To Account For All Properties… ACC To Hunt Public Officials

 

Updating the public on the activities of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in the past one year, the Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala, said, among strategies they will adopt to strengthen the fight against corruption, the ACC will undertake an analysis of the lifestyle of public officials with a view to determining if they own assets beyond their means.

Kaifala maintained that ACC remains committed and determined to take the fight against corruption to another level, exemplified in the amended ACC Act tabled before Parliament for approval which, he said, had gone through First and Second Readings and was at the Committee stage on the route to approval when Parliament went into recession. Because of this intermission, he said, the entire process has to begin again but will be faster this time.

In making the fight against corruption effective, ACC, he said, takes a three-prong approach that includes administrative steps to prevent occurrence, investigation and prosecution and asset recovery – all geared towards what he called squeezing the space for the occurrence of corruption.

He spoke of the collectivization of the fight against corruption, stating that although the Judiciary has done a lot towards upping its game in the fight against the menace, he noted, that the judiciary, except for the case of the three Ministry of Information officials that were recently sentenced to three years for corruption by Justice Miatta Samba, the judiciary in the 18 years that the ACC has been fighting corruption never handed down any custodial sentence on persons found wanting. He stated that the judiciary should not treat corruption cases just like other cases of misdemeanor before the courts.

The ACC boss further lamented that the courts still have not delivered verdicts on many corruption cases, some dating back to 8 years, citing the 50th Independence Anniversary case and that of the passports saga. However, Kaifala demurred to cast the blame wholly on the judiciary for such delays, citing the ACC, witnesses reluctant to come forward and delaying tactics employed by the defense as other causes of delays in judicial trial of corruption cases.

He however praised the current Chief Justice for being sympathetic to his plea for the judiciary to adopt a more robust posture towards the fight by imposing along with other sanctions, custodial sentences for corruption. Work on setting up a Special Court for corruption cases, he said, is ongoing with the Chief Justice already having assigned four judges to specifically handle corruption cases brought forward by ACC.

Stating that the courts are not the only way to deal with corruption, he declared that the public now has more confidence in the ability and willingness of ACC to deal with corruption, especially after the recovery of Le16 billion from corrupt officials who opted to repay what they had stolen than be dragged to court. “Bankruptcy is a punishment, worst than imprisonment,” he said, citing that in Singapore, “they do not send you to jail when found guilty of corruption but strip off all your assets.” He referred to that as “non-conviction based asset recovery.” He also cited the case of the hotel in Kono that the ACC has confiscated because the owner even with evidence available denied owning the property.

He maintained that the three approaches have to be balanced against each other for the maximum effect, with recovery the most cost effective method, noting that the punishment should reflect the gravity of the deed committed, adding that under the amended ACC Act, the fine has been increased from Le30 million to Le50 million and that the fines should be imposed on each count the offender is found guilty of, plus ten percent interest for the period during which they money was illegally in the possession of the offender.

Kaifala also spoke of how they have limited asset declaration to only those officials in decision making position on financial matters to make it more manageable. He reported that staff capacity of 70 core staffs countrywide to fight against corruption is very restrictive, as well as the lack of adequate office space for which he appealed to the government for resources so that their independence will be guaranteed.

Asked what his most challenging moment has been, Kaifala replied that it has been that of changing the public perception that the Commission under his leadership is not on a witch-hunt against officials of the former government, as he came into office with the new government which has an avowed anti-corruption policy. Rather, he said, his fight against corruption is about the past, present and future, starting with the past. For example, he explained that ACC has been able to clarify a matter in the audit wherein it was suspected that money was stolen which the ACC discovered was not stolen but lodged somewhere at the Central Bank because it (ACC) has wide latitude for investigation.

The day the ACC begins to see lesser conviction for corruption, he said, will be when it realises that there is strong political will for the fight against it. He cited that both the executive and the legislature have a very determined and committed attitude to the fight.