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Closing the stables after the horses had bolted – Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission acts?

28,Aug 2017
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As the corruption scandal over the sale of scholarships meant for poor people in Sierra Leone going to Mecca for the Muslim Hajj continues, yesterday the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission released a statement calling on the three sacked State House officials to report immediately at the ACC to help in their investigation.

But there are fears that after almost a week since this story made the news headline, vital evidence needed to successfully prosecute those responsible would have disappeared from the offices of State House and the homes of the accused.

The ACC statement reads: “The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) notes with concern the allegations in the public domain regarding alleged acts of corruption in the award of Government of Sierra Leone scholarships to Muslims to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in the Holy Land of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

“The Commission also notes the press release from State House dated 19th August, 2017 recalling home three members of the Hajj Committee currently in Saudi Arabia. The Commission wishes to inform the general public that it has launched an investigation into this year’s Government of Sierra Leone scholarship scheme for pilgrimage to the Muslim Holy Land of Mecca.

“The Commission has sent notices to persons of interest, commercial banks and government ministries, departments and agencies soliciting information relevant to the investigation. Meanwhile, victims that paid monies to be included in the Government scholarship scheme or any other person with vital information relating to this investigation should visit the Commission at No. 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown, its regional offices in Bo, Kono, Makeni and Kenema or call our toll-free lines on 077-985-985 or 077-986-986. The identity of informants will be held in confidence.

“In the meantime, there is a reward of Five Million Leones (Le 5,000,000) for any information leading to the arrest of Abdul Gegbai, retired Account Clerk in the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs and of 23B Leicester Road, Freetown and of No. 44 Soldier Street, Freetown. Mr. Gegbai was declared wanted by the Commission last year in connection to the 2016 Hajj cash withdrawal case and has been on the run.

“The Commission reassures the general public of its commitment to fight corruption at all levels in Sierra Leone and that the public will be duly informed on the progress of the investigations.”

It is today reported that officials from the ACC yesterday swooped State House to search the offices of the three accused for evidence.

Report says that it has been reliably informed that President Ernest Bai Koroma lifted all protocols blocking the ACC investigators. According to sources, the President has said no part of Sierra Leone is exempted from being searched by the ACC to gain access to evidence in the religious affairs scandal that is said to have now ‘broken the heart of President Koroma’.

According to the newspaper report, Anti-Corruption officials swooped on State House and the Office of the Vice President. They also raided offices, the homes of several persons of interest including associates of a very senior Cabinet Minister and took away damning evidence.

“Let them wait until the ACC ends this investigation. That is the time people will know the extent of the wickedness done in this land by those Hajj thieves,” said a source at Ministry of Social Welfare which was supposed to supervise Hajj arrangements but got their functions hijacked by the Office of the Vice President.

President Koroma has meanwhile invited all intending Muslim pilgrims who were disappointed, to meet him at State House next Tuesday, August 29th 2017.

Presidential Spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay told AYV NEWS that “the President, being a compassionate leader, deeply regrets how the intending Hajj pilgrims were treated by those the President had put in charge of the 2017 Hajj arrangements”.

Imams and other intending pilgrims, who had travelled from all over the country to the capital Freetown, were made to sleep on bare floors for several days at the government’s Youyi Buildings, only to be told they had travelled for nothing and will not be getting their Hajj scholarships.

Highly respected Muslim men and women were left stranded without a drop of water to drink or food to eat, says Awareness Times.

Responding to this developing story, Social Welfare Minister – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden whose ministry was side-lined by president Koroma in the management of the Hajj funds in favour of the office of the vice president, had this to say: “Shameless criminals. Where is the Le475,205,000 that I approved and which your criminal syndicate collected; of which Le180,000,000 (one hundred and eighty million Leones) was to use to feed the pilgrims in Sierra Leone before they left for Mecca? You left them at Youyi Building to sleep on the floor without even a bite of bread….”

Minister Blyden, has in the last few days been ill admitted at the Choithram Hospital in Freetown, but has now been discharged. She too will be assisting the ACC in their investigations.

According to Awareness Times, almost half a Billion Leones was approved by President Koroma for the sustenance of the Pilgrims before they left Lungi Airport, and on their return. But the cash was collected from Social Welfare Ministry and corruptly misappropriated.

The paper says it has learnt that the alleged hijacking and selling of Hajj scholarships is just one aspect of the corruption, and that there is an even bigger corruption involving the unauthorized cash withdrawal of $314,000 (2.5 Billion Leones) stolen by the Permanent Secretary of the Social Welfare Ministry – Mr Abu Bakarr Carew, who then went to Saudi Arabia against the Cabinet Minister’s advice.

The money was stolen from the Commercial Bank Hajj account – the same bank where the Ministry’s former Permanent Secretary Momoh Bockarie Foh, had been caught stealing $3,000 in 2016.

Momoh Bockarie Foh – the brother of vice president Foh, was caught stealing $3,000, and the ministry’s human personnel office was ordered by the ACC to put Foh on suspension. But after a few months suspension and as the ACC continues its hunt for an accused associate of Momoh Foh, Mr Foh was suddenly appointed to a senior position at the Human Resource Management Office of the Civil Service, presumably on the orders of his brother the vice president.

Critics of the ruling APC say that this latest development is nothing but a wicked and cynical stunt, almost a week after the evidence of corruption at State House would have been carted away from underneath the nose of the president and his vice.

Where was the ACC when many were calling for computers and documents in the offices of the accused to be swiftly removed by the police and the ACC, to maintain the integrity of the evidence?

This appears to be the same Anti-Corruption stunt that we saw in the Momoh Conteh Timbergate affair, when police failed to seal off the offices of associates of former vice president Sam Sumana whilst investigations were being conducted. The Timbergate case was killed by the office of the president to protect his vice president, whom he then went on to sack two years ago for political reasons.

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