Judges sitting in Sierra Leone’s much talked about Commissions of Inquiry, Holden at the facilities of the former Special Court for Sierra Leone, Brookfields/Jomo Kenyatta road, are embarking on a month recess which commenced April 12th, 2019, after ten-weeks of active sittings.
Justice Biobele Georgwill from Nigeria, the lead inquirer; Justice Annan Atuguba, retired High Court Judge from Ghana; and Justice Bankole Thompson, a Sierra Leonean and former prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone are the Commissioners.
The three have handled over hundred witnesses in the course of ten weeks. Commissioner Georgewill saw over 60 witnesses while Commissioner Atuguba accommodated 32 witnesses. Commissioner Bankole Thompson met 14 witnesses.
The three Commission rooms sat for 102 sessions, combined, over 10 weeks, accumulating over 404 hours of testimony and Commission administration.
Over 20 lawyers appeared before the three Commissioners representing Persons of Interest. Key amongst the lawyers are the former Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Ady Macauley, Yada Williams, Aminata Sillah, Lansana Dumbuya, Ibrahim Idrissa Mansaray.
State counsels include Robin Mason, Robert Kowa and Musa Mewa.
The Commissions of Inquiry set up by the Bio administration to look into activities of the Ernest Bai Koroma Led-Government between 2007 – 2017 in Sierra Leone commenced nine months after the March general election. A number of shocking revelations have emerged so far as the Commissions continue to probe further into budgets, procurement processes, projects implementation and government documents.
Previous governments have established Commissions of Inquiry. In 2007, the most recent, the All People’s Congress (APC) set up a Commission to investigate the late President Kabbah’s administration. That Commission did not produce a report and did not proceed past one or two witnesses.
In late November 2018, the Ministry of Justice appointed three Commissioners who were given a three to six-month mandate to probe into Government projects, awarding of contracts and alleged embezzlement and/or corruption by the former administration.
Commissioner Biobele Georgewill from Nigeria with Instrument 64, was assigned Room One, William Atuguba from Ghana with Instrument 65 was assigned to Room Two and Bankole Thompson from Sierra Leone with Instrument 66 was assigned to Room Three.
The 2019 Commissions are investigating former Ministers of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo and Madina Rahman; the former NERC Coordinator, Palo Conteh; former Ministers of Youth Bai Mamoud Bangura and Alimamy Kamara; and the former Ministers of Mines and Mineral Resources Alpha A.B. Kanu, Minkailu Mansaray and Abdul Ignosis Koroma, amongst others.
The Commissions of Inquiry started sitting on 4th February 2019 and was launched by President Bio. Controversies in Parliament and amongst public opinion surrounded the establishment of the Commissions including the interpretation of Section 150 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone with regards to the Rules of Evidence.
Rumours of witch-hunts and selective justice floated around the Commissions. The Government relied on the Governance Transition Report that identified individuals and organizations who were alleged to be participants in corrupt activities. It was noted that most of the people named in the GTT Report and due to testify at the COI were supporters or party members of the APC. The APC threatened to boycott the Commission of Inquiry due to such grievances.
Lawyers representing Persons of Interest argued and questioned the legality of the Commission. But, all three Commissioners came out with consensus ruling quoting validity via the Parliament.
The Commissioners consistently promised the Persons of Interest and the rest of Sierra Leone a fair hearing and fair process of investigation.
The first week of the Inquiry, at the former Special Court compound along Jomo Kenyatta Road, was flooded by people including journalists, civil society organizations, lawyers, present government officials and some accredited members of the public. The Commissions began sitting at 10:00 a.m. from Monday to Friday but was later changed to three days a week.
The hype and public interest in the Commission was very high as people wanted to have first-hand information about what was happening. African Young Voices, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) were airing the hearings live from the Commission rooms.
Commissioner Biobele Georgewill started probing into the activities of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, focused on Ebola funding. Georgewill moved along probing the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and unsecured loans, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and projects. He moved on to the Ministry of Mines just before the recess.
Commissioner Bankole Thompson started with the Ministry of Agriculture, looking at the procurement and distribution of fertilizer. Commissioner William Atuguba started with the Ministry of Lands and is still digging into land issues. The Commissions of Inquiry’s work continues at the Commission Secretariat but Commissioners will resume hearings on 15th May 2019.