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As you will recall, in December of last year, in this same facility, we met to observe the 1st Anniversary of the International Anti-Corruption Day and also celebrate the publication of the preliminary draft of our National Anti-Corruption Strategy.

The development of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) is a vital component of a comprehensive national programme to combat corruption. Since the promulgation of the Anti-Corruption Act in February 2000, and thereafter, the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), development of this important policy document was held up by unforeseen delays. This set back, however, is now a thing of the past as we gather here to day to establish yet another significant milestone in our commitment to tackle the scourge of corruption.

The launching of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) is therefore a further demonstration of my government's commitment to Good Governance, institutional Reform and the eradication of corruption in Sierra Leone.

The importance of a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) to help curb corruption in Sierra Leone cannot be over emphasized. A National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) is a vital prerequisite in that it embodies strategic action plans that have been developed in consultation with a cross section of society and stakeholders in Freetown and Regional capitals in the country. This process culminated in the National Consultative Group Meeting held in Freetown on 2nd & 3rd February 2005, whose main objective was to increase public participation in the review and finalization of the draft National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) presented to the Government of Sierra Leone on December 10th 2004. This goal was accomplished by drawing on the experiences and views of all facets of society. In addition, the Consultative Meeting addressed the issue of corruption in the country and assessed various strategies for its eradication. As part of this dialogue, participants were encouraged to comment and provide input on specific sections of the Strategy.

Participants were also invited to:

Ø Discuss attitudes towards, and the causes and costs of corruption in Sierra Leone
Ø Identify the most urgent areas that require reform
Ø Discuss specific measures to be included in a viable National Anti-Corruption Strategy
Ø Establish ownership of and commitment to the National Anti-Corruption Strategy

An integral part of this process was the Integrity Retreat attended by all Cabinet Ministers with responsibility for the areas requiring urgent reforms. The Retreat, during which plans for implementation were further discussed, also provided an opportunity for a final consultation with the ACC on the strategy and to further discuss the issue of implementation. I was made to understand by the Vice-President that this high level meeting was very productive.

The outcome of the various processes outlined above, has provided us with the requisite tools to translate our commitment to tackle corruption into a sustainable action programme.

An equally important factor is the quality of information that is available to aid in establishing the key priority areas for concerted action. Because corruption is a symptom of inefficient institutions and poor policies, it has often proven difficult to assess where reforms are most needed. This experience has taught us that there is a need for diagnostic studies to be undertaken, as was the case with the Governance and Corruption Survey in 2003, in order to better understand the shortcomings of policy formulation and the capacity of state institutions to manage policies.

Another crucial factor I must make bold to say is political leadership. Any and every successful Anti-Corruption effort must have the full backing of political leadership, which my Government is committed to providing.

Experience has also led me to realize that fighting corruption has distributional consequences, which can mobilize powerful forces to protect vested interests at any cost. It is for this reason that I will continue to give my full support to the work of the ACC. I, as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, expect the same level of political commitment from all my Ministers and the people's representatives in Parliament.

A third, and perhaps the most important, element in this process rests squarely with you my compatriots. The formulation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) has greatly benefited from the participation of the public. The challenge we now face is managing the implementation of the Strategy. Are we going to consign this document to our shelves and cupboards to gather dust? Or are we going to take up the challenge and make it work.

Collective action is vital at this stage. The active participation of civil society, the private sector, grassroot organizations, our young people and youth and the broad array of government officials both at central core and on the local level must complement our political commitment towards the eradication of corruption. This political will and commitment was what was lacking before our time.

I now wish to take this opportunity to express some views as to how, with the requisite political commitment as stated here, the Anti-Corruption Commission on its part can make the desired success and become an instrument serving the good of this country and commanding the respect of all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans.

Firstly there is the need for the Commission to ensure that its integrity is maintained at all times.

- There should not be an alarmist approach to its assignment. Therefore before the Commission goes to the media to announce the discovery of a case of corruption, there should already be ample evidence to support that announcement. Raising an alarm without producing the result expected to flow from the alarm will not enhance the integrity of the Commission, and it will only provide a recipe for rumour-mongers and detractors.

- Efforts should be made to ensure that the number of cases lost in court or dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence is reduced. The more cases that are lost in court, so the integrity of the Commission will be reduced. Therefore every effort should be made to ensure that every allegation of corruption is supported by provable evidential material before it is taken to court. Hence, the need to develop a productive working relationship with the office of the Attorney-General.

- It is most important that the Commission should avoid creating inadvertently or otherwise, any impression or perception of any witch-hunting of individuals or class of individuals. For example, press statement by the Anti-Corruption Commission treating as a fact false media speculations or rumours that the American Government had banned a number of Government Ministers from entering the United States because of their involvement in corruption; an announcement by the Anti-Corruption Commission that it was investigating six Ministers whose names and the subject matter of the investigation not given - such press statements may give the impression that the Ministers as a class are being targeted by the Anti-Corruption Commission, which certainly cannot be correct. This tends to undermine the integrity of the Government as a whole and it further tends to adversely affect the moral authority of all the Ministers of Government. In our present situation as a Government just emerging from a war, with such a deprivation all around, corrupt public officials should be exposed without mercy. That was the whole purpose I had in mind for setting up the Anti-Corruption Commission in the first place. By doing that, the Commission would have lived up to its objectives to the pride of this nation. But at the same time a blanket allegation of corruption levied against Government Ministers without more, may be a potential case for disquiet and even the instability of the State. This will be disastrous for the entire nation, as it will be the easiest way of provoking without justification, public reaction and disaffection for the Government. I have also started experiencing another fear namely, that some highly competent and honest people whom I know could make pivotal contribution to the development of this country are shying away from State appointments for fear of being accused of corruption or of belonging to a Government comprising of a bunch of corrupt Ministers. I fear this perception sticking. This is a trend which I hope would not continue as it will create an unfortunate situation for the future of this country.

- To maintain its integrity, it is most important for the Commission to appear to be very fair always.

a) It is not, for example, fair for the Commission to first allege publicly that an individual has been involved in corrupt practice and then take a long time to investigate and conclude that investigation. It is fairer for the ACC to have ample evidence in its possession before publicly alleging the Commission by an individual of an offence of corruption.

b) If a person is alleged by the Anti-Corruption Commission to be involved in corrupt practices, and it turns out that the evidence gathered by the Commission does not support the allegation, the ACC should come out, in fairness to the person accused, with a public statement and say so.

c) Inordinate delays between the commencement of some investigations and the conclusion of those investigations should be avoided.

The eyes of the world are now focused on Sierra Leone following our historic achievement of peace. We must now strive to consolidate the peace by reclaiming lost opportunities for long-term progress. I therefore admonish you all to join me in a collective effort to confront and end corruption in our country. The lament that the effects of civil strife continue to impede progress is now wearing thin. We must be forward looking and take up the fight to promote good governance, institutional reform and elimination of corruption.

It is with great pride and pleasure that I formally launch the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS).