Salone News

Sierra Leone Versus Abass Bundu

22 January 2006 at 19:09 | 675 views

Yet another article on one of Sierra Leone’s political mavericks, the inimitable Dr. Abass Bundu.The present writer, Kalilu’s take is a little different. The more the merrier.

By Kalilu Totangi, Maryland, USA.

Excerpts and accompanying materials of Dr. Abass Bundu’s press briefing held on Monday, December12,2005, in Freetown to, in his words, “set the record straight on a matter of great public importance” is as pulsating as it can get. “It is the matter of the Immigration Investment Program (IIP)” or what the Press dubs the “Passport Saga”, he declares at the outset of the press briefing; as though prophesying the dawning of the ‘new nation’. The next several pages of the transcript are ‘details’, and therein lies the ‘devil’. I have taken time to read between the lines of the ‘high grammar’ Dr. Bundu used to ‘spin’ the nation on this matter of “great public importance”.

He starts by owning up that he was “arraigned for larceny” in 1996. He goes on to narrate the infamy of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and what he recalls as the public’s demand for “vigorous action against corruption”. And this: “what ever opprobrium was reserved for them, it rubbed off on me too”. What he is saying in essence is that he it was only because he was a member of the NPRC that he was hauled before the court. He also claims that his participation in the 1996 election, as the Presidential flag bearer of the Peoples P. Party (PPP), if I might add, “raised my profile and made me stand out as a visible target”. He claims that “the case never actually went to trial...there was no guilty verdict, nor was I sentenced to pay a fine by any judge”. What he is saying in Krootown Road English is that “the case actually went to court but it didn’t arrive. In fact, the case was heard but the judge didn’t speak, so there was no verdict”. He claims that “the matter was settled extra-judicially by way of an agreement between the parties...I was required to pay immediately US$105,000, being one-half of the total monies I received from Mr. Frank Yui”. He said he had unsuccessfully tried to convince government at the time that the money in question was not government money, but one donated to his unsuccessful presidential bid by a Hong Kong business man whom he had installed as Consul-General while he was Foreign Affairs Minister. Daaa! my boy would say.

Now I am getting confused myself! To prove that Dr. Bundu did not ‘steal’ the money, he reads out a letter written to him by his ‘benefactor’ on March 29, 1995; the promissory note that proved insufficient as an “exonerating evidence” when faced with the allegations. Here is the bequeathal in the Will of Sir Frank Yui to his “faithful servant”, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Sierra Leone: “please be noted (sic) that I have a personal arrangement with you in US Dollars”. He said it was on this note that he spent the money. This is too complex to explain because it is a Will; and I am not a lawyer so I am not even going to try. He said “new and more convincing evidence was needed”. In other words, the kind of alibi he had was not going to stand up in his defense, so he decided to pay the money “under protest”.

Dr. Bundu then lurches into a litany of how he came to know the benefactor, how the Momoh government and Strasser after him had thought it wise to make Passports a major export commodity to boost the ‘war effort’, and how Passports are a major consumer item all over the world. He even invoked the ‘P’ word, as in patriotism: “there is no way I could have mounted a defense...without divulging information that was top secret”. Please hold your neighbor before you collapse. He goes on: “imaging also that the RUF became energized by that disclosure and decided to take Freetown by force...I opted to protect the state by protecting its secrets.” Oh tenki, tenki, Dr. Bundu, Maamu! Now we know why the RUF never reached Freetown. Thank you too for convincing Mr. Yui to be the nice we can boast of other “pawnable” minerals besides diamond and gold!

Now, this is getting dizzying! His kindness, the esteemed, reaffirmed that he reached an “out-of-court settlement”... as in pay the money back under the table. He said he now has the evidence that will prove what he could not in 1996, i.e., a Financial Statement from Mr. Yui showing that he over paid Sierra Leone and is therefore going to confiscate the rest of the Passports to sell and recover his money. Hurray! It is a plus balance sheet...ala ‘voodoo economics’. He says “when subsequently new evidence came to hand...I took immediate steps to bring it to the attention of the government”. He revealed that it was in a meeting between him, the sitting Vice-President and the Attorney-General that “the exonerative value of the new evidence was accepted”. How about this: “I have now taken my new evidence to the Vice-President and the Attorney-General, and they have agreed between them that my evidence can exonerate me”. In the same breath, he hungers to “record my deep appreciation to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Vice-President Solomon Berewa for agreeing to accept the new exonerative evidence”. I bet you heard that...are you not familiar with the jeliw tradition? What this also means, according to him, is that “it is open to me to claim from the Government a refund of the amount”. He claims it is his “legal rights”, but that he has been persuaded to let it go.

It is not unimportant that I have taken time to lay out in exotic details what the “exonerated” Dr. Bundu said to the Press for onward transmittal to the public. It is that I intend to traverse his legalistic minefield, careful not to explode in his charily woven post-exoneration defense. It is also an important recognition by Dr. Bundu in noting that this matter is of “great public importance”. It is especially so given the sensitive political environment into which both his press statements and his recent political pronouncements have been thrust. The least one can do in this kind of situation is rather not to cast aspersions, but to ask the hard questions and demand answers.

When in June, 1996, the Government of Sierra Leone announced the indictment of Dr. Abass Bundu under Section 17 of the Larceny Act (1916), it was amidst great luster. The then Attorney-General and his staff told anyone who could listen that they had “uncovered” a “fraudulent” enterprise involving Dr. Bundu and the sale of “Sierra Leone Passports and Sierra Leone citizenship to Hong Kong citizens for $15,000 a piece”. Subsequent press reports and government statements revealed the details of Dr. Bundu’s alleged crimes. In September, 1996, the government suddenly announced that a plea deal had been reached and that the culprit had “begged” for a lesser charge and agreed to pay up. It was later confirmed, and Dr. Bundu has not denied, that he actually paid half the said plea amount. The question that lends itself for answers is what charge or charges did Dr. Bundu plea? If charges were filed and a plea deal reached, would it not be appropriate for Dr. Bundu’s so-called “new exonerating evidence” to be tested in the courts of law where the matter was headed in the first place? Some may argue that this prerogative falls within the omnibus “prosecutorial discretion”. That may be good lawyering, but hardly good governance. It is important that the government come public with the facts of this matter, so that the mechanism of “exoneration” will be beyond reproach. And this can not be left to the magnanimity of any government, for obvious reasons.

It is a recipe for tyranny where issues of guilt and innocence are left to the whims of politicians in the midst of a frenzied political season. The question on my mind is what, if anything, has Dr. Bundu’s dramatic announcement of his joining the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), and his promise to “paint Gbinti green”, has to do with his exoneration? It is a legitimate question, given the recent history of our nation. In his statements to the press, Dr. Bundu invoked the brutality and mayhem that the RUF visited on our nation. What he didn’t mention is that the All Peoples Congress (APC) government that he had served for several years had sowed the seeds of discontent that gave off the bile-laden fruit that was fed to our people in those hellish years. Perhaps Dr. Bundu and his archetypes need a reminder that when Sierra Leoneans sacrificed lives and limbs to usher in a democratic system, they aspired to a nation where the ‘rule of law’ prevailed. To short-change that aspiration in any way is an affront to patriotism, and even the grandiose intellectual braggadocio that was staged at the press briefing cannot mask that. Why, for any reason, would Dr. Bundu settle for an extra-judicial process to clear his name if he really thought the “new exonerating evidence’ he presented to the Vice-President and the Attorney-General can undoubtedly clear his name? Does he really believe that the Vice-President and Attorney-General can better protect his interests and that of the nation than the courts?

Lest I come across as one who is single-minded in my approach to this issue, let me make this point. That the government which is supposed to have “exonerated” Dr. Bundu still maintains a sealed lip on this matter is the height of uncanny arrogance. What is more, why does Vice-President Solomon Berewa and the Attorney-General think they can appropriate unto themselves the powers to make guilt and innocence decisions without due recourse to the legal system and expect the public to say nothing? As a staunch member of the SLPP, I am concerned that attitudes like these can easily blur the line between the ‘kleptocratic’ tyranny of the APC and the democracy we sacrificed so much to achieve. It is “extra-judicial” arrangements like these that create the impression of influence peddling. Not to say or do anything to defend the public’s interest in this matter is the pinnacle of unpatriotism.

I call on government to reverse itself on this matter and allow Dr. Bundu to present his “new exonerating evidence” to the courts and let the courts decide. I also call on the mushrooming Civil Society organizations in the country and the press to put pressure on government to disclose the evidence to the public. I call on parliament to take its responsibilities seriously and defend the national interest in this and all other matters that demand scrutiny in the interest of good governance.

In closing, let me remind the political players in Sierra Leone that the democracy you now toy with was bought in sweat and blood. Let me also ring a bell that the nation demands much more from you and that this time around, we can not leave it to chance.

Photos:Dr.Abass Bundu, left, and Kalilu Totangi, right.