24th February 2021
By Moris Ibrahim Kanteh
Assistant Public Relations Officer, ACCmurikehkanteh@hotmail.com
The US State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has awarded the young Sierra Leonean trailblazer, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. “as an Anti-Corruption Champion for his outstanding commitment to the prevention, exposure, and combating of corruption as Commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission.”Elaine M French, Charge d’Affairs at U. S Embassy in Freetown presented the prestigious award to Commissioner Kaifala on behalf of the U S Government, at a mini ceremony organized at the Embassy.
Francis Ben Kaifala Esq., is Sierra Leone’s current Anti-Corruption Commissioner; an avowed academic who holds a degree in Law (LLB) from Fourah Bay College, USL; an LLM in Law and Economics from the Queen Mary University of London; an LLM in Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, & International Human Rights Law, from the University of Texas at Austin, in the United States of America. Before his appointment as the country’s anti-graft Czar, Lawyer Kaifala was a towering figure in the legal profession in Sierra Leone; and his Law Firm Kaifala, Kanneh & Co. is among the leading law firms in the country reputed for astute, brilliant and clinical legal delivery for clients.
In 2018, President Bio took over the leadership of the country with a stern determination to weed out rampant and unabated corruption that characterized the public service. To achieve this objective, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq., a 33 year old returning Fulbright scholar was appointed in June 2018, to lead President Bio’s newly declared war on corruption. The call from Sierra Leoneans for the President to appoint this young lawyer to lead the fight demonstrated that, while the battle to defeat a long history of endemic corruption is not the burden of only one man or woman alone, some are called to meet a special share of its challenges. And it is a duty that the young Commissioner has demonstrated with candor, dignity and grace which has earned him the name, “the People’s Commissioner”.
Almost three years into the job, his “focused” and “result-oriented” approach has seen the country make remarkable progress in the fight against corruption, which has positioned it as a model nation for the fight in Africa; attracting countless international endorsements and commendations in the process.
More than just a personal appraisal of Commissioner Kaifala’s stellar accomplishments in leading the country’s fight against corruption, this latest global recognition from the US Government is an affirmation of a leadership on behalf of aspirations held by the people, and an approval of our collective efforts as a country in the war on corruption. It must therefore be seen by every Sierra Leonean as a means to give further momentum to the fight.
This prestigious recognition also comes after his historic election on the 4th February 2021, as the youngest person ever to the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption -- a subsidiary body to the African Union which came into effect after the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the Maputo Declaration in July 2011—where he will work with ten (10) other elected board members to spearhead the continent’s anti-corruption efforts with special preference to developing stringent and innovative policy reforms for member states.
Before that, his revolutionary and radical transparency approach to tackling corruption in just one year after his appointment, had already caught the attention of the sub-region when, at the Extraordinary General Assembly convened by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) of the Network of National Anti-Corruption Institutions in West Africa (NACIWA) in Lome-Togo from the 5th-6th November 2019, the young Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. was unanimously endorsed by his expert colleagues in West Africa to serve as the new President and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Network –also becoming the youngest person ever to head the regional institution. A position he still currently occupies. His responsibility as President of the 15 West African Country regional body requires him, among other things, to be the face, voice and principal representative of the Association in ECOWAS and other Global bodies and leads in the attainment of the objectives of the Association as mandated by ECOWAS. Africa and the entire World are currently clamoring for the expertise that this illustrious son of ours has on offer.
In a country where national conversations are mostly meandered along political and selfish lines, the Commissioner has continued to demonstrate much to the admiration of those who venture to look beyond the noise that, with a focused, strategic and result-oriented leadership, Sierra Leone can break old stereotypes in the fight against corruption, and together as a people help create a society where accountability and transparency are the rulebooks in the management of public resources. Such view is reinforced by the peculiar and courageous decisions we have seen him make throughout the last 3 years of his reign. For example, it was rare courage to initiate an investigation into the person of former President Koroma, in a country where the call for accountability over the years was restricted to certain quarters. That particular investigation which is now at the concluding stage for possible next steps, sets a monumental precedent for democratic accountability in our governance system moving forward.
Also, if three years ago I predicted to anyone that a wife of a sitting President could be probed into by the ACC after corruption allegations were made against her person, many would have changed my name from Moris to “Joseph the Dreamer”. But all these things are currently happening before our eyes. In a country bereft of leaders with a knack for tough decisions, Francis Ben Kaifala has proven during this short period as ACC Commissioner that we can count on him to always take dispassionately tough positions for the general good.
During this period also, the young Commissioner has been seen waging war on other chronic societal problems which constitute corruption offences. In the educational sector, for example, a former Head of the Law Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone was indicted for abuse of office and other examination crimes; and later convicted. In 2019, the ACC’s “Scorpion Squad” conducted massive raids on public examination centres across the country where malpractices were reported. Arrests were made and investigations launched. A clamp down on corruption in the health sector has seen several sting operations conducted across the country. In Bo, Southern Sierra Leone, for example, a medical doctor was investigated and convicted for misappropriating a public property (a generator meant for the hospital was converted into his personal use). The Electricity sector has also not been spared in this crusade, as raids continue to be conducted on major factories and business entities engaged in illegal electricity abstraction were the state losses billions of Leones. ACC’s intervention has helped ameliorate the situation and in the process, huge recoveries amounting to billions have already been made for the State. Same could be said for the police and immigration departments.
A major focus of the Commission has been placed on corruption preventive measures. This has led to the creation of a new “Preventions Department” within the ACC. The work of the department is to carry out systems and processes review on government institutions with a view to identifying corruption vulnerabilities and later suggesting recommendations to address them. Many of such reviews are currently been done with a view to addressing structural issues of corruption across MDAs.
All the aforementioned actions demonstrates Commissioner Kaifala’s clear understanding of the underlying problems affecting our society, and a clear sense of direction, knowhow, willingness and courage to take concrete steps to alter them.
Under the innovative Non-Conviction Asset Based Recovery strategy introduced by Commissioner Kaifala, which sees the commission enter into out of court settlement agreements with corrupt individuals with a clear understanding to pay back in full monies stolen, the ACC has recovered and presented to President Bio on behalf of the state LE26.8 Billion (over US $2.5 Million) in the last three years alone. This amount recovered from the corrupt during this period, is almost twice all monies recovered by the ACC throughout its 18 years history before the appointment of Commissioner Kaifala. The President has committed the funds to building the country’s first ever modern diagnostic centre which will serve as an edifice to our collective efforts as a country in the fight against corruption. Additional funds have also been secured and the turning of the sod for the construction project done recently.
The Commission has also concurrently carried out its court-led approach with over 90% conviction rates. Almost 45 cases have been charged to court since Commissioner Kaifala took over office. The Commission has won 39 of those cases, losing only 4—all of which are currently under appeal.
All of these remarkable feats have not gone unnoticed by a watching World, and these stories have contributed greatly to the international image cleansing of our country-- that was once replete with tales of negativism. Even among Sierra Leoneans and other nationals living in the country, there is now a huge perception that corruption can and will be finally controlled, adequately. For example, the country has moved 12 places upward in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ahead of 31 other Countries in Africa, registering its highest ever score of 33 for the last two years. In the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Scorecard, the country has come from a failing position of 49% before Commissioner Kaifala took over in 2018, to a current score of 81%-- which has made the country eligible for a compact grant of between 300-600 million dollars for passing key governance indicators, especially a mandatory pass of the “Control of Corruption” indicator. Afro-Barometer Corruption Perception Survey 2020 reported that corruption prevalence has drastically reduced from 70% in 2017 to 40% in 2020.
At the Commonwealth Africa Summit Gala Dinner held at Holiday Inn Regent Park, London, United Kingdom, in March 2020, the Anti-Corruption Commission was awarded the “Commonwealth Africa Summit 2020” Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Anti-Corruption Campaign in Commonwealth Africa—with special reference to the Commission’s “exemplary efforts in tackling corruption, blocking the leakages and promoting good governance”.
In Kono, a hotel built from proceeds from corruption was confiscated by the ACC and handed over to the Attorney General on behalf of the State. Several other properties worth billions of leones have been recovered and handed over to the state.
This period has also seen one of the most significant anti-corruption legal and regulatory policy reforms in Africa, the 2019 Anti-Corruption Amendment Act, which contains some of the most radical reforms aimed at making corruption a high risk and low return venture. (https://www.anticorruption.gov.sl/blog/anti-corruption-commission-sl-news-room-1/post/president-bio-signs-into-law-the-anti-corruption-amendment-act-2019-236). The proposal of stringent and revolutionary, but highly progressive amendments to the existing 2008 Anti-Corruption Act; and the role of the Sierra Leone Parliament in passing the 2019 Anti-Corruption Amendment Act, almost unscathed; coupled with the Presidential Assent given to the Bill by President Julius Maada Bio was a monumental step in the right direction towards corruption control, and demonstrated an uncommon resolve and commitment towards the fight against graft.
A Fourth Generational National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2019-2023) was developed by a body of experts in the anti-corruption space after a national consultative process. That strategy, which is a blueprint for our national efforts to clamp down of graft, was launched by Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh at the Miatta Conference Centre in March 2019.
Another bold reform was the creation of the Special Court for corruption cases. One of the persistent criticisms against the fight against corruption is the unnecessary delay in deciding corruption cases in court. The establishment of the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court has addressed this anomaly and help effect speedy and expeditious trial and conclusion of cases. This has been a game changer.
Defeating the monster of corruption is the only way out of the ditch of decades of under-development and backwardness that our country has been plunged into. With a citizenry that is conscious of this fact, Sierra Leone’s remarkable progress in the fight to defeat corruption over the last three years with Francis Ben Kaifala Esq. as head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission has resurrected great “HOPE” among the citizenry, especially young people, many who now believe that the country is on a redemptive path to releasing its destiny from the suffocating claws of corruption—with one of their own leading that effort.
And this recent global recognition as the US State Department’s “Anti-Corruption Champion” is an apt approval and a ringing affirmation of the outstanding leadership and extraordinary commitment that the young and inspiring anti-graft Czar has shown not just to Sierra Leone, but Africa as a whole in the fight against corruption. In him, and with the support of the President and a critical mass of the citizenry, the hopes and aspirations of a nation – Sierra Leone - is reborn at last.
What is even more impressive is how the young Commissioner, amidst all odds, continues to wholly given himself to the fight as if it was a form of personal redemption; his silent determination to break a corrupt system that has been made to go on for too long; and in the process, graciously demonstrating that NOTHING can deter men of good consciences whose motives are fueled by a sincere desire to make real that divine mandate of freedom from economic and social injustices for our people. Not even raging political storms; neither unbridled nor sickening cynicism!
In all, while the fight against corruption is still confronted with many challenges, no one could deny the fact it is in past three years that the country has witnessed its most successful period in the fight against corruption. And Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala is the main catalyst of that remarkable progress. Therefore, it is only best that we continue to embrace his message, as it currently offers the best HOPE for the Sierra Leone that we all desire.