President Tejan Kabbah's conversation with Tim Sebastian of the
BBC's Hard Talk. Excerpts from sections dealing with Corruption and the
Britain has been insisting Mr President that you crack down on
corruption…Clare Short actually said that you only have a handful of
ministers and officials helping you and this is not good enough. She
said that when she visited in February. People are still getting away
with corruption in high places, aren’t they?
(President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah)TK: I
will not say there is no senior corrupt official in Sierra Leone. You
must have heard of the United States and allegations of corruption
involving senior officials. I think for anybody to say that you will get
rid of corruption in any country to the extent of one hundred percent
elimination of corruption is a dream.
TS: Let talk about
one case if we may. The allegation against the former minister of
Transport and Communication, Momoh Pujeh. He was arrested last year for
allegedly been involved in illicit mining. The Anti Corruption
Commission investigated this and two reports are with the
Attorney-General and Justice minister and no charges were ever brought.
TK: I’ll tell you why
not. The Anti Corruption Commission investigated this and immediately,
to show you the independence of the Anti Corruption Commission, they
never told me that they were going to arrest the minister until two
minutes after they had done it. That’s the first thing. The second thing
is that immediately I heard that, I suspended the minister from his job.
TS: What’s happening
to him now?
TK: Let me tell you
the chronology of it. After about four weeks or so the ACC used the law
which I introduced in parliament and froze all the assets of the
minister to the extent that he didn’t have money to even feed his
family. And then at that point I called them and the Attornet-General
and said ‘’What is happening?’’
TS: Did you put
pressure on them to drop the investigation?
TK: Oh certainly not.
I called them. I said what is happening to this case? They said there
were two issues involved. One was the Anti Corruption Act and the other
was the Diamond (Smuggling) Mining Act. As far as they were concerned,
the police had been instructed to take action against the minister for
the diamond offence.
TS: But no action has
been taken and your vice president actually told the world that the
issue of Mr Pujeh does not fall under the purview of the Anti Corruption
TK: Please this is
what I am trying to explain to you. One issue was that it did not fall
under the purview of the Anti Corruption Commission....(verbal sparks
over independence of the ACC)... People who inform you don’t understand
these things. I am a lawyer talking to you so I understand what I am
talking about. According to the Anti Corruption Act, all offences that
come under the Anti Corruption Act must go to the Attorney-General for
him to take legal action to prosecute the people concerned.
TS: Your Anti
Corruption Commission is already labelled as a toothless
chimpanzee..(Another show of impatience/anger, ruffled)
TK: If you’re going
to listen to what other people who do not mean well for the country tell
you and you expect me to concur with you then I think you are making a
mistake. I would not do it.
TS: Your own (Sierra
Leone) Concord Times newspaper says: ‘’The little time left is for us
and our government to be written off by Britain and this will come about
if we continue to wallow in shameless coverage of dignified State
criminals as we are doing just now’’. You reject that?
TK: That of course is
complete rubbish. I will not accept that and is untrue. That is the
situation as far as that’s concerned.
TS: Do you think
prosecutions are going to come out of this (allegations of corruption
based on anti corruption findings)?
TK: I am sure one
hundred percent. Also people forget that we are just coming out of a war
and as you have said ten years of brutal war
TS: But you said that
corruption threatens your national security?
TK: Of course that is
what I said and I mean it. What people forget to realise is that our law
courts for example were damaged, burnt down. Thanks to the British
government, we have rehabilitated it and it was just a few weeks ago
that the court started sittings again.
TS: You have a
Special Court, but you’ve limited it to crimes committed after 1996 when
some of the serious crimes were committed before 1996. Why?
TK: Simple. We asked
the Security Council that we would like the mandate of the Special Court
to go right on to the time when the war started (1991) and for funding
reasons, they rejected it.
TS: But this was set
up by an Act of your Parliament and it could be amended by an Act of
TK: No. No. It is not
as simple as that. Someone has to pay the cost of running the court.
TS: So justice comes
down to money?
TK: You want to do
many things in this world, but you are limited by money. All of us go
through that and so we thought that well let us start it this way first.
But in fact what I had intended was from independence (1961)to now. All
those violent crimes and crimes against humanity that had been committed
should all face the Special Court. But the question was this would take
a long time with the investigations and the cost involved we cannot
afford. Right now for example we are struggling to get money to fund the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
TS: Clare Short told
you that you have to clean up your act fast. This is the language that
she used. She said ‘’Sierra Leone’s got to clean up its act fast if it
is to remain at peace and offer a better future to its children’’. You
don’t have long, do you?
TK: No. On the other
hand I have just last week received a cable from the British Foreign
Secretary saying to me ‘’You’ve done from what you said in Parliament
last Friday. We are so pleased with what you said and we are going to be
with you to do everything to clear up, particularly to help you to get
things back to normal. Particularly to fight corruption.
TS: Do you resent it
– when a British minister comes out to tell you to clean up your act?
TK: Why should I when
I know that somebody is sincere about helping. Why should I when
somebody has the same view about resolving our problems? Oh no I have no
problem about somebody criticising my government over something which I
know is wrong
TS: Then you share
the sense of urgency?