Sierra Leone’s anticorruption commissioner has a simple message for foreign investors coming to his country for its mines and oil offer bribes and you could find yourself in prison.
Oil was discovered off the coast in September, exciting investors but also raising fears that, as so often previously in Africa, natural wealth might bring with it greater corruption and bloodshed.
“Definitely, the oil worries me the resource curse,” Commissioner Abdul Tejan-Cole told Reuters in an interview at a Sierra Leone investment summit in London.
“It is very important that it is as transparent as possible. We are proud of what we’ve achieved on that but we can and should do more.”
He said he was happy with Sierra Leone’s new mining law and that it had signed the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, but more transparency was needed over oil deals.
Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, and this year improved 12 places in the Transparency International global corruption rankings.
The former human rights and insurance lawyer said his commission would have no compunction about prosecuting corrupt foreign investors in court in the capital Freetown, and that could land them in a Sierra Leonean prison.
“It’s a mandatory sentence,” he said. “And I can assure you that our prisons are not somewhere where you would want to be.”
That should not deter foreign investors, he said.
“At the end of the day, they are safer in a country that has low tolerance of corruption and where the rule of law is better,” he said, adding that should reduce the risk of expropriation or unfair interference.
The commission was forging increasingly close links with prosecutors and law-enforcement agencies in Britain, the United States and elsewhere, he said as Western countries also tightened up their laws to reduce corruption overseas.
Global picture improving?
“I think the worldwide environment is changing,” he said. “But by choice I would rather prosecute in Freetown because I want to show that our systems work.”
The government sacked two ministers earlier this month for alleged graft, and Tejan-Cole said he was continuing to try to probe corruption at the highest level as well as beginning to tackle lower-level problems such as ordinary policemen seeking bribes.
Another minister had voluntarily informed the commission that he had been offered a bribe, he said the first time this had happened in Sierra Leone.
President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007 having pledged to tackle corruption. Tejan-Cole said he would be perfectly happy to probe him if needed.
Across Africa, he said the picture was mixed in the battle against corruption, with anti-corruption chiefs in Nigeria and Kenya forced to flee and South Africa’s elite Scorpions unit disbanded amid accusations of politicisation. But he said some smaller countries were showing the way.
“Botswana, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia,” he said. “These are the stories that don’t get told.”