/ 3 October 2020

Sierra Leone’s president cracks down on his predecessor

Julius Maada Bio takes his oath as Sierra Leone's new president in Freetown
President Julius Maada Bio (pictured) pledged to fully implement findings of the three commissions of inquiry set up to investigate allegations of corruption by former government officials.

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio has banned more than 100 top officials from the previous administration from leaving the country by air, land or sea — including former president Ernest Bai Koroma. The former president has also been summoned to appear before the country’s anti-corruption court on Monday October 5.

The former officials have been asked to repay all stolen money and return any property deemed to have been acquired through corruption. They officials are not allowed to travel outside Sierra Leone until their names are cleared or they are granted permits. 

Earlier, Bio pledged to fully implement findings of the three commissions of inquiry set up to investigate allegations of corruption by former government officials. 

In a joint report, commissions concluded that corruption was endemic in Koroma’s administration. But the former president’s party, the All People’s Congress (APC), has dismissed the findings as “products of a process marred by unconstitutionality, illegality, procedural corruption and political vindictiveness and malice”.

The 82-page report indicted 84 out of 127 top officials under investigation, including former president Koroma himself. Also implicated were two former central bank governors, three former legislators and 20 former cabinet members in the Koroma administration.

The money that was said to have been unaccounted for ran to well over $100-million.

Koroma’s government is also accused of selling a 30% government stake in a mining venture to the president’s nephew, John Sisay, at an artificially low price of $12-million. Those shares were later sold for $95-million. 

Ordinary Sierra Leoneans have been shocked at the scale of the findings. “It is shocking and, to be honest, surprising in some cases. But, we were all here and we knew that some things were going wrong, terribly wrong,” says Ibrahim Tommy, the head of the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law.

APC determined to fight back

The APC has said that it intends to challenge the findings and recommendations of the report politically, diplomatically and legally, at both local and international levels, and raised concerns about the legality of the commissions of inquiry.

Bio, however, has instructed his attorney general and minister of justice to fully implement recommendations in the commissions of inquiry report. 

“We are determined to make these the last commissions of inquiry in this country. Once and for all, we are determined to draw a line. Public officials must serve with integrity and they must be above reproach at all times,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.

More than half of Sierra Leone’s population (57.9%) is multidimensionally poor, according to the United Nations Development Program, and corruption remains a major impediment to development in the country. Every new government has pledged to root out corruption, and instituted commissions of inquiry, to little effect.

Political analysts say that unfolding events in the next couple of days will be decisive for the country’s political and democratic future. The current crackdown on corruption takes place against the backdrop of increased political polarisation between supporters of Bio and those aligned with the APC. 

Ibrahim Barrie, a political analyst at the University of Sierra Leone, has warned that a government crackdown, coupled with further economic decline, risks triggering “further violent clashes in the north — and beyond”.