Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Sierra Leone: President Vows Anti-Graft Crusade Will 'Spare No One'

President Ernest Bai Koroma will spare no one in the government's quest to weed out endemic corruption in government, says his chief of staff, Richard Konteh.

Konteh rejected criticism from the president's political opponents that the administration's declaration to fight corruption is a publicity stunt.

He also described recent plans to strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission and work with civil society groups to monitor public agencies in the government's anti-corruption campaign.

"We believe that it is only when we can sufficiently fight graft that we can indeed set the country in the right direction [and] to be able to achieve prosperity that our president wants ... over the next five years," says Konteh. "We as a government are committed and will continue with this fight and we hope that our partners will also join and support us in this fight."

He says the administration has planned a conference in the first week of December to underscore the government's serious commitment to rooting out corruption.

"We do acknowledge it continues to be a problem, but we are determined to fight it," said Konteh. He described the December conference as one step in an effort to create greater public awareness. "We are intensifying the efforts to try and capture people who involved in corrupt practices and to bring them to book."

Transparency International reports that Sierra Leone has the highest incidence of bribery in sub-Saharan Africa. The report said 84 percent of those polled in Sierra Leone admitted to paying a bribe. Konteh said the administration is embarrassed by the report, but is implementing measures to combat graft.

"We are very concerned about that type of [corruption] rating, but we take note of the fact that it is more an issue of perception," said Konteh. "Government is ensuring that it cleans house, that serious government officials found guilty of corruption are indicted, [and] where they are found guilty, they lose their jobs."

Jobs for youth and free speech

President Koroma's government faces a high unemployment rate especially among youth as the country gradually recovers from 10 years of civil war.

Some observers say the high score on the corruption index could undermine efforts to attract investors needed to create employment opportunities for youth.

Konteh says the government has created the enabling business environment to attract investors.

"Our doing-business credentials have been among the best in West Africa," said Konteh. "We have succeeded over the past six years to increase our direct investment portfolio from less than $500 million to over a billion dollars. On a daily basis, we receive expressions of interest, some unsolicited, from various investors wanting to come and invest.

We have ensured, says Konteh, that we make the environment conducive for investors.

He also denied criticisms that the government has been using state institutions including the judiciary to clamp down on dissent and to intimidate and harass journalists. Konteh said the administration will not undermine the country's constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

"President Koroma's administration never arrested a single journalist. No one was incarcerated," said Konteh.

"What is worthy to note is that it is not the government that took journalists to court. They were taken to court by private citizens that felt aggrieved by the nature and manner in which these journalists used words against the president that were a bit derogatory."

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