Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), today announced that it will be holding a press conference next Tuesday, 7th January 2020, at the St. George’s Cathedral Hall in Freetown to discuss its position on the recently published Auditor General’s 2018 Report, which exposes the disappearance of over One Hundred and Forty Billion Leones, across various government ministries and departments.
According to the ACC statement, “the objective of the press conference is to update the public on the outcome of the Commission’s examination of the Auditor General’s Report and its next lines of action. Also, the Commission will update the public on steps already taken in regard to the several issues entailed in the report. The ACC is inviting media houses and civil society organizations “to send not more than two representatives each, to attend the Press Briefing”.
This decision to hold a press conference next week, follows the prompt response of both the ACC and the government’s financial secretary in the ministry of finance to the report published on the 19 December 2019, promising to conduct a thorough investigation into the missing Billions..
Supporters of the SLPP government say that the Bio-led administration cannot be held responsible for all of the missing cash, after being in power for only seven and a half months out of the twelve months audited in 2018.
But the fact remains that the present government must take ownership of the 2018 Auditor General Report, and held accountable for the missing cash.
Responding to this charge levied at the government, the Anti-Corruption Commission said last month: “The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wishes to inform the general public that it has commenced examination of the Auditor General’s Report for the Financial Year ended 31st December, 2018 conducted by the Audit Service Sierra Leone and tabled before Parliament yesterday.
“The ACC notes and welcomes the ongoing public interest and debates on the said Report on the management of public and donor funds in Sierra Leone.
“As the institution charged with the responsibility of enforcing Accountability in Public Life, the ACC is now examining the aforesaid Report with a view to ascertaining any breaches of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 or needs for intervention by the ACC at this stage; and/or identify system lapses within the audited institutions for appropriate action. The Commission is also cognizant of the role of Parliament regarding this issue and it shall be collaborating with same in the interest of prudent financial management of the country.
“The ACC attaches utmost importance to the judicious use of monies and other resources meant for the People of Sierra Leone. Therefore, it wishes to make it abundantly clear that anyone found wanting shall face the full force of the law as will be appropriate with no exceptions.
“In this regard, the public is therefore encouraged to exercise patience while the Commission does a cursory and careful review of the Report and commence taking steps within the shortest time possible as may be expedient. The ACC shall continue to update the public as and when necessary. The public is reassured that transparency and accountability in the management of Public Funds shall continue to be of paramount interest to the ACC.”
The 2018 Report of Sierra Leone’s Auditor General – Mrs Lara Taylor Pearce, makes for an unpleasant reading. The report is replete with massive evidence of rampant corruption, maladministration and brazen theft of public funds, under the watch of the new government.
According to the 389 page-report, like all previous reports on the financial management of the country by successive governments, there is a huge hole in the current government’s accounts. One Hundred and Forty One Billion Leones in cash, is missing and unaccounted for.
The auditor general’s report is for the entire year ending December 2018. President Bio and his government were elected in March 2018.
There are questions now being asked about president Bio’s commitment to good governance, strict and prudent financial management, transparency and accountability.
One of the first pronouncements president Bio announced from State House after he was sworn-in last year – using his executive powers, was a range of financial management measures across government which he said were aimed at plugging financial leakages. From the findings of today’s report, it is obvious that these measures are not working.
But supporters of the government are blaming the former government of president Koroma for the missing One Hundred and Forty One Billion Leones.
In its executive summary, the report says: “Losses in respect of cash irregularities identified in the course of our audit amounted to Le140.9 billion. These losses are in respect of Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs), Public Enterprises (PEs) and Local Councils (LCs).”
And what makes it even worse is that “these losses do not include cash irregularities from embassies and other diplomatic missions,” the report found.
Le56.2 billion of the cash losses and irregularities took place across Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, and were mainly attributable to the following by the Auditor’s Office:
Revenue not banked
Irregularities in payment of salaries to staff
Statutory deductions not paid to the appropriate authorities
Irregularities in payment of DSAs and other allowances
Unexplained expenditure, payments without approval and expenditure returns not submitted
Fuel not accounted for
Imprest not retired
Stores and fixed assets irregularities
Most of the losses across MDAs were found in various transactions, such as: Irregularities in payment of salaries – Le4,384,950,940; Irregularities in payment for travels, DSAs and other allowances – Le1,528,298,810; Unsupported payments and other funds not accounted for –Le18,708,699,304.
Unexplained expenditures, payment without approval and expenditure returns not submitted – Le22,267,935,226; Imprest not retired – Le1,113,548,001; Fuel not accounted for – Le2,704,734,000; Revenue not banked and other revenue related issues – Le2,414,447,492; Statutory deductions not paid to the relevant authorities – Le2,946,619,395; Stores and fixed assets irregularities – Le107,000,000.
But what is even more alarming, according to the report, is this: “In addition to the above cash losses, we found out that payments for goods, works and services, which amounted to Le2.5 billion were not supported by adequate documentation (unreceipted payments). This means that some of the requested supporting documents in respect of these payments were not submitted for our review.
“We also observed several significant lapses in the procurement of goods, works and services which amounted to Le257.1 billion. This might have been due to lack of commitment on the part of MDAs to ensure compliance with rules and legislation governing the procurement process. This practice does not ensure transparency in the procurement process.”
This massive loss of cash is also reported by the Auditor General across PUBLIC ENTERPRISES, COMMISSIONS AND DONOR FUNDED PROJECTS
“In general, and virtually across all the Public Enterprises and Commissions, several cash irregularities were observed; giving rise to a loss of Le66.3 billion. The significant matters identified in the audit examination fall into the following areas: Unexplained expenditure; Unsupported payments; Statutory deductions not paid; and Revenue not paid in to the Consolidated Fund” (the government’s central bank account).
According to the report, this Le66.3 Billion cash losses across Public Enterprises and Commissions is made up of the following: Irregularities in payment of salaries and other benefits – Le1,095,407,869; Unsupported payments and other funds not accounted for – Le39,885,862,560; Unexplained / ineligible / excess expenditures – Le1,598,804,031; Revenue not banked and other revenue related issues – Le16,283,954,000; and Statutory deductions not paid to the relevant authorities – Le7,434,359,850.
Despite sounding several warnings and making a plethora of recommendations in previous audit reports, it seems a change of government has done very little to bring about culture change across public institutions in Sierra Leone.
“Payments for goods, works and services, amounting to Le33.2 billion were not receipted for. This could be attributed to management’s failure to observe the stated regulations in the utilisation of public funds. We also observed that procurement activities valued at Le19.9 billion were not open, competitive and transparent. This could be attributed to the lack of commitment on the part of management to ensure compliance with rules and legislation governing procurement processes. As a result, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) may not have achieved maximum value for public expenditure.”
Extractive Industry Revenue
Sierra Leone’s mining industry and the revenue generated by the National Minerals Agency accounts for a very high percentage of the government’s income that it spends in providing vital public services, such as health and education.
It is with utter dismay, and indeed a serious indictment therefore, that the Auditor General’s report speaks of serious lapses and irregularities in the management of and accountability for funds, by those running the National Minerals Agency.
The report says: “The issuance process of exploration mining license by the National Minerals Agency was materially not complying in the following:
The Agency did not ensure that all annual license and monitoring fees were paid by mineral right holders, which is in contravention of the requirements set out in section 152 (1&2) of the Mines and Mineral Act of 2009.
The MCAS showed an outstanding fees of US$872,131. The Agency did not pursue payments, neither did they correct the MCAS if there were erroneously recorded transactions that do not reflect the actual activities of the Agency, as required by section 152 (1&2) of the Mines and Mineral Act of 2009.
The Agency inconsistently levied penalties on offenders for the same infringements, which is in contravention of section 2(5) of the Mines and Mineral Regulations of 2009.”
These lapses call into serious question the decision to suspend or terminate the agreements of some mining companies that have been contributing heavily to the government’s revenue and availability of much needed foreign exchange in the country, as the value of the Leone plummets.
The management of the National Minerals Agency must now be held to account; and all mining agreements thus far terminated, must be subjected to review by an independent committee to ensure that such decisions to terminate or suspend those mining agreements are lawful and in the best interest of the State.
Cash losses at city, district, and municipal councils
It seems that everyone has been at it – with their hands deep into the government’s cookie jar; and not even local councils are exempted from maladministration and corruption.
According to the Auditor general’s report: “The annual financial statements for 22 local councils were submitted for audit before, or after the legislative deadline of 31st March, 2019. Significant matters were identified in the audit examination. These matters revealed a cash loss of Le18.5 billion relating to the following categories:
Non-payment of statutory obligations
Over expenditure of budget lines and unapproved expenditure
Payment of sitting fees and other allowances to absentee councillors.”
This findings of this 2018 Auditor General report are clear manifestation of the fact that very little has changed since a new government was elected in March 2018.
Expectations of the Bio-led government doing more to curb ,maladministration across government have been very high, due largely to the ruling SLPP party’s election campaign manifesto pinned on the promise of good governance, financial discipline, transparency and accountability.
In 2018 president Bio sacked hundreds of senior public officials – supporters of the former APC government of president Koroma, whom he said could sabotage his government through misappropriation of public funds or mismanagement if left in office.
A Transition Committee Report conducted by the SLPP government’s Chief Minister David Francis, said it had found hundreds of millions of dollars unaccounted for by the former government of president Ernest Bai Koroma.
A commission of enquiry set up by president Bio is currently investigating the management of State affairs by the previous president and his ministers.
Today, the Bio-led government itself is being held accountable for One Hundred and Forty One Billion Leones missing across government ministries and departments.
Although it is not within the mandate of the Auditor General to pass judgement as to whether there has been corruption by current ministers and senior officials, the Anti-Corruption Commission today said it has conducted a thorough investigation into the missing cash, and will inform the public about its findings next week.