THE ROOTS OF CORRUPTION AND THE ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFFICE - LESSONS FROM THE PAST (PART THE FIRST)
President Kabbah, in the recent past, has been doing his best, quite unsuccessfully, to shield, protect and justify corrupt public office holders. In the last issue, the Sierra Herald questioned the rationale behind the touting of the President and encouraging him to behave, contrary to the provisions of his mandate, as a one-man owner of the state of Sierra Leone to wit his acceptance of gifts and cheques from financial institutions. Two cases were highlighted - the acceptance of cheques meant for the government from the Rokel and Commercial banks and the proposed gift of 110 heads of cattle for his personal farm.
The abuse of public office has been shown to be one of the key reasons why governments in Sierra Leone have failed and will continue to fail until public office holders are brought to book for using posts and connections for personal gains. President Kabbah's puerile excuses for restoring the ill-gotten fortunes of the corrupt is not only an aberration in governance, justice and democracy but is a glaring example of a corrupt and desperate man wanting to protect his ilk.
DR ABDUL KARIM KOROMA - This man served as the country's Foreign minister and from evidence adduced at the Beccles Davies Commission of Inquiry was shown to be another example of how public office was abused in the insatiable search for assets from whatever source.
Dr Koroma was first elected to Parliament in April 1977 as the MP for Tonkolili North constituency. In May of that year, he was appointed Minister of Education in which capacity he served until March 1982 when he was appointed Resident Minister, Northern Province. He served in this position until July 1985 when he was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister holding that post for some six years until September 1991.
It was during his tenure that Sierra Leone lost the property in Rome after the government defaulted on the Dr Lamarca issue. Like the London High Commission, a deal was done that saw the former owner of SILETI taking over the one million dollar Rome property. While holding in trust for the people of Sierra Leone that ministry, Dr Koroma was found to have engaged in a number of corrupt practices that could well bring into focus just how those charged with the affairs of state subvert ideals of those posts for personal gains.
This former Foreign minister was shown at the Commission to have got himself entangled in a fictitious Ten Billion US Dollars scandal and was reported to have parted with a cheque for One Hundred and Fifty Thousand US dollars in a desperate bid to lay hands on a 419-type of scheme that should have netted him 500 million US dollars. At one stage of the deal, this scheming, selfish and corrupt public office holder signed documents in which he became ABDEL KOROMA. This is what the NPRC noted in a White Paper in Volume Four of the Commission's report:
In his official capacity as a servant of the people while holding in trust the Foreign Affairs ministry, Dr Koroma is reported to have negotiated a number of agreements with various governments and institutions even though it was apparent that some of the deals could have been managed by other ministries.
One such deal involved the Tonkolili North Development Project and it was discovered while soliciting and acquiring funds for this community project, no one was privy to what went in or out of that account which was being operated as a personal account. This is what he is reported to have told the investigators:
He advanced the following reason for being the sole signatory to the account:
THE ITALIAN FOOD AID - In 1987, according to Dr Koroma, the Sierra Leone government requested "Food Aid" from the Italian government which was later approved. This saw rice from Italy shipped to Sierra Leone sold on the local market and the revenue derived used for development projects.
Dr Koroma, according to the Commission report, stated the purpose of this aid:
The then Italian ambassador Giorgio Peca was to be kept in the picture as to how funds were being disbursed and to ensure that, he was made a joint signatory to the account even though it was apparent that Dr Koroma should not have been getting himself involved in such matters as there were relevant ministries of government.
Bank statements and other evidence before the Commission showed just how state funds were used by public officials, without the knowledge of the people on whose behalf such arrangements are made. The hand of some donor countries in shady deals was also clearly highlighted when a letter was produced, signed by ambassador Giorgio Peca authorising the transfer of Five Million Leones from the Italian Food Aid Account No: 190063 at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank into the personal account of Foreign Minister Abdul Karim Koroma.
This amount was invested in a personal Fixed Deposit of Dr Koroma at the National Development Bank on April 3, 1989. The amount was disinvested and returned to its original account on January 31, 1990 after attracting interest to the tune of over Seven Hundred Thousand leones. (Le718,750). This practice went on for a while with the transferred amount getting on to the Ten and Half Million Leone mark before it was stopped by a letter of August 1, 1991.
In the Dr Lamarca affair, in which the country lost the Rome embassy residence property to this former SILETI logging company owner, he agreed to donate Three Hundred Thousand US Dollars (US$300,000) after he had taken possession of a property worth one million US dollars.
This amount of US$300,000 dollars was paid to Dr Koroma who paid the money into his personal account in London (Midland Bank Plc, 110-114 Cannon Street, London EC4N 6AF)!!!!!!
The above examples, representing the tip of the iceberg of corruption in Sierra Leone is meant to throw the spotlight of truth on how holders of public office abuse such entitlements and what could have contributed to the country's increasing levels of poverty, deprivation and loss of integrity and direction and those in public office fell over each other in the greedy, unpatriotic and selfish pursuit of personal gains.
No doubt this would not have have been the case if past government had in place structures that were transparent, accountable, democratic and just - a system that would have brought to book all and any who dared to engage in such levels of dishonesty and outright thieving of the country's resources.