This piece will address how the POLITICAL WILL provided by the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency President Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio, empowers and strengthens anti-graft fighters with the needed capacity and enabling environment to succeed in the fight against corruption.

Clearly, also it will provide concrete evidence on how the Government of Sierra Leone in this five (5) years period has succeeded in providing the needed POLITICAL WILL to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which accounts for the seriousness Sierra Leone has been perceived in regard fighting corruption, by the many positive International and Local recognitions so far.

What then is POLITICAL WILL?

Derick W. Brinkerhoff, Senior Fellow in International Public Management at Research Triangle Institute (R.T.I) International has defined political will to mean, “the commitment of actors to undertake actions to achieve a set of objectives – in this instance, reduce corruption – and to sustain the costs of those actions over time.” That commitment provided, must be interpreted or better still assessed by actions and policy formulation taken by State actors with the inclusive nature of all key players in the State in achieving those set goals stripped of all political emotions.

The Author’s conclusion will establish that in the last five years of the Presidency of H.E Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio, corruption was well fought?

Why Political Will and how is it provided?

The clarity of the powers of the President of Sierra Leone as provided for by Section 40 and 53 respectively of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 provides an answer to the question under review – why political will? It proves that, as the one person provided for by Section 3 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as amended in 2019), he appoints both the Commissioner and his Deputy. That equally means, he has the sole authority to relieving them both of their duties where he finds them standing in his way in their quest of protecting the resources of the State against him or anyone.

Political will, therefore is important to anti-corruption fighters with the confidence that, in their quest to protecting public resources, they will enjoy the support of the President who happens also to appoint the very public officers that the anti-graft warriors go after.

Since he was elected President in 2018, the ACC has investigated and indicted more officials of the Bio Regime than members of the opposition by a Commissioner appointed by a sitting President. While this may present itself surprisingly, the truth is that political will refuses to interfere in matters like this to prevent the investigation and indictment of current Government officials in a bid to maintain a good face amidst the Opposition’s opposition.

Therefore by the conduct of the Presidency in refraining from and hence granting ACC the free will to investigate and where necessary indict public officials appointed by him for corruption allegations, means that, he has provided that political will needed by the Commission to do its work outside the “direction and control of any person or authority” as provided for by Section 9 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as amended).

Aside from interfering with the fight against corruption, providing the enabling environment also is key. This is the inclusion of individuals and institutions like whistleblowers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to contribute towards the fight against corruption through critical opinions and further monitoring the approach of the ACC towards the excesses of the State.

In fighting corruption, the Presidency must ensure that actors around the fight are equipped with the resources needed to gauge for example government spending, budget allocation, loans and grant to the State and the purposes for those resources. This transparency creates an environment of convenience and trust in government operations.

In the absence of transparency, Government’s actions cannot be verified. This will constrain the relationship between the government and those around the fight against corruption.

To this end, it would surprise many that this government under President Bio has for the first time established the National Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate, a government entity solely founded to foster accountability and transparency.

During the 2022 International Anti-Corruption Day at Catco Hall, Freetown, His Excellency, the Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh informed his audience, that “we have undertaken several reforms and I am going to list some of them. One, as a government, we have established a Stand-alone-entity called the National Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate. That is a new Directorate that is essentially geared towards ensuring that all government sector projects are monitored with responsibility and deliver on what is expected of them. Through that Directorate, we have been able to monitor projects from the inception stage. Me and the President can now sit down in our offices and know where those projects are at, what is left and whether it has been completed. Most Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have adopted what we call the “Integrity Standard”. That is, they are working with the ACC closely to ensure that the ACC follows on what they do”

This level of transparency in the use of public resources can only be where the Presidency is willing and ready to provide the needed leadership in the protection of public resources. This is what is known as the POLITICAL WILL.

The Bio Regime and the fight against corruption Sierra Leone is among the 180 countries annually audited and reported on by Transparency International (TI). This audit is done through generating data from credible partner institutions that serve as sources for such data provided. For Sierra Leone, TI is provided with data on Sierra Leone’s corruption management by several institutions such as the African Development Bank Governance Ratings, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risking Ratings, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, Political Risk Services International Country Risk Guide, Varieties of Democracy Project, World Bank-Country Policy Institutional Assessment, World Economics Forum and World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.

Since 2018 contrary to 2017, Sierra Leone has made considerable improvement in addressing corruption and promoting transparency and mainstreaming integrity within the public space. In 2017 before Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. took up the reigns of authority at the ACC, Sierra Leone miserably was ranked 130 of 180 countries, dropping seven (7) places downwards. In 2018, Sierra Leone made effort by moving one place upward by being ranked 129 out of 180 countries. The country further made considerable improvement in 2019 by jumping 10 places upwards from 129 to 119, and it scored 33 points for the first time, putting it above the Sub Saharan average.

In 2020, it ranked 117 moving two places upwards. 2021 saw Sierra Leone hitting the highest margin ever since the TI rankings when it scored 34 and ranked 115 out of 180 countries. This placed Sierra Leone further two (2) places upward the Sub Saharan average showing how the country’s ant-graft war is improving. In the recent, the TI 2022 corruption control rankings puts Sierra Leone at 110 with the same score of 34 above the Sub Saharan average amidst the global economic meltdown posing enormous challenges to democracy.

On the recoveries so far made, within the first few months in office, Mr. Kaifala made recoveries in monetary terms of over Eight Billion, Five Hundred Million Leones (Le 8,500,000,000). This amount does not include what was paid to other MDAs like NRA, NASSIT, SALCAB, etc.

The ACC has also made it possible to recover funds for other entities as earlier mentioned. The Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA) for instance was able to recover millions of Leones from companies who were not paying their license fees for heavy-duty handling equipment and heavy earth moving equipment.

The ACC was also able to recover 47 laptops from NACOVERC, non-payment of Withholding Tax, and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Taxes that were not deducted for onward payment to NRA, etc.

From 28th June 2018, when Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. took over as Commissioner of the ACC, to date, the Commission has made a whooping recovery of over Thirty Eight Billion (Old) Leones (Le38,000,000,000), a sum unmatched by any other Commissioner before him

Notwithstanding this huge sum of money, the Commission has also been able to recover vehicles, gadgets and a hotel all of which were acquired by corrupt means.

In the very near future the newly constructed ‘Integrity House’ as it is called of the Anti-Corruption Commission Building at Tower Hill, Freetown will be officially opened by the President, H.E Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio. This further exemplifies his commitment to ensuring the needed environment to fight graft in Sierra Leone is provided.

It must be seriously noted as well that the expeditious nature of ACC matters being dealt with by the Judiciary of Sierra Leone is by no means any mistake but the political will to allow, by Constitutional Instrument No.4 of 2019, which created the Special Division of the Anti-Corruption Commission within the High Court of Sierra Leone. This development made the snail-paced nature with which the ACC matters used to be prosecuted in court to change dramatically, as special Judges are appointed to exclusively adjudicate Anti-Corruption cases.

These gains made so far in the fight against corruption cannot be overemphasized. Corruption has been made very expensive and unattractive, with the consequences outweighing its benefits.

It also means that these gains are being transformed into international recognitions for Sierra Leone as a country that is serious in the fight against corruption and this is evident in the steady increase in the MCC score card of the country within the five years of the Presidency of Dr. Julius Maada Bio.

The aforementioned evidence on international recognitions of Sierra Leone in the fight against corruption by the Indexes; the recoveries of public resources from corrupt public officials; the recruitment and promotion of women at the Commission to intermediate, senior and managerial positions, which aligns with his recently enacted Gender Empowerment Act 2023; the creation of a special division within the High Court of Sierra Leone and finally the movement of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Headquarter office from a rented apartments at Gloucester Street since 2000 to a newly constructed Integrity House befitting its course at Tower Hill, are the many gains made in the fight against corruption during the first five years of the administration of the Presidency of His Excellency Brig. (Rtd.) Dr. Julius Maada Bio.

While challenges could not be omitted from having formed part in the fight against corruption in the last five years under the Bio Regime, those challenges could best be ascribed to the divisive politics preventing all persons to come on board to support the fight against corruption across the country.

Nonetheless, the Commission has enjoyed partnerships with several individuals and institutions to ensure corruption is fought aggressively through sensitization, compliance and reporting.