By Sylvester Boima
When, on 18th June 2018, His Excellency Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio appointed the young, unassuming Francis Ben Kaifala Esq to lead the fight against corruption- one of the President’s three-pronged crusade of Indiscipline, Lawlessness and Corruption- many people paid keen attention to what this appointment would produce.
This is more so when the reputable international ratings on corruption control in the country at the time were grim, regrettable and woeful. For instance, in the area of ‘Control of Corruption’ in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Scorecard, Sierra Leone was rated 49 percent.
In Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Sierra Leone from 2016 to 2018 had a stagnated score of 30 and ranked 129 out of 180 nations.
Back home, the Corruption Perception Survey report indicated that the prevalence of Corruption was at 70% and only about 19% of the people contacted by the survey indicated knowing about the ACC and its work.
At the time, donor mistrust was rife and investors did not fancy doing business in Sierra Leone. So it was clear to all that corruption was posing an authentic and unambiguous existential threat to our survival as a people.
These, among many others, were certainly not good to the ears of Sierra Leoneans and made many people to lose faith in the country’s anti-corruption drive.
The raging and seemingly unbridled spate of corruption was indeed a crisis then than never before. It was an emergency and Sierra Leone needed action and it was to be decisive.
That was the battle the young Francis Ben Kaifala came to face. Indeed he was well aware of what he was facing and that was why he announced that “the crisis of corruption is an emergency of our time and fighting it is the urgency of today”.
He went further to acknowledge that the image of our nation was already synonymous with corruption.
The task this young man was faced with was unarguably mammoth and daunting.
Matching him with that task at hand was unparallel for many as was the case when little known young David armed with just a sling confronted Goliath the Philistine who had rained terror, mayhem and calumny against Israel in (1st Samuel 17:36-50 of the Holy Bible).
In one his public engagements, Mr Kaifala gave a stern warning to the corrupt and their affiliates: “The line has been drawn today in the fight against corruption. All are warned; and you here listening should warn your relatives that are in public offices…anyone who crosses the red line will be confronted.”
The young ACC Commissioner was sharing the same platform at the Adjai Crowther Amphitheatre at Fourah Bay College, with the world-acclaimed anti-corruption activist PLO Lumumba, who was here on the invitation of the ACC to deliver a public lecture.
Mr Kaifala then labeled the fight against corruption as one that was directed at saving the soul of this nation, laundering her already battered image and restoring trust. He stated severally that the fight will be fierce but fair.
Three years on, what are the concomitant effects of this young man’s appointment at the helm of the fight against the monster of corruption?
Blessed with a spirited team of staff who believe in the fight against corruption, unexpectedly, the man hit the ground running. Right from 2018 the indexes started changing favorably.
By the end of 2018, Sierra Leone passed the MCC Control of Corruption Scorecard from a failing score of 49% to 71%. The following year of 2019, the score went to 79%. A further improvement was made in 2020 when the score went up to 81%.
In the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Sierra Leone shortly moved from a score of 30 to 33, which was above the Sub-Saharan average and then recording 12 steps upwards from a ranking of 129 to 117 in 2020.
Locally, the National Corruption Perception Survey report for 2019 also stated that over 90% of respondents know about the ACC and its operations, while the prevalence of corruption dropped from 70% to 40%.
In the past three years, the ACC has also recovered, through its model Non-Conviction Based Asset Recovery approach, over 30 Billion Leones. This strategy entails recovering stolen wealth from the corrupt in a bid to decisively give a blow to their ill-gotten wealth. The wealth recovered includes a hotel and vehicles. This has helped in making corruption a high risk and low return venture.
The Commission has also investigated and charged to court many cases, including high profile cases, thereby securing over 95 percent conviction rate.
Since 2018, the Commission has also mounted massive and robust public education drives geared towards educating Sierra Leoneans about the ills of corruption and the benefits of a corrupt-free society.
With its prevention drive across all public offices, the Commission has been able to instill integrity in public work and helped improve service delivery, transparency and efficiency.
The good thing about all this is the fact that he has been able to dispel critics who claim that the Kaifala administration seems to go after members of the past administration than those of the current administration. Clearly, the cases I have counted show that many more people under this administration have been investigated and made to face the wrath of the anti-corruption laws. This goes with the mantra of the Commissioner that the ACC will investigate all acts of corruption no matter who is involved and when they were committed –that is, be it past or present.
Today, as a nation, we have not yet totally won the war against corruption, but where we find ourselves is not only historic, but admirable and exemplary.
Many across Africa and the wider world see Sierra Leone as an example in the fight against corruption. Our stories and our model are being told across the world.
It did not come as a surprise to some of us that the ACC Commissioner is now Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Institutions of West Africa (NACIWA), a Board Member of the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption and one of the few International Anti Corruption Champions, an honour conferred on him by the United States Government.
Together with several other local and international awards and recognitions, the Commissioner has also served as keynote speaker and guest of honour to deliver public lectures in many academic institutions.
Indeed in the past three years, Sierra Leone’s model of fighting corruption under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala has been awesome, inspiring and productive.
All things being equal, the country will only continue to make more inroads in the fight against corruption under the leadership of Francis Ben Kaifala, who others have started branding as the ‘Best ACC Commissioner’ this country has ever had.