invigorated ACC with new management and bolstered powers is anxious to effectively fight against corruption and redeem its battered image. The commission is gaining the confidence of the people.

"The introduction of the NACS is a national orchestration, the broadest plan a country can have in the fight against corruption" Sholay said.

And no one will be safe from the new anti corruption commission. Government ministers will also be placed under the spotlight. The Information Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said: "The President will also be looking at the reports closely and will be assessing the performance of Ministers based upon these reports."

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