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Sierra Leone Sacks Anti-Corruption Chief

Sierra Leone's new government has replaced the chief of the country's anti-graft body. Many say the commission has failed to stem rampant corruption which has crippled the post-conflict nation. Kari Barber has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The new Commissioner of Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission Abdul Tejan-Cole has worked as a human rights lawyer and for international justice bodies. Many say the man he is replacing, Henry Joko-Smart, failed to do enough to investigate corruption and bring those responsible to trial.

A top official in the ruling All People's Congress party, Alimamy Koroma, says the new government of President Ernest Koroma wants to outdo the former administration's efforts in battling corruption.

"I cannot say they did nothing," he said. "They did something, but they could have done more. And that is what we are looking forward to is doing more in the area of curbing corruption."

Experts say corruption has stifled the resource-rich nation's ability to rebuild its infrastructure and economy following civil war.

Sallieu Camara of the Freetown-based watchdog Network Movement for Justice and Development says the dismissal of former commissioner Joko-Smart was what people wanted and expected.

"The sacking, or dismissal, from the anti-corruption commission did not come as a big surprise for most Sierra Leoneans because, based on his performance, many people knew, even before the elections, that he would be one of the first casualties," said Camara.

He says that after the war, people were hopeful the anti-graft body would help bring an end to impunity. Many, he says, expressed disappointment and frustration when high-ranking officials charged with corruption were not brought to court.

Earlier this year Britain, Sierra Leone's former colonial ruler and biggest financial backer, criticized the commission for its poor performance.

Camara says the first challenge for the new commissioner will be to restore confidence in the anti-corruption commission and its commitment to its work.

"People have lost confidence in the institution of the anti-corruption commission," he said. "They have a responsibility in the first place to restore that confidence and trust."

Camara says the commission's staff is small, and so Sierra Leoneans must provide information to the commission about possible cases of corruption. He says citizens are not likely to do that when if they are not confident the commission will follow through and bring those guilty to justice.

The monitoring group Transparency International recently released a list of nations with the highest perceived rates of corruption. Sierra Leone ranked among the world's worst, at 150 of about 180 countries.