'Jamaica needs independent anti-corruption agency'
Alessandro Boyd, Gleaner Writer
A WEST African anti-corruption official has declared that the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers in Jamaica would make a significant difference in the fight against corruption.
Joseph Kamara, the commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Sierra Leone, was appointed to that position in July 2010 and, during his tenure, the commission has undertaken a number of high-profile prosecutions.
"We have an obligation to stop it (corruption); in Sierra Leone we realised that even when we set up the ACC, we still were unable to make progress, because most of the cases that were investigated had to go to the attorney general's office before they could be prosecuted, and regrettably the office of the attorney general is matched with the Ministry of Justice," Kamara said.
"(This means) that it has a political head that sits in public meetings, so nothing comes out of these cases. For seven years we endured that, but we were able to go back to the drawing board. Then we realised that what we needed to do was to give prosecutorial powers to the ACC, meaning the taking of the power to prosecute from the office of the attorney general and giving it to the ACC themselves," he added.
President Ernest Bai Koroma assumed office in the September 2007 presidential election and, in the presence of great opposition, gave the commission its own criminal prosecutorial powers embodied in what is known as the 2008 Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Act.
"Instantly, there was a tremendous increase in the number of cases. It was as if we had been sleeping for seven years and just woke up overnight. There were so many cases before the courts, and it's not only the number of cases, but the quality as well, then it came to be realised that no man is above the law," Kamara said.
"From 2008 to now, we have witnessed top officers of government taken to court, two ministers of the government were tried and convicted by the courts - the minister of health and the minister of marine resources.
The important thing is, no matter how high you may be, you are within the confines of the law and we were able to bring that forward. We even saw the conviction of a high court judge and he was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Unfortunately, he died before completing his trial," he added.
Kamara is in Jamaica on a five-day visit as guest of the National Integrity Action (NIA). The objective of his visit is to share with NIA's key stakeholders and, indeed, the wider Jamaica public, the experiences of Sierra Leone in the fight against corruption.