Thursday, November 15, 2007

SL leader pledges graft crackdown

Sierra Leone's new president has pledged to fight corruption and help reduce abject poverty ahead of his official inauguration on Thursday.

Ernest Bai Koroma said he had advised everyone, including members of his own family, that it had to be dealt with.

He made the remarks after a report he commissioned showed widespread graft under the previous administration.

Correspondents say he faces a tough task as corruption affects all walks of life and cripples the economy.

Thursday's inauguration will mark the most orderly democratic handover of power Sierra Leone has seen.

The ceremony in the national football stadium is due to be watched by at least half-a-dozen African heads of state and tens of thousands of Mr Koroma's supporters.

The BBC's World Affairs correspondent in Freetown, Mark Doyle, says it will stretch the logistical resources of Sierra Leone to the limit.

Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, is very slowly recovering from a decade of brutal war that ended in 2001.


"I have made the position very clear that we have to take on corruption and I have advised everybody, including members of my family that it is going to be a serious business this time," Mr Koroma said.

President Koroma's anti-corruption policy has been welcomed by foreign diplomats.

But our correspondent says sceptical Sierra Leoneans say he will be judged on his actions, not his words.

They say they will be watching to see if any high level prosecutions take place.

Tackling endemic corruption will be a massive task that extends from top officials taking kickbacks on government contracts, right down to teachers, who often go unpaid because someone higher up has stolen their salary. They then ask for tips from their pupils if they want to attend class, our reporter says.

Laws and regulations will have to be tightened up but a whole culture and mentality will also have to change.

Our correspondent says the inauguration ceremony could potentially be chaotic because this country does not have the resources to easily mount such an event.

It does not have helicopters, for example, to bring the heads of state across the wide river estuary that separates the international airport from the capital city - so it has borrowed some from the United Nations.

It does not have access to enough limousines to ferry the visiting VIPs around, so it has been given some by friends, including some cars reportedly from nearby Senegal.

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