From the Editor’s Keyboard

What is Joko-Smart Doing at the Anti-Corruption Commission?

22 February 2006 at 08:03 | 1406 views

The editor is taking a break from his marathon article on the Sierra Leone justice system to give space to Denmark correspondent Stephen Lawrence. Lawrence has turned the spotlight this time on the Anti-Corruption Commission in Freetown and its new boss professor H.N. Joko-Smart. Here we go:

By Stephen Lawrence in Denmark

I was one person that was absolutely against the termination of the services of Val Collier as Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). This was not because I just loved the man, but because I saw how much efforts he put into that institution in order for Sierra Leone to be rid of corruption in the interest of all. Collier’s determination and devotion to duty was paralleled by none in terms of sacrifice. His zeal was undaunted, and therefore did not fear anyone in trying to achieve the goals for which the commission was set up. That was why he was hated by the powerful and indeed the corrupt. And he paid the price.

The reasons for Val’s sacking are clear to us all. Certainly the official reasons given were different from the reality. But even the official reasons were too cosmetic for anyone to believe them. He was prejudged and misconstrued, and then shown the exit door. But I would not want to dilate more on that because I definitely know that the grudge against Collier is such that no amount of rational thinking will change the views of his detractors. That was why, in the end, when I realized that there was no turning back for the powers-that-be, I expected that the man to replace Collier would be at least at par with the qualities that Collier demonstrated while in office - or even someone with better qualities.

Yet, it is no more a secret that even before Collier was given the sack letter the brother-in-law of the president had already been assured of his position. So Prof. H.N. Joko-Smart took the mantle of office. But it is not an issue of professors or academics; it is one of sincerity and patriotism. I know that Joko-Smart has been a lawyer of high-standing profile for many years, and I know that he has been a lecturer at the University of Sierra Leone for quite a while now. Still it is one thing to be an academician and quite another to be an administrator with set goals to accomplish; it is one thing to be a lawyer representing different interests and quite another to be a commissioner fighting against corruption. And three months after the professor’s assumption of office, there is still nothing done at the ACC. The fears of the sceptics seem to be coming to reality - that the president put his brother-in-law in that office to virtually kill and negate everything that was achieved by Val Collier.

One would be tempted to say that we should give time to the professor to prove himself, but in the fight against corruption there is need to be alert and vigilant and proactive. Just one day in a corrupt activity - talk less of three months - is enough to wreck a nation. If those who are entrusted with the task of checking corrupt activities sleep for three months, still trying to know what to do, then they are not fit to be where they are. Two basic principles guiding the work of the commission are ‘prevention and prosecution’.

When Collier was in office, both worked simultaneously, as the ACC not only prevented many corrupt activities but also prosecuted many highly-placed officials. Now, under the professor’s regime, nothing is happening. No prevention, no prosecution. Not only that, another concern is that even the old cases that need to be addressed, left behind by Val Collier, are not being examined and pursued. No wonder no one is talking about Salwaco or Justin Musa again. Are we reversing the clock? No wonder MIK Bayo is now parading the streets of Freetown as a saint after being involved in so much blatant corruption. Are we going back to the old days? But in Sierra Leone there are no old days or new days - all the days are the same: the same corruption, the same kleptocracy. Only the Val Colliers of this world thought they could introduce new days, and then got trampled on by the old days - and then realized that the days here are all the same.

It is a shame. And it is a greater shame for the international community, especially Britain, who outwardly profess to support the fight against corruption and yet are doing nothing in this regard to caution the government on the wrong steps being taken. My worst fear is that the international community is so obsessed with this idea of democracy that they even think that everything that the Kabbah government does is alright. Yet we all know that democracy is not merely the election of a civilian government; there are benchmarks to be achieved, there are principles to be followed. If these are not adhered to, then the democracy is tainted. This should be the concern of the international community. But that is not to be, if what we hear is true - that even some members of the self-same international community recommended the sacking of Val in order to offset the idea of improving the conditions of service for consultants.

Just recently Prof. Joko-Smart called a press conference to say that he still had not even met the staff at the ACC. Can you beat that? What has he been doing for the last three months? And he even only called the press conference because of a story in the African Champion newspaper questioning his credibility to act as Chairman of the ACC. As a kind of revenge strategy, the professor is now said to be embarking on a sacking spree: he suspects all the workers, and wants to get rid of them one by one. Is that how to operate an institution? We are looking for the professor’s fight against corruption, not his fight against members of the ACC.

As things stand at the moment, it seems the wheels of the ACC are grinding to a halt. What a shame! What a big, big shame for the professors and the powerful!

Photos: Val Collier, left(listening to Val with finger on chin is former Attorney General Eke Halloway). Right is prof. H.N.Joko-Smart.