THE OSWALD HANCILES COLUMN
Parliament versus Fatorma, a David versus Goliath Fight?
“He who underestimates his enemy is sure to be caught by him” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Abdul Momson Fatorma, the Chief Executive of the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) will face Parliament on Thursday, February 9, 2017 on a probable “contempt of Parliament” charge. Fatorma is a 32 year old Sierra Leonean permanently resident in London; his company was registered as a “Private Limited Company” in England on the 2nd of June, 2016. The address of the CHDR is Flat 28 Keston House, Kinglake Estate, London, United Kingdom, SE17 2RB. In Sierra Leone, Fatorma’s company is CHDRI-Sierra Leone, and has been registered as a “Community Based Organization (CBO)” with the Freetown City Council since 8th February, 2011. The ‘attack’ on Parliament goes beyond his legal mandate as a CBO. Fatorma is like a terrorist group of the nature of Al Qaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram – when under attack, they can dangerously mutate. Fatorma could also be like the Biblical ‘David’ with just a stone in his sling, facing off against the well-armed ‘Goliath’ that is Parliament – using incendiary words, attacking recklessly, pinning the mighty Parliament into a defensive corner. Or, Fatorma is using another tactic – taunting Parliament, and throwing banana peel in the way of Parliament, hoping the mighty Parliament rush at him and slip….
Grave Allegations Against Parliament
The specific charge against Parliament by Fatorma’s CHRDI published in several Sierra Leonean newspapers and social media forums on June 29, 2016 was this:
“ We at the CHRDI have discovered that over 120 billion Leones was spent on Parliamentarians in the last five years, but there is no supporting evidence to show how these monies were spent. There are clear risks of fraud involving taxpayers’ money…”.
Parliament in a press release considered the CHRDI’s barb as “grave allegations …” Parliament has asked the CHRDI to come up with “documentary evidence” that the “Le120 billion have been allocated to or used by Parliament over five years…”. Fatorma is unlikely to come up with any such documentary evidence.
“We don’t have an accounting crisis in Parliament”
On Monday, 6th February, 2017, in his office in the Administrative Block of the House of Parliament, I interviewed the Director of Public Relations of Parliament, Cyril Juxon-Smith, on the Fatorma issue. Juxon-Smith said Fatorma, “ensconced in London”, has been recklessly casting aspersion on Parliament.
Fatorma published that Parliament received Le120 Billion “over a five year period”. Wrong! The TRUTH is that Parliament received only Le47 billion as CDF, and, the “precursor of the CDF…the Facilitation Fee… over a seven year period”, Juxon-Smith told me. Juxon-Smith (a veteran broadcast radio journalist) said pointedly, “We don’t have an accounting crisis in Parliament”. He said that the MPs are accountable to: a) their political parties; b) their party leadership in Parliament; c) their constituents. Also, Juxon-Smith told me, Parliament would be annually audited by the Auditor General’s Office, and would be given a clean bill of health. Parliament’s finances also has to regularly go through their own Internal Auditors; and Parliament is part of the “Integrity Management Committee of the Anti-Corruption Commission”.
Fatorma also claimed that Parliament has mismanaged “donor funding” given to it. Sheku Lamin Turay, the Senior Public Relations Officer in Parliament, said, “Donor funding does not come directly to Parliament”. Turay gave examples of this: “The Westminster Foundation for Democracy implements their own project on behalf of Parliament. The UNDP has a Chief Technical Officer that implements another project on behalf of Parliament….”. It appears as if Fatorma has – to put it simply – LIED on Parliament.
Contempt of Parliament…to Probable Seditious Libel Charge
Parliament would invoke Chapter VI, Part III , of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone: “Contempt of Parliament, Section 95: “… any act or omission which obstructs or impedes Parliament in the performance of its functions….”; and 96…” Where an act or omission which constitutes contempt of Parliament is an offence under the criminal law, the exercise by Parliament of the power to punish for contempt shall not be a bar to the institution of proceedings under the criminal law…”. What I read in that is this: Fatorma could be punished by Parliament. Fatorma could also face a charge of SEDITIOUS LIBEL – a criminal charge in a regular court.
Using its constitutional powers, Parliament had written the Inspector General of Police, in a letter signed by the Clerk of Parliament, Ibrahim Sesay, dated, January 31, 2017, to ensure that Fatorma “remains available to Parliament”. Fatorma was detained. His Sierra Leonean passport was seized. Samuel Kargbo, Superintendent of Operations, Criminal Investigation Department of the Sierra Leone Police, confirmed to me on Tuesday, that Fatorma, whose Freetown address is No 2B Magnus Street, Wellington, “slept with us” for just one day inside a CID cell.
Apparently, the parliamentarians are riled by the affront of Fatorma. SLPP Member of Parliament, Hon. Frank Kposowa, of Constituency 071 in Bo District, said: ”An institution does not deserve to suffer from the subjective perception of people of the character and description of Abdul Fatorma…”. The veteran print media journalist-turned-politician, Hon. Kposowa, asked rhetorically, “Did Fatorma initiate investigation into the use of those funds from Parliament? No. He did not. If he had written a letter to Parliament; or, asked, he would have been given the relevant information…” The CHRDI claimed: “Our researchers have persistently requested for detailed explanation on how the said monies received from Ministry of Finance were spent but they were told that parliament ‘regulates itself’…”.
Kposowa told me that parliamentarians are given Le60 million every year to effect modest development in about 4 chiefdoms in their constituencies; and this sum has to be used also for administrative cost. Importantly, he said, the culture in Sierra Leone is that “your people approach you for help with their marriage and funeral ceremonies; their ‘bondo and poro’ ceremonies; their schools fees and hospital bills…” This would mean the money given them for the CDF is always grossly inadequate.
Propaganda and Terrorism
The charges made by Fatorma’s CHRDI in June, 2016, are caustic: “We know that even the country’s Auditor General’s Office has highlighted in their report on the audit of the management of the Ebola funds in 2015, that during the course of the verification exercise, the audit team confirmed that the payment of Le110, 460,000 by the Ministry of Health to the Honourable Members was indeed on the 22nd of August 2014…. However, the team further confirmed that the payment of the Constituency Development Fund to Honourable Members by Parliament had already been done on the 18th August 2014 but was later converted for Ebola sensitization…”.
In the art of propaganda, it is not always what is directly said, but, what, in psychological terms, is injected into the public mind as a “suggestion”, an innuendo. Read closely this excerpt from the CHRDI release: “Therefore, we (CHRDI) want to remind MPs that parliamentary privilege is not in the law(s) to prevent operation of the criminal law….. Despite the efforts of the many institutions responsible in this field, the perceived levels of corruption in Sierra Leone are still above AU and ECOWAS members’ average. Levels of public trust in the parliament and the other public sector workforce are particularly low, even though some studies show a certain improvement in recent years…..Recent Public Opinion Studies have shown that all government departments are corrupt but the worst of the worst were those of house of parliament, Police, judiciary and customs and revenue collection….. Parliamentary privilege was never intended to help politicians escape the criminal law…”. The word “criminal” is fused with the word “Parliament” there in the mind of readers and hearers of Fatorma’s caustic word against Parliament. . It is as if Fatorma is playing the role of the police indicting Parliament, a prosecutor prosecuting parliament, and judge and juror convicting Parliament as “criminal”.
Parliament’s Reaction to Fatorma
How should Parliament handle Fatorma? If Parliament appears to be too tough, they would appear like a bully, trying to hide their alleged illegal actions. Fatorma anticipates this in his release: “ CHRDI believe that our Parliamentarians are bringing their office into disrepute by hiding behind parliamentary privilege..”. Judging from the crescendo of supportive postings for Fatorma on social media, his objective has been largely met – he appears to have convinced more people that his lies on Parliament are the truth. The challenge is now on Parliament to clear its name without looking like a bully.
The legal thrust alone can only work if it can be done with aggressive public relations effort. Parliament comprise of individual parliamentarians who need to more robustly inform the public what they have achieved in their constituencies. I daresay that over the past twenty or so years of our Second Republic, there have not been much effort to adequately educate the public about what Parliament does. Fatorma’s stab on Parliament could be turned into a positive thing by Parliamentarians if they do some serious introspection, and, move out resolutely to inform and engage their constituents. Fatorma is overtly ambitious. He is not only aiming at parliamentarians. He could be an advance warrior to weaken the parliamentarians for some presidential candidate in the next election – if the MPs lose their credibility, they can be of little support to woo voters for a presidential candidate.
Fatorma is crafty!! Don’t underestimate him!!!
Fatorma is crafty, and could be well-connected!! The Sierra Leonean passport he gave to the CID is No – E0091822. It was issued on 7th September, 2012. Fatorma left Gatwick Airport, London, on 2nd November, 2012 with that passport, and stopped off at Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland. There was no stamp on that passport that he has ever entered Freetown. I met the Deputy Chief Immigration Officer, Ansumana A. Marrah, yesterday and asked him how Fatorma could have entered Freetown without his passport being stamped; and he said, “He could have used a different passport – a British passport, maybe”. Fatorma has written a letter to the International Criminal Court raising an alarm about “crimes against humanity” that could be committed by this government… Go back to the top of this piece. Read Sun Tzu’s warning: “He who underestimates his enemy…”