Head of the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has told a galaxy of policy makers in the justice sector that the issue of bribery still remains a major concern in the fight against corruption.
Commissioner Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara was speaking last Friday (23 October) at the formal launch of the 'Pay No Bribe for Bail' campaign initiated by AdvocAid Sierra Leone to seek justice for women and children in conflict with the law, at the Beccles Davies Memorial Hall, Cathedral House, Gloucester Street in Freetown.
The ACC boss cited a research carried out some time ago by his commission, which indicated that bribery is a major issue in the fight against graft. The Sierra Leone police were identified in the research report to be at the top of the corruption chart in the country; a charge he said the police leadership didn't take lightly.
"Bribery is in all sectors of life," averred Commissioner Kamara, citing incidences of corruption in the Ebola burial teams, admission into universities, and public exams, among others. "Though bail is presumed to be free, it is not really free in common sense. I urge AdvocAid and its partners to work hard to educate the public on what is stated in the constitution, that bail is free; and it is not a privilege but a right."
He questioned the legality of "booking fees" paid [to police officers] by drivers at Mile 38 and other checking points, adding that his intelligence has informed him that some drivers even book for the rest of the month so that they could be exempted from going through the normal Ebola routine checks.
Acting Director of AdvocAid, Sonia Osho-Williams, said the organisation was established in 2008 by three women to render services to women and girls in conflict with the law, by providing legal representation and education to them.
She said the organisation also offers rehabilitation and medication to female inmates, and that for 2015 alone AdvocAid has assisted over 2,500 women. She said they operate in Kenema and Kono with other small offices in Bo, Tiama and Kabala, among others.
Executive Director of the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Ibrahim Tommy, who spoke on behalf of civil society, said offering and accepting a bribe constitute crime, which can undermine the security of the state.
He described the 'Pay No Bribe for Bail' campaign as important, noting that "if there is nobody ready to offer a bribe, then there would also be nobody to receive a bribe".
"The public in particular should be well informed to resist paying bribes," urged Tommy, adding that at the moment AdvocAid is the only organisation leading such a campaign. He encouraged other civil society organisations to support the campaign so that it will be successful.
President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA), Ibrahim Sorie Esq., said the issue of bribe is a major concern for legal practitioners and other justice sector workers, and pledged his association's commitment "to take the fight to another level".
He admonished members of the public to be mindful that bail is free, except for offences like treason and murder where bail could be denied. He informed his audience that the Bail Policy is currently being looked into, and expressed optimism that it would help bring public confidence into the justice system once it becomes operational.
Inspector General of Police, Francis A. Munu, registered the SLP's support to the campaign so that bail could remain free, as "paying money for bail is against the ACC Act". He said there are currently enough notices in police stations informing people who go to the stations that bail is free.
"If police officers are still asking for money in exchange for bail, then they are taking advantage of the ignorance of the people," he noted and called on his officers to desist from the practice. "I want to encourage members of the public not to offer anything to the police for bail. I accept that police officers have the greatest responsibility to ensure the 'Pay No Bribe for Bail' campaign succeeds."
The meeting brought together Local Unit Commanders from various police stations across the Western Area, civil society organisations and officials from the justice sector.