By Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, Philadelphia, USA
The Commission of Inquiry that is to kick start in a few weeks’ time is on the lips of every Sierra Leonean. Whether it is a witch hunt or political accountability, the mere nomenclature about a commission of inquiry sends shockwaves through the spines of the guilty ones; the guilty are afraid. Commissions of inquiries drive suspicion, anxiety, fear and apprehension, especially to the guilty. Most commissions are judged by the credibility and sincerity of those involved and the process through which justice is being dispensed or seen to be dispensed. (Photo: Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, author)
In the United States, President Trump has accused the Muller Inquiry on many occasions as a’ Witch Hunt’. Mr. Trump called the inquiry a politically driven “witch hunt” by the news media and Democrats. The president has been eager to dismiss the idea as “fake news”, an allegation that members of his campaign colluded with the Russians, and his twitter posts appeared to be an effort to discredit the congressional inquiries that are examining those claims. In other words, the number of attempts made to discredit the inquiry as witch hunt has increased the suspicion and belief of collusion; a charge he flatly continues to deny. The irony behind president Trump’s denial is that, as the inquiry continues to do its work, and especially hoodwinking some of his top echelons, so the public confidence grows towards the belief that indeed, collusion took place. Rather interestingly, the public seems to be extremely interested in the ongoing investigation.
In The Gambia, President Adama Barrow has instituted a commission of inquiry to probe numerous allegations of mismanagement of public funds, abuse of office, and willful violations of public funds by the ex-president Yahyah Jammeh and his associates. In addressing his commissioners, President Barrow said,” my government will stand firm for truth and justice, no matter who it is for or against”. “We are committed to the restoration of human rights, fair play and passion for justice for all”. What an interesting statement by a head of state, as he continues to inform his nation that the people ought to know the mechanisms that contributed to either the progress of the nation or retrogression of state institutions.
Sierra Leone is now having its share of commissions of inquiry. The country has a history of commissions but no commitment to the cause; no wonder some people are cynical. The country has experienced two prominent commissions of inquiry; notably the 1967 Beccles Davies Commission of Inquiry and the infamous National Provisional Ruling Council Inquiry. In his address at the launching of the Government Transitional Report, President Bio remarked that, “we are drawing a line beneath corruption, we are waging a war on corruption and we know corruption will fight back”. There are many who would see this as ominous.
The expectation of the commission is twofold: firstly, most people believe that president Bio is a Catholic who believes in the biblical verse of Luke 12:48 “ From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” The country elected officials to serve them judiciously and at the end of their term, they should account for their deeds. This is political accountability and it must be done fairly. On the other hand, most Sierra Leoneans would want to see President Bio keeping the other verse in Psalm 67:4, “May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the people with equity and guide the nations of the earth.” To all intent and purposes, the genuine deliberations of the commission that is not based on tribe, ethnicity and regionalism will transform it from an alleged witch hunt to political accountability. All it needs is for justice and fairness to be seen to be done.
Sierra Leoneans have raised various arguments justifying or condemning the propriety of the Commission of inquiry set up by the SLPP government; to dissect the unpleasant details of the country’s governance since 2007. It is noteworthy that this commission seems to have powers as any High Court. By implication, it has the capacity to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of evidence. If adverse findings are established, it will permit the prosecution of culprits, including officials of the present and past regimes. Some Sierra Leoneans, especially members of the regime, argue that the government has the right to investigate the past regime, with regards to allegations of financial matters, bogus contracts and embezzlement of state funds.
On the other hand, some members of the past regime see the commission as a witch hunt bent on targeting only members of the their party. Juxtaposing both arguments, one is left with no mindset but to see the commission executing its mandate with a free hand and sincere drive in bringing all those responsible for the financial malaise the country has gone through. There are certain questions that linger through patriotic minds: must we allow corrupt officials to hide behind the façade of tranquility protection of officials to drain the state financially and go unpunished? Is it a pride to celebrate a corrupt official who has allegedly squandered and corrupted the system for his own personal gains? Imagine, how the country will be like when celebrated thieves go unpunished? How can Sierra Leone prosper when very few people amass, squander, embezzle and siphon the people’s wealth? Should we canonize the thief and demonize those trying to hold them accountable?
All patriotic Sierra Leoneans would love to see a commission of inquiry instituted against those guilty of misappropriating the country’s wealth, but the system must be fair, transparent and sincere for credibility purposes. The people would love to see all hearings done in the full view of the public, via television, radio etc. The proceedings should be seen as a deterrent to those who celebrate thievery. President Bio has started laying the foundation for subsequent governments to continue instituting commissions where there is an allegation of financial impropriety.
There is a hue and cry from sections of certain groups that the commission is only looking at past regime members. Is this true? Is the commission not targeting senior government officials whose connections helped certain people to defraud the state? What if the people see the commission as only targeting members of a particular section of the country? It is no hidden secret that the national cohesion drive is widening every now and then.
Is the commission a witch hunt or an avenue to account for political stewardship? The people will soon see when the commission starts its deliberations. The country is faced with another opportunity; cleansing the immorality and preparing the country for economic growth. If this is implemented genuinely, the country will move forward and join other countries like Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya. This is an opportunity the political class should make use of and make Sierra Leone a doyen in Africa.
By Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, Philadelphia, USA