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Fighting corruption - What Jamaica can learn from Sierra Leone

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM
DPP Paula Llewellyn and Sierra Leonean anti-corruption czar Joseph Kamara (centre) are animated as NIA chief Trevor Munroe makes a point recently.- PHOTO BY HERBIE GORDON

Martin Henry, Contributor

Last week, while the documentary The Cost of Corruption, put out by National Integrity Action (NIA), was continuing its media rounds with strong public appeal, King's House announced the appointment of Dirk Harrison as the next contractor general. Harrison, senior deputy director of public prosecutions, will assume the office on March 1.

And Joseph Kamara, the head of Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), was in town as the guest of the NIA and the bearer of a best-practice success story from one of the world's most challenging countries for development. NIA has been proposing a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers.

Announcing Kamara's visit, NIA, with which I am affiliated, said, "As we continue to build awareness and combat corruption in Jamaica through advocacy, training and public education, National Integrity Action will play host to Mr Joseph Kamara, commissioner, The Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone, West Africa. The objective of his visit is to expose the Jamaican public to Sierra Leone's experience in transforming that country's anti-corruption institution to make it more effective.

"This experience is of relevance to NIA's advocacy for the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency, and to the Government of Jamaica's commitment to rationalise Jamaica's institutional arrangements for fighting corruption by consolidating them under a single anti-corruption agency having strong powers [with] explicit provisions to prevent abuse of authority." (Governor General's Throne Speech, May 10, 2012)

Sierra Leone, with which Jamaica has historical ties, is a very unlikely place for anti-corruption, and therefore a very good example of what is possible here with a broad and strong national will to reduce corruption, which is a central message of the Cost of Corruption documentary.

Jamaican Maroons were used by the British to suppress a rebellion of Black Loyalists settlers, who had been freed because of their attachment to British forces during the American War of Independence and had first been settled in Nova Scotia, Canada, and then in Sierra Leone. The Maroon fighters stayed and more joined them. After the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Africans being conveyed into slavery in ships captured on the high seas by the British navy were repatriated and released in Sierra Leone.

After their emancipation, black Americans and many West Indians migrated to Sierra Leone, and with the earlier repatriates formed a new ethnic group, the Kriole or Krio, now accounting for two per cent of the population. Their language, an English-based creole, is the country's lingua franca, the first language of 10 per cent of the population but understood by 95 per cent!


The West African state was ranked 180th out of 187 countries on the UNDP's Human Development Index for 2011 and has a per capita GDP of US$1,100. The country's literacy rate is around 41 per cent and mean years of schooling among adults are a mere 2.9. Sierra Leone trails even below the average HDI for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, which is itself well below the world average.

Since its independence 14 months before us on April 27, 1961, Sierra Leone has been the home of military coups and was ravished by civil war between 1991 and 2001. The civil war killed 50,000 people and displaced a third of the population of around six million people.

As The World Factbook put out by the CIA tells us: Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution ... . Its physical and social infrastructure has yet to recover from the civil war, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development." But the country achieved a six per cent growth in GDP in 2011, another area in which it could teach Jamaica something.

"The ... government's priorities," the CIA Factbook reports, "include furthering development, creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption."


This is the kind of environment in which you expect corruption to thrive and a robust anti-corruption agency not to emerge. But such an agency has emerged and is putting significant pressure on corruption through its National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which the globe-trotting commissioner of the ACC is sharing with the world. There are currently 54 high-profile cases before the courts, he told us last week.

Commissioner Kamara told media here last Tuesday: "We created an anti-corruption agency in 2000 [because] we realised that corruption was endemic in the society - you pay for a driver's licence, you pay for medical treatment, you bribe your way through traffic, you pay for classes, you bribe lecturers to pass exams.

"Even when we set up the commission, which was one agency bringing together all the others in the fight, we still were unable to make progress because most of the cases had to go to the Attorney General's Department before they could be prosecuted and, regrettably, in Sierra Leone that office is matched with the Ministry of Justice," he explained.

"In 2008, the country enacted tougher legislation which gave the commission the power to prosecute and to freeze assets. Since then, there has been a "tremendous increase in the number of cases before the courts".

"It was as if we were sleeping for seven years," Kamara exclaimed. "We woke up overnight and there were so many cases before the courts ... . It was not only the number of cases, but the quality of cases, because then it came to be realised that no man is above the law.

"From 2008 until now, we've witnessed the topmost officials being taken to court ... . Fifteen government ministers were tried and convicted by the court," he reported, including the ministers of finance, foreign resources, and health, among them. A sitting high court judge and the mayor of Freetown have been convicted on corruption charges; the mayor for misappropriation of funds owed to Jamaica's reggae group Morgan Heritage.


A brief on the Sierra Leonean ACC says, "The ACC, prior to 2007, was often referred to as the 'toothless bulldog' as a result of being hampered by controversy and allegations of ineffectiveness and the lack of political will to fight corruption.

"In 2007, the issue of combating corruption and, therefore, strengthening the ACC became a political issue in the general election campaigns of that time period and effective efforts to combat corruption became a campaign pledge. On the back of this pledge, President Ernest Bai Koroma assumed office in the September 2007 presidential elections and, in the presence of great opposition, gave the commission its own criminal prosecutorial powers embodied in the 2008 Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Act.

"The new act was also designed to encourage integrity in public life. Additionally, it increased the number of corruption offences on the statute books from nine to 29. All this was undertaken in a decisive effort to make corruption a high-risk venture, and to comprehensively criminalise a wide variety of corrupt conduct."

The revamped body is commissioned to:

(a) Take all steps as may be necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption and corrupt practices;

(b) Investigate instances of alleged or suspected corruption referred to it by any person or authority or which has come to its attention, whether by complaint or otherwise;

(c) Investigate any matter that, in the opinion of the commission, raises suspicion that any of the following has occurred or is about to occur:

(i) Conduct constituting corruption or an economic or related offence;

(ii) Conduct liable to allow, encourage or cause conduct constituting corruption or an economic or related offence; and;

(d) Prosecute all offences committed under this act.

Under Sierra Leonean law, corruption includes:

  • Corrupt acquisition of wealth;
  • Using influence for the promotion, execution or procurement of public-body contracts and subcontracts;
  • Bid rigging;
  • Corrupting a public officer;
  • Bribery of or by a public officer to influence the decision of a public body;
  • Soliciting, accepting or obtaining an advantage for or on behalf of a public officer;
  • Transfer of the proceeds of corruption.


Sierra Leone's score on Trans-parency International's 10-point Corruption Perception Index has moved from 1.9 in 2008 to 3.1 in 2012.

The Sierra Leonean anti-corruption commissioner also spoke about another side of fighting corruption: simplifying procedures in dealing with the government, which reduces incentives and opportunities for corruption. Jamaica must pay serious attention to this. Clearing goods through Customs is down from 17 steps to three in Sierra Leone.

Jamaica's Dirk Harrison follows Sierra Leone's Joseph Kamara into heading an anti-corruption agency from being a public prosecutor. Apparently, it is a good transition. Kamara has prosecuted war crimes from the civil war and served in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for eight years.

Mischievous media (Observer editorial, January 31) are already projecting tensions between Harrison at the Office of the Contractor General and DPP Paula Llewellyn, "consummate professionals" between whom, it has been "whispered loudly", no love was lost in the Office of the DPP, the editorial announced. The public behaviour of both of these public officers up to last Thursday when I observed them in animated friendly conversation at a Kamara luncheon, and on several other occasions, does not seem to bear out the frosty rift which media would love to feed on. In any case, Dirk Harrison is not Greg Christie, and "consummate professionals" can be expected to do their work professionally, even if they don't "love" each other.

The media have a far more important role to play in the fight against corruption as investigators and publicisers. Several high-profile cases around the world were initiated by media investigation and not by an anti-corruption agency. An active collaboration takes place between media and the ACC in Sierra Leone. Jamaica, leading the Western Hemisphere in press freedom with a ranking of 13th out of 179 countries by Reporters Without Borders, has some advantage over Sierra Leone, down at number 61.

Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to and