16 July 2012

Sierra Leone: Former ACC Boss Talks About His Experience in Sierra Leone at UN Corruption Debate

Many anti-corruption commissions have been "set up to fail, however they could succeed if they were given the right mandate and the right powers. In many cases those elements were lacking," former Anti-Corruption Commissioner ACC boss, Mr. Abdul Tejan-Cole said during his address as a panelist at the recently concluded two-day United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC 2012 high-level panel discussion held to highlight the costs of corruption on societies.

The two day high-level corruption discussion from July 9 to 10 held at the UN headquarters in New York, offered two interactive dialogues under the overall theme of "Accountability, transparency and sustainable development: turning challenges into opportunities".

The first panel was focused on "Creating inclusive and cohesive societies: a multidisciplinary approach to combating corruption for development" and the second on "Shared roles and responsibilities: developing innovative partnerships for comprehensive action against corruption".

Sharing some of the lessons from his experience in Sierra Leone during the first interactive panel on Monday July 9th, Mr. Tejan-Cole, who is currently the Regional Director for Africa at the Open Society Foundation based in New York, told the panel that the most important challenge in his country's context was that "the anti-corruption commission had a very weak legal framework and a very weak law. When the commission itself was setup in 2000, it was largely set up not as a result of the desire of the government of Sierra Leone to implement a genuine anti-corruption reform, but largely because of the pressure it was receiving from the donors and so a weak law was put in place that had only nine offenses."

He also emphasized that during his tenure as ACC head between 2008 and 2010, a new anti-corruption act was put in place in Sierra Leone which instituted several new provisions. A major change in the law includes a key provision in the new act which took away prosecutorial powers from the attorney general and minister of justice and handed it over to the anti-corruption commissioner. Also introduced in the new law were steeper legal penalties, whistleblower provisions and strengthening the hand of the ACC to be able to engage in cooperation with other states and other agencies.

Mr. Tejan-Cole said prior to 2008, only about 30 corruption cases had been prosecuted in Sierra Leone and the quality of those prosecutions were left to be desired. But between 2008 and 2010, the number doubled and the quality of those prosecutions improved.

More than 500 delegates, including government ministers and heads of civil society groups, international institutions and the private sector, attended the ECOSOC's high-level segment which focused on boosting productive capacity, strengthening development cooperation and creating decent and sustainable work.

In his opening remarks for the discussion, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, Mr. Yury Fedotov, said that an estimated $40 billion is stolen from developing countries annually meaning that each country loses up to $258 million per year or $700,000 per day.

He added that the high cost of the abuse is being paid by ordinary citizens who could not access basic services and urged every sector of society to see combating corruption as a shared responsibility as governments cannot win the fight alone.

At the closing of the panel discussion, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said corruption hampers the ability of nations to prosper and grow and peace, development and human rights cannot flourish in an atmosphere of corruption.

"Last year, corruption prevented 30 per cent of all development assistance from reaching its final destination. This translates into bridges, hospitals and schools that were never built, and people living without the benefit of these services," Mr. Ban said. "This is a failure of accountability and transparency. We cannot let it persist."

According to a UN News Center report, the high level panel discussion also promoted a renewed commitment for the ratification or accession to the UN Convention against Corruption by countries that have not yet done so.

The Convention is the first legally binding global anti-corruption instrument which it obliges states to prevent and criminalize corruption, promote international cooperation, recover stolen assets and improve technical assistance and information exchange.

In his response to a request seeking comment via Facebook about his opinion on corruption and its impact as it relates to his homeland Sierra Leone, Mr. Tejan-Cole quoted the Sierra Leone TRC report that says: "The Commission has found that endemic corruption was a central factor that produced the dire conditions that made civil war inevitable. Sierra Leone remains in the grip of pervasive corruption, which, if not arrested, will sap the country of its life force and lay the grounds for further conflict."

He also added that "many people who watched the movie 'Blood Diamonds' believe that the conflict in Sierra Leone was about blood diamonds. It was not as the TRC quote rightly points out."

ECOSOC will hold its operational activities and humanitarian affairs segments before concluding on 27 July.

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