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Sierra Leone's President Says Fighting Corruption is Priority

Sierra Leone's recently elected president, Ernest Koroma, will be formally inaugurated on Thursday, with eight West African heads of state expected to be in attendance. Mr. Koroma has been in office since September, and reaction to his early anti-corruption efforts are already surfacing. Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

On Thursday, Sierra Leone's former president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah will hand over the presidential staff to new president, Ernest Koroma, in a ceremony marking the democratic transfer of power.

It is the first transfer of power since Sierra Leone's civil war ended in 2002, and observers have called the election and its aftermath a test for Sierra Leone's re-emerging democracy.

Viktor Foh, secretary-general of Mr. Koroma's political party, the All People's Congress, says the mood in Freetown is already festive.

"People are coming. Already Freetown is full and as I talk to you, people are arriving. Heads of state are arriving. We are in a very festive mood," he said.

But Foh says, the ceremony is merely a formality. Mr. Koroma was actually sworn into office in September. The official festivities were postponed because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are not supposed to celebrate.

In Mr. Koroma's first two months in office, he has made strong statements about fighting corruption. Corruption Watchdog Transparency International ranks Sierra Leone among the world's most corrupt countries.

As a first step, Foh says Mr. Koroma audited the entire government to identify problems. He says the report showed there were many areas to improve.

"The last government was very much corrupt," he explained. "Every ministry audited has proven to be very corrupt. So our country is behind because of corruption."

In Dakar, Human Rights Watch's Corinne Dufka, said corruption and bad governance are long-standing issues in Sierra Leone.

"It didn't come out of nowhere, Sierra Leone's armed conflict, it was the result of decades of corruption and mismanagement of the country's vast natural resources and so it is key that President Koroma has identified some of these key issues which have been bedeviling the Sierra Leonean people for many, many years. But is now time that he has to take concrete actions to begin addressing some of these problems," she said.

Human Rights Watch Wednesday sent an open letter to Mr. Koroma urging him to make good on his promises against corruption and other problems in the government.

Dufka says she is encouraged by Mr. Koroma's steps so far. He has appointed several well-respected civil society leaders to important posts, including the Anti-Corruption Commission..

But Dufka says Mr. Koroma needs to strengthen the commission by extending its power beyond investigating crimes to also prosecuting them.