Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ernest Bai Koroma in anti-graft vow

An interview by the FT of Ernest Bai Koroma before being elected President

Ernest Bai Koroma, who led the race for Sierra Leone’s presidency, will seek to restore donor confidence by using emergency powers to pass anti-corruption laws.

Mr Koroma said he would invoke a “certificate of emergency” that would allow him to push laws through parliament to give the country’s anti-corruption commission independent powers to prosecute suspects.

“Nobody will be protected,” Mr Koroma told the Financial Times. “I think Sierra Leoneans all want an answer to a few issues. If in the process they have to do with members of the last government, then so be it.”

Results from last Saturday’s run-off show Mr Koroma, who is standing for the opposition All People’s Congress, leading against Solomon Berewa, the vice-president, with more than 70 per cent of the votes counted.

Barring a sharp turnround, many observers expect him to emerge as overall winner when the electoral commission resumes releasing the tally on Monday.

Projecting a technocratic image at odds with the scores of young, unemployed men hanging round his chaotic party offices in Freetown, Mr Koroma spoke in measured tones in between fending off constant calls on his mobile.

Denied the presidency when he stood at the last polls in 2002, he is keen to stress his private sector credentials as managing director of an insurance firm.

A peaceful handover would place Sierra Leone, despite the legacy of a civil war that raged through the 1990s, among the few African countries where an opposition party has managed to take power via the ballot box.

Perceptions of rising graft undermined support for the ruling Sierra Leone People’s party of outgoing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who rode to victory at the last elections in 2002 on an outpouring of relief at the return of peace.

Britain, the largest bilateral donor, delayed budget support for the country this year because of a lack of government transparency in handling the £210m ($426m, €308m) it has donated to its former colony since the end of the war. Sierra Leone has yet to provide audited accounts to show how the money was spent.

Britain has taken the lead role as nation builder, trying to set up a functioning administration after the state’s collapse during the war, as well as training the army and police.

Mr Koroma said donors should have monitored their funds more closely, promising to deliver new anti­corruption legislation and audited accounts by December. “It’s not going to be business as usual, it’s not going to be money down the drain,” he said.

A recovery in legitimate mining of the diamonds that helped fuel the conflict has attracted foreign companies and investors have also begun spending money to exploit deposits of less glamorous iron, titanium and aluminium ores.

Mr Koroma said he would review the country’s mining code to ensure the government gained a more equitable share of the proceeds, as well as harmonising rules to help investors.

“I don’t want to kill the hen which lays the golden egg but where we see there is a need for improvement we will bargain for that improvement,” he said.

FT.com / World - Sierra Leone frontrunner in anti-graft vow