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Page added on October 18, 2009

ACC’s Tejan Cole; ‘Lonely And Isolated’ but making strides

In an interview with New Africa’s [No.488] Omar Ben Yedder, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia was blunt in stating that ‘corruption still remains a problem’ in her country and that it is ‘entrenched, systemic. It has almost become part of the culture following many years of degradation and deprivation when people had to survive by their wits…’ Serious problem!! Not only for Liberia but for the whole of Africa. Corruption destroys the potentials of a country to progress.

Many wars in Africa stemmed from the fact that there had been mismanagement of state resources to the annoyance of a majority of people, who are often and again left with no alternative but to see an uncivilized way of putting their concerns across; a case in point being the civil war that erupted in Sierra Leone in 1991 which Foday Sankoh attributed to bad governance, corruption and a host of other factors.  Corruption, in fact largely accounted for Sierra Leone’s civil war and so in trying to address that anomaly in society, a Commission was established in 2000 named the Anti Corruption Commission.

The mandate of the Commission includes but not limited to; taking all steps as may be necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption and corrupt practices, to investigate instances of alleged or suspected corruption referred to it by any person or authority or which has come to its attention, whether by complaint or otherwise…

What has been happening?

With a vision to ‘leading the fight against corruption through public education, prevention and enforcement and compliance for the benefit of all citizens’, the Commission has had three Commissioners, including Val Collier who was the Commission’s first Commissioner, Professor Joko Smart and the current Commissioner, Abdul Tejan Cole. Of all these three Commissioners, Abdul Tejan Cole is the youngest and this is where President Koroma has also gained accolades for appointing young Sierra Leoneans into positions of trust. A lawyer by profession, Tejan Cole had his beginning also in the civil society world. 

Prior to the appointment of Tejan Cole by President Koroma, the ACC never had prosecutorial powers. But the current ACC Act 2008 has outstanding features like, being the first time for it to be given legal personality as it can now sue and be sued in its own name.  Also, the role of the Advisory Committee has been revised and now called an Advisory Board, with a broader mandate. Also the ACC Act 2008 grants prosecutorial powers to the ACC as it was made possible by amending Section 64(3) of the 1991 multiparty Constitution which removes power to prosecute offence in court from the office of the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecution.

 

ACC’s Tejan Cole; ‘Lonely And Isolated’ but making strides

ACC’s Tejan Cole; ‘Lonely and isolated’ but making strides

 

Again, the 2008 ACC Act has increased corrupt offence from 9 to 29; it also makes provision for whistleblowers as opposed to the first Act which never made provision for that. Above all, the 2008 Act makes provision for public officers and their spouse and children to declare their assets and liabilities. It also makes provision for international cooperation in the fight against corruption and punishment for corrupt practice has been increased. So there are indeed key provisions in the new Act which are indicative of the fact that there is the political will; to combat corruption.

But that is not all; I needed answers to many questions; so I approached Tejan Cole in his office, after days of fixing appointments, to, among other reasons, know what has been happening at the Commission since he took over the leadership of that Commission almost two years ago.

He spoke of the three prong approach to the fight against corruption; prevention, education and investigation and said, he puts emphasis on all three of them, ‘as opposed to just one, which is investigation’.  A lot of Sierra Leoneans  most often than not, tend to focus on investigation but Tejan Cole thinks, attention should also be given to the other approaches like education and prevention.  He spoke of how he has strengthened the education and prevention aspect in the fight against corruption as ‘these approaches have proved successful in a country like Singapore…’

Indeed, the aspect of public education is relevant not only to the fight against corruption but also to the success of a given institution. There is no way an institution could succeed when it fails to educate people on its activities and challenges ahead.

In trying to change the perception of people, Tejan Cole stated that they have changed the focus of the Commission. ‘Many people thought, it is only the ACC that can curb corruption, but we (ACC)can’t do it alone… all Sierra Leoneans should come on board… we are only providing the lead…’  He also spoke of how they have restructured the ACC to meet the challenges of the time. In all of this, Cole would move from one end of his office to another, providing me with documentary evidences of what he was saying and I was left with a good impression of him that he must be a good lawyer.

Prior to the coming of Tejan Cole as Commissioner of the ACC, it was a widely held view among Sierra Leoneans that the ACC was a white elephant concept, and an institution that was not serving the purposes for which it was created in the first place. And changing that perception still remains a major challenge for the Tejan Cole’s led administration. He thinks, they have been making progress though ‘We have investigated 43 cases and 15 of those were investigated under my leadership… We have recovered over three billion Leones on behalf of government…’ He believes in less than two years, he has achieved more than one-third of what the Commission has done in its lifespan. 

Dressed in typical European dress, Tejan Cole highlighted how they have ensured even schools are being involved in the campaign against corruption. ‘We have about 27 integrity clubs all over in  secondary schools… we are working with the education ministry to see how they could  include in the school curriculum studies on ACC, Human Right etc.

Corruption during Collier, Joko’s era, as compared to Tejan Cole’s

For most times when Val Collier and Joko Smart were heading the ACC, people would shout on mountain tops that there was nothing being done to seriously tackle corruption in the country. And so even when Val Collier was about to go on the offensive literally, he was ‘fought’ seriously by people from within the political circle. He attempted to ‘expose’ the way some of our MPs were involved in shady deals, in giving out contracts; that was the beginning of his downfall. He was then chased, not physically but legally out of the ACC. He himself, I want to believe made some successes in pursuing the fight against corruption; he was the fist person to conduct a perception survey on corruption, and this is also a challenge for the current ACC Commissioner Tejan Cole. However, I am of the view that Val Collier did not go the way some of us had wanted him to go. 

The less we refer to Joko Smart, the better. In my opinion, nothing virtually happened that was to capture my attention when the ACC was under Joko Smart. He had all the chances to score marks but, in my opinion, he woefully failed. Joko was no success, this is my view anyway.

Unlike that of my view, Tejan Cole thinks both Collier and Smart did tremendous job at the ACC. ‘Without the foundation which had been laid by them, there would have been no progress at the ACC…’, so thinks Tejan Cole, when I questioned him to assess the fight against corruption under the leadership of all the Commissioners of the ACC.

Tejan Cole also believes that there is the need ‘to do another perception survey but most importantly, we need a survey on how much revenue government is losing out of corruption…we need statistical evidence to quantify the lose of revenue …’ I wholeheartedly would agree with him on this; we realize that government is losing billions of Leones out of corruption but until there is enough statistical evidence, we shall never have strong grounds to argue on this.

No big fish yet

‘The ACC net, notwithstanding its successes in recent times, has not got a big fish…’ I told him; ‘No’, he said, but asked, ‘what is the definition of a big fish?’  ‘All those prosecuted under my regime are big fishes…Take the case of Ibrahim Khalilu Manneh who was Director for Salpost in Bo, the case of the former Ombudsman… take the case of the former Director of SLBS, these are all big fishes’, he believes.  Ibrahim Khalilu Manneh was charged with the offence of misappropriation of public funds contrary to law; he was convicted on all 26 counts, and fined 27 million Leones or face a 5 years imprisonment.

The former Director of SLBS, Kashope Wellington was also charged to court for misappropriating public funds contrary to the ACC Act 2008, he was fined  million of  Leones or go to prison for five years. The former Ombudsman was also charged to court for misappropriation of public funds and also on 168 counts. He was found guilty and fined over 49,000,000. The list of big fishes is long.

But Tejan Cole does not think that attention should only be paid to the issue of catching big fishes.  ‘It is not because we don’t want to catch big fishes, but catching a big fish is not as easy as catching a small one…the big fishes are smarter and cleaver …so we need to build the capacity of our investigators and there is the need for sophisticated equipment…’  And usual, with the help of the donor community, especially in this case, the USA, some investigators within the ACC shall be going to the Federal Bureau of Intelligence for training. ‘I am not obsessed about catching big fishes’, he said. The ACC has also being monitoring the local councils and Tejan Cole is worried about the decentralization of corruption. The ACC shall come out with a report on Internal Affairs Ministry.

In a ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’ job

It was obvious I was going to ask him whether he is enjoying his job as Commissioner of the ACC. Now a friend is of the view that when one heads the ACC, one is bound to get enemies in the process of performing his duty. Take for instance the case of Francis Gabbidon; he lectured Tejan Cole when he (Cole) was reading law; he was also his colleague at the Bench. So it would appear difficult for Cole to prosecute his former Lecturer on corruption related offence; but he did that successfully.

Tejan Cole said ‘it wasn’t something we did with pleasure…I hoped I was not in that position and I hoped he (Gabbidon) had not put us in that position…’ but that one has to put personal feelings aside in the job.

‘This is a job that is difficult to enjoy…’ he said ‘It has its challenges… it is a lonely and isolated job. I enjoy the education side of it and even the prevention aspect but nobody enjoys the prosecution side…’ Indeed, nobody enjoys the prosecution aspect, especially knowing the consequences, but let those who are corrupting the society change the way they do things so that Tejan Cole could enjoy his job and for him not to be ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’ any longer. That said, Tejan Cole is, in my view a success story.

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