President Ernest Bai Koroma must be hoping that the sacking and the subsequent prosecution of one of his ministers by the country’s anti-corruption body demonstrates quite unequivocally his zero-tolerance stance on graft.
Hopefully, he must be thinking, the sacking of the former minister of health Sheku Tijan Koroma, and Leonard Balogun Koroma – who was a minister in the vice-president’s office – will send the right message to donors and international partners ahead of next week’s trade and investment forum of his desire to root out corruption.
The president has been under intense pressure to stamp out corruption, which has been given as one of the reasons for the outbreak of the war in the early part of the 90’s. The country remains one of the most corrupt in the world according to the global corruption watchdog; transparency international’s (TI) ’09 global corruption index.
Before and after his election victory ‘07, Koroma promised to pass legislation to give the country’s anti-corruption commission (ACC) teeth and prosecutorial prerogative. A new head of the ACC, Abdul Tejan-Cole was appointed and the legislation to give the commission more powers was passed in ’08.
However, up until last week, Koroma’s promise to crack down on corruption had been in doubt and under intense scrutiny. An investigation by the BBC and other independent media revealed several instances of corruption. Of note was the selling of drugs donated by UNICEF through the ministry of health and clearly marked ‘not for resale’. Questions were raised over British aid to the country, which amounted to over £100 million pounds in the two years to now, and how it was spent.
Before the twin sackings last weekend no one of note in Koroma’s government had been prosecuted or sacked for corruption, which brought into question also the president’s ‘no sacred cow’ and ‘zero tolerance’ mantra on corruption, especially when there have been clear instances of reported cases of corruption.
For example, the former minister of energy and power, Afsatu Kabbah who is now fisheries minister was reprimanded by the ACC for improper procurement procedures relating to the infamous temporary energy provision for the capital, Freetown. She was never charged, albeit an offence similar to what Sheku Tijan Koroma was sacked for.
Another event of note past weekend also; the president switched on the Bumbuna hydro power in the north of the country, which had been in formation for the past 30years. Energy provision nationwide sits at the government’s top priority shelf.
Successive governments have failed to complete the Bumbuna project, which in full capacity should provide 50megawatts of the country’s energy needs, which according to government and UN documents stands at 250megawatt.
The supply of energy has and remains one of the banes of economic development in the country. Therefore, commissioning the Bumbuna hydro, the president would hope sends the right signal to businesses and international partners that his government is ready to support business growth in the country.
The twin acts last week – the sackings of government ministers and the commissioning of the bumbuna hydro – are timed according to NAA analysts to smooth the way for the president at the trade and investment forum next week as he tries to garner donor support from an increasingly sceptical international community who have serious concerns over his corruption credentials and the country’s readiness for big investments.
What positive impact the president’s masterstrokes or gesture politics, as some will call it last week will have in next week’s forum remains to be seen. However, he will be hoping that his actions are enough, at least for the short term, to win the necessary support he needs for his political and development agenda.