Thursday, January 27, 2022
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Flex Port Company evades tax: A case for the ACC

This press is apprised of information about some fraudulent activities at the Customs and Excise Department of Sierra Leone’s National Revenue Authority (NRA).

We are reliably informed that a certain businessman (name withheld) connived with senior NRA officials to fleece the state of billions of leones that should otherwise be paid directly to the government.

We learn that this businessman created a fictitious company, Flex Port Company, to evade tax.

We understand that another official at the NRA (name withheld) manipulated the ASSYCUDA WORLD and generated code 999 to enable the listing of Flex Port Company in the system. This code was then used to beat the system; creating a caveat for Flex Port Company to be granted a tax deferment of about 75 billion leones.

We were informed that this Le75bn. was later paid but eventually found its way into the pockets of the individuals running the cartel. More details coming up…

Newspaper Editors in Sierra Leone Embark on Strategic Reforms

By Lawrence Williams

With a little support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) channelled through the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), the Guild of Newspaper Editors – Sierra Leone (GoNE-SL) convened a ‘Reformative and Consultative’ meeting on Monday 24th to examine its governance and management structure and to chat the way forward to an elective congress not later than six months from today.

During the deliberations, the Guild for the first time in nearly a decade reviewed adverts pricing upwards; appointed an ad hoc committee to review the Guild constitution and another to look at project proposals for the organisation.

Statements by the MRCG and IMC chairpersons challenged editors to deal more responsibly with the newsroom.

Chairman of the MRCG Board, Dr. Victor Massaquoi underscored the importance of having a well-organized body that is capable of discharging its functions effectively and efficiently. He reminded us about the ethics of journalism and asked that we set standards of integrity that encourage the highest ethical and professional performance. 

George S. Khoryama, chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) re-echoed that the Guild must strive to attain the highest level of professionalism through education, training, and other professional development, including attaining financial sustainability.

“Media institutions should ensure the highest level of efficiency in the provision of media services in the country,” he said.

Addressing his constituents, Chairman of the Guild, Donald Theo-Harding underscored the objectives of this meeting. He highlighted the agenda-setting role of the print media as we gradually move into an electioneering period. Mr. Harding pinpointed the role of editors to ensure independent scrutiny on the forces of power in society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government. He punctuated that reforms are necessary to position the Guild in its rightful place in the overall media landscape in Sierra Leone.

Towards the end of the meeting, members of the Guild unanimously passed a resolution to extend the mandate of the current executive for a six-month period during which an elective congress should be held.

The President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) made a sincere commitment to team up with the Guild to raise the standards of journalism and protect press freedom in the country.

The country’s Minister of Information and Communications delivered the keynote address.

Sierra Leone’s Vice President Under Probe

On Jan. 1 President Bio pardoned a notorious juju priest convicted of murder in 2015. Baimba Moiforay popularly called LAC had barely served less than one-third of his sentence. His release provoked public outrage, leading to a wider public protest on social media.

Soon after his release, LAC was seen posing for the camera with the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice; gallivanting up and down with huge cash under the close protection of a military officer. Another picture of him and the Minister of Information emerged so soon, giving an impression that his pardon was highly recommended by persons close to the seat of power. The criticisms that followed mounted pressure on the president to revoke LAC’s clemency on 17 Jan., a few days after he reportedly flew out of the country.

Upset by this scandal, President Bio used his sledgehammer to sack his principal legal adviser and then instituted an inquiry into the entire process that led to the granting of pardon to such an unrepentant felon.

But too much scepticism still hangs over this investigation. Whilst some schools of thought say the whole inquiry ends just with the sacking of the Attorney General others suggest it will end with a possible impeachment of the Honourable Vice President provided the findings reveal any gross misconduct in the performance of his duties as chairman of the Prerogative of Mercy Committee, noting that Section 63 (1) of the country’s 1991 Constitution confers responsibility on him to preside over the affairs of this committee.

Meanwhile, President Bio has appointed Mohamed Lamin Tarawalley Esq. to replace the outgone Attorney General Anthony Y. Brewah.

Declare Elections Date Now!!

By Lawrence Williams

The absence of a fixed date for the conduct of presidential and general elections in any country invariably creates room for abuse of incumbency, especially in some parts of Africa where democratic dictators tend to hold office in perpetuity.

Now that it has become clear as crystal that this regime’s waning popularity will not stand the test of time in the next presidential polls owing to its maladroit handling of the economy and issues of rampant corruption, tribalism and nepotism that have characterised President Bio’s (photo) administration, thus putting our democracy in peril, the government should declare an election date as early as possible in the best interest of the nation so that citizens minds can be at rest with the hope that this government does not intend to commit any more constitutional infraction by adding more time to the life of the presidency beyond what the constitution prescribes.

With local council elections set to hold this year and the presidential and parliamentary elections slated for next year, it is imperative to make such early pronouncements in order to give ample time to civil servants and other public officers who might be interested to contest for elective positions to resign as per applicable laws and be able to prepare in time for the polls.

The constitution (Act No.6 of 1991) dictates that presidential elections shall be conducted every five years (section 46) whilst the Local Government Act 2004 stipulates that local council elections shall be conducted every four years (section 5). These laws set the parameters for the conduct of national elections in Sierra Leone.

We also understand from the Public Elections Act 2012 that the date for conduct of presidential elections shall be appointed by the Electoral Commission after consultation with the president (section 43), whilst the time for local council elections shall be made known by a Government Notice after consultation with the president (section 103).

Granted that the president wields so much power in determining the conduct of both elections, it is of extreme importance to beckon Julius Maada Bio and the Electoral Commission whose head and some other staff were appointed in a rather controversial setting to do the needful, and do it now!

Nigerian duo arrested for illegal importation of drugs & military fatigues

By Dauda Koroma

A joint security patrol team has arrested Nigerian duo Marcel Zoro and Charles Okonkwo (photo) for allegedly smuggling two 20ft. containers of military fatigues, tramadol and other items of police interest.

The Office of National Security (ONS) says illegal importation of military fatigues is a criminal offence under the laws of Sierra Leone whilst a representative of the Pharmacy Board of Sierra Leone finds that each of the drugs is over 900mg. and far exceeded the normal prescription for pain, and there is no inscription of the manufacturer.

Police say a raid on the premises of the suspects led to the discovery of 39,000 fake U.S. dollars; three chequebooks of United Bank for Africa, Skye Bank and FBN Bank.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) heading the Trans-national Organized Crime Unit (TOCU), Alhaji Kelfala Mbadie Bangura told a news conference last Friday that the two foreigners arrested on 28th Dec. claimed to have a registered business in Sierra Leone run by an agent named Kadie Bangura.

“TOCU is now investigating all three suspects for the illegal importation of drugs, military fatigues and printing of fake currency,” ACP Bangura said.

Police deputy spokesman Samuel Saio Conteh told the SLBC Morning Coffee today that the duo might be operating within an organised syndicate and they [police] will endeavour to dismantle it.

Ex-President Koroma tells Sierra Leoneans to Protect their Votes

In a statement released this afternoon, the former president (photo) exhorts citizens to fully participate in the forthcoming electoral process and take all necessary steps to protect their votes. This statement is made on the backdrop of waning trust in the country’s elections management bodies (EMBs), as observed by the EU Elections Follow-up Mission to Sierra Leone.

“Ex-President Koroma therefore seizes this moment to entreat all Sierra Leoneans to fully participate in the forthcoming electoral processes and in choosing who their next leaders should be. This includes making sure that their civic rights to vote is respected, that they actually take the necessary steps to cast their votes and then ensure that their votes are counted,” the statement reads.

Koroma further reiterated his commitment toward sustainable peace in the country, whilst dismissing romours about him harbouring an intention to contest for the presidency against the prescribed constitutional two-term limit. Koroma further commends the UN Resident Coordinator to Sierra Leone for supporting the country’s peace-building efforts and credible elections. See statement below.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Office of H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone 2007 – 2018

Press Release

The attention of the Office of Former President Koroma has been drawn to a certain social media campaign purportedly appealing to the statesman to stay on and to contest the 2023 presidential election. The public is hereby informed that Ex-President Koroma, being the distinguished democrat he is, is not in any shape or form associated with those calls and has no such intentions.

President Koroma appreciates the fact that many Sierra Leoneans are yearning for his good governance and inclusive leadership. However, the well-regarded statesman believes that he has served his country well within the constitutional two terms limit.

“I have played my part and bowed out gracefully. While I stand ready to support genuine efforts for peace, national cohesion and economic development; I am now focused on supporting our regional, continental and global efforts on peace, good governance and environmental protection,” ex-president Koroma asserted.

Meanwhile, former President Koroma commends the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, on his call to “put Sierra Leone first” and his expressed determination to “directly support efforts for peaceful and credible elections”.

Ex-President Koroma therefore seizes this moment to entreat all Sierra Leoneans to fully participate in the forthcoming electoral processes and in choosing who their next leaders should be. This includes making sure that their civic rights to vote is respected, that they actually take the necessary steps to cast their votes and then ensure that their votes are counted.

Once again, former Presisent Koroma wishes Sierra  Leone a peaceful and successful  2022.

Petroleum Regulatory Agency Suspends Licenses of NP & Four Others

Sierra Leone’s Petroleum Regulatory Agency (PRA) on Monday announced it has suspended the operational licenses of five fuel dealers found culpable for hoarding fuel during the festive season. The agency noted that the action of these dealers led to an artificial scarcity of petroleum products in some parts of the country which invariably affected transportation costs and commodity prices in the market.

In a press release dated 4th January 2022, the PRA said these dealers contravened regulatory provisions governing the downstream sector by hoarding petroleum products ‘in anticipation of a price increase’ despite the availability of sufficient stock.

Consequently, the operating licenses of Mohamed Kamalobee Koroma Enterprise, 1 Lower Allen Town; National Petroleum Campbell Street, Freetown; Kalinda Enterprise Gas Station, Reservation Junction, Bo; Ibrahim Saccoh, 2 Kenema Highway in Bo, the country’s second capital, have all been suspended for the time being. The PRA indicated that they took this decision in order to avert a volatile situation and to restore sanctity in the downstream sector after several warnings issued to these dealers have gone unheeded.

The PRA also observes that other dealers including oil marketing companies (OMCs) are in the habit of hoarding their products in order to force the government to revise upwards the prices of petroleum products so they can realise more profits at the expense of the hapless population. In fact, it has been widely reported that some of these fuel stations often recalibrate their machines to cheat their customers all in the name of making money.  

The agency has now issued a stern warning against all dealers and OMCs who are in the habit of hoarding petroleum products and threatens further to revoke their licenses if they continue such nefarious practices that run afoul of the law. see press release below.

Outrage over Death of Infant in Police Cell

By Lawrence Williams

At least six officers and the local unit commander at the Panlap Police Division have been suspended and put on administrative inquiry following the death of a 17-month-old baby who died in their custody whilst her mother was being detained for the payment of USD75 worth of medicines allegedly stolen in a handbag from a bus passenger.

This issue has brought heavy criticisms to bear on the Sierra Leone Police, prompting the Independent Police Complaint Board (IPCB) to also open an investigation into the conduct of the officers involved.

Rights activists and groups took to social media lambasting the police for treating the infant like a criminal and called for an impartial investigation into the matter. They are of the view that the child would have been alive today if the police had not taken her away.

Police spokesman Brima Kamara said the woman admitted to stealing the handbag and her husband Mohamed Kanu signed on to pay for the medicines. Kanu told us her wife confided in him that she didn’t steal the said bag. He said they were under duress to pay for the medicines or risk going to jail.

“All this time my baby was hale and hearty; She died the day they put her behind bars.”

Kanu said her wife was already pregnant at the time she was re-arrested on Dec. 23 and the baby too was hale and hearty. He opined that the deleterious condition of the cell might have killed the baby.

“All this time my baby was hale and hearty. She died the day they put her behind bars,” Kanu cried.

The IPCB also affirms that the baby died in police custody.

Rights group AdvocAid says the action by the police offends both the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Standards for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders; including the Sierra Leone Bail Regulations of 2018. The organisation urges a speedy investigation of the matter, but the child’s father says the police are somewhat sluggish in responding to that call.

Kamara described the actions of the suspended officers as ‘a professional misconduct’. He assured the family that an autopsy will be done to ascertain the cause of the baby’s death.

Billions of Leones in Limbo at Sierra Leone Commercial Bank

The Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB) is one of the state-owned banks the Governance Transition Team (GTT) reported was not in any good financial position as at the time President Julius Maada Bio took up office. The GTT report noted that SLCB lost Le29.7 billion as bad debt given to most politically exposed persons (PEPs).

One may think that after incurring such a huge loss to the state, the bank should have put stringent measures and policies in place to change the narrative, but that seems to not be the case as the Auditor General’s Annual Report of 2020 once more exposed how the SLCB continues to dish out loans to politically exposed persons and other individuals and companies incapable of discharging their financial obligations.

The report notes that the SLCB made a loan loss provision of Le12 billion and the only response the bank’s managing director could provide is: “additional loan loss of Le12 billion noted”.

A loan loss provision is a cash reserve a bank creates to cover loans that are most unlikely to be repaid.

The auditors found out that SLCB disbursed a loan of Le4.9 billion to politically exposed persons in violation of the enhanced supervision directives issued by the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL). They further revealed how SLCB gave out a loan of Le8.3 billion to a non-creditworthy customer, Pavi Fort Construction Company. The auditors found out that Pavi Fort was already indebted to four other commercial banks the sum of Le40 billion, and that SLCB had written off Le3.7 billion of Pavi Fort’s debt.

In addition, the auditors observed credit facilities totalling Le8.4 billion were approved without adequate security and noncompliance to BSL’s enhanced supervision directives, posing serious risks to the financial status of the bank. See full details below.

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SIERRA LEONE COMMERCIAL BANK  – 2019

  • Additional Loan Impairment Provisioning

Going through the provisions for bad and doubtful debt as at 31st December 2019, we observed that adequate provision had not been made for 15 accounts. The bank therefore made an additional loan loss provision of Le12 billion. We recommend that the bank should adhere to the prudential guidelines issued by the central bank in respect of loan provision.

Official’s Response

The Managing Director in his response said: “additional loan loss of Le12 billion noted”.

Auditor’s Comment

Our recommendation was not implemented. Therefore, the issue remains unresolved.

  • Facility given to non-creditworthy customer

A loan of Le8.3 billion was issued to a customer (Pavi Fort). The customer was seriously indebted to the banking industry of Sierra Leone to the sum of Le40 billion from four other commercial banks. The sum of Le3.7 billion had been written off according to review of the credit reference report obtained from the Bank of Sierra Leone. We recommended that management should ensure proper credit evaluation of potential borrowers, and lending funds should be allocated to prime (creditworthy) customers and must comply with provisions of the New Banking Act of 2019 and the prudential guidelines.

Auditor’s Comment

There was neither a response from management, nor an action taken to implement the recommendation. The issue therefore remains unresolved.

  • Facilities with no/inadequate collateral

Clause four of the enhanced supervision directives issued by the Bank of Sierra Leone requires all collateral for loans/renewals of existing credit facilities should cover at least 125% of related exposures. We however observed that some of the facilities granted with total exposure amount of Le8,397,077,190 and total value of collateral amount of Le66,000,000 were not adequately secured according to the enhanced supervision directives in order to protect the bank’s exposure.

We recommend that the credit risk department should ensure adequate and tangible security (perfected legal title) is obtained to cover exposures. All non-secured facilities should be pursued and regularised going forward to minimize the exposure of the Bank. The Bank should also comply with the enhanced supervision directives issued by the Bank of Sierra Leone in order to avoid any penalties or fines.

Official’s Response

The Managing Director in his response said: “we confirm that we hold properties as collateral security for the customers in question and properties duly valued. In future, we shall take into consideration the enhanced supervision directives of Bank of Sierra Leone to cover at least 125% to cover exposures. We reiterate that we will take into consideration the directives of Bank of Sierra Leone to cover at least 125% to cover exposures going forward”.

Auditor’s Comment

No evidence of verification and valuation reports were tendered to the auditors. The issue remains outstanding.

  • Approval and enhancement of new loans to politically exposed persons (PEPs)

New credit facilities to the tune of Le4,956,014,474 were granted to PEPs. This infringed on the directives of the Bank of Sierra Leone’s clause one (1) of the enhanced supervision. The clause prohibits the bank from undertaking among others, lending to politically exposed persons, government related persons/entities and government backed facilities.

We recommend that management should ensure all directions and or sanctions imposed on the bank are followed.

Official’s Response

The Managing Director in his responses said: “these facilities are granted to the current sitting members of parliament whose salaries and allowances are paid directly into their bank accounts. We also hold Employers Guarantee signed by the Accountant-General’s Dept. We also wish to note that Kalleone Group is not a PEP related account. Management will ensure compliance with the BSL directives or obtain clearance for any future credit to PEP”.

Auditor’s Comment

Our recommendation was not implemented. The matter is therefore unresolved.

Audit Report Exposes President Bio

The Audit Report for the financial year ended 31st December 2020 reveals a total cash loss of Le113.9 billion for the period under review, citing gross financial impropriety in the Office of the President. The report finds out retirement details of overseas travels by President Bio (photo) and his wife amounting to over Le3 billion were marred by discrepancies, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies. In other words, the president’s office submitted ‘fake’ receipts for auditing.

Regarding President Bio’s trip to Lebanon, the auditors queried the selection of a wholesaler and general distributor of pharmaceuticals and toiletries to provide private jet services for the president. A similar contract of this nature was highlighted in the Corona audit report where a construction company was hired to provide catering services to quarantine homes.

The auditors discovered US$170,489.04 was paid in cash to settle the hospital bills incurred by the president in Lebanon. They queried this transaction, saying such a huge amount should be paid through the banking system.

President Bio last month suspended the country’s Auditor General, Lara Taylor Pearce and her deputy, referring them to a tribunal for alleged misconduct. This suspension was widely criticised by local and international organisations who viewed it as a deliberate ploy to exert control over the Audit Service Sierra Leone.

The Africanist Press, Bio’s fiercest critique, says the action to suspend the two auditors was meant to cover up the regime’s corruption.

Opposition critiques say such misrepresentation of material facts by the Office of the President should be treated as a fraudulent activity of which those responsible should be brought to account for watering down the integrity of the highest office in Sierra Leone. See full details below.

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Office of the President – 2020

Overseas Imprest not Appropriately Retired

Appropriate retirement details were not provided for payments with regard to US$135,000, an equivalent of Le1,327,758,800, made for various overseas travels by HE the President and the First Lady. We recommended that the State Chief of Protocol should provide the necessary retirements; otherwise, the said payments will be disallowed and surcharged.

Official’s Response

The Secretary to the President (SP) in his response said: This Office believes that the money in question i.e. US$135,000 provided as imprest for His Excellency the President and First Lady was utilised for that purpose. Retirement details in respect of imprests paid to His Excellency the President will however henceforth be obtained, in accordance with the Public Financial Management Act, 2016.”

Auditor’s Comment

The necessary original (as per the auditee), retirement details were made available during the audit verification process. Following detailed verification, inspection, and other standard audit checks, including checks with third parties where applicable and possible, we concluded that:

  • the sum of US$110,000 or Le1,080,504,300 should be refunded by the payees (i.e. State Chief of Protocol and the Personal Assistant to the First Lady), as the retirement receipts were marred by discrepancies, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. The receipts provided have also been disputed by the concerned third parties.
  • further investigation to be carried on the transaction on PV No. 83325 of 10th March, 2020 for an amount of $25,000 or Le247,254,500; the retirement receipt is marred by discrepancies, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies. These issues remain unresolved.

Overseas Travelling Expenses to Lebanon

A review of payment vouchers and supporting documents relating to the President’s travel to Lebanon revealed the following:

  • The circumstances that led to the selection of the company (a wholesaler and general distributor of pharmaceuticals, toiletries, household goods and chemist) to provide private jet service is unclear.
  • Original and true copy of receipts to support total payment of US$156,113.73 for hotel accommodation and medical treatment was not submitted for audit inspection.
  • Travelling officers were paid excess Daily Subsistence Allowances (DSA) totalling US$7,404 and US$564 was underpaid DSA.
  • Of the funds provided to cover the cost of medical bill for the President and subsistence allowances, payments totalling US$73,416 was made to cover the cost of accommodation of eight travelling officers, even though full DSAs which amounted to US$75,852 to cover such cost had been paid to them. This is an evidence of double dipping.

We recommended that the Principal Assistant to the Secretary to the President in collaboration with the State Chief of Protocol and the Accountant should provide explanation supported by documentary evidence the circumstances that led to the selection of the company to provide private jet service. They should also ensure that originals of receipts for hotel accommodation and medical treatment are provided for audit inspection.

In addition, the excess DSAs paid should be recovered and refunded into the CF, and DSAs of US$564 be paid to the underpaid concerned; and the 70% of the entitled DSA totalling US$75,852 paid to the eight travelling officers be recovered and refunded into the CF.

Official’s Response

The SP in his response said: “Please be informed that the choice of the company was done through the Office of the State Chief of Protocol (SCOP), after consultation with His Excellency the President.

It should be noted that the security of the President should not be compromised in making such a decision. Thus, searching for any available aircraft is not an option.

Regarding the payment of DSA above the normal rate, please see a minutes in respect of an appeal for additional funds to be made available to the delegates given the expensive rates of hotel accommodation in Lebanon at that time. The circumstances at that time also warranted the officers to be in the same hotel with the President.

The observation that has to do with a refund of US$564 to a certain officer is not clear to this office. 441

It is difficult to understand and appreciate the fact that money spent by the President on his officers would be regarded as double dipping since the officials did not put in request for this, and that the money was given voluntarily by the President. This gesture is common with every President from time immemorial. This is also a common practice between senior officers and their juniors across all Ministries/Departments/Agencies (MDAs).”

Auditor’s Comment

  • We noted management’s response regarding the circumstances that led to the selection of the company to provide private jet services. In the absence of a clear and detailed procurement process, we conclude that it’s reasonable to enquire why a company whose main business is wholesale of pharmaceuticals, toiletries, household goods and chemist, was selected to provide private jet hiring services. We therefore conclude that this matter remains unresolved.
  • “Original” receipts all with dates in September 2020, to support total payment of US$352,481.77 for hotel accommodation and medical treatment was presented during the audit verification exercise.

We however concluded that one of the retirement receipts of US$156,113.73 for hotel accommodation dated 18th September 2021, was marred by discrepancies, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. It was also disputed by the concerned third party, whose record show that the bill remains outstanding. In view of such discrepancies and dispute, the matter still stands and the amount of US$156,113.73 should be refunded by the payee, the State Chief of Protocol.

We noted that hospital bills to the value of US$170,489.04 were settled in cash at the hospital in question. The audit concludes that although the amounts had been paid and supporting documents provided, in the interest of transparency, good public financial management practice, and exemplary anti-money laundry reasons, we are of the opinion that such a settlement should have been done through a bank transfer. Given the level of cash involved, the matter is being highlighted as a reference for future transactions.

Regarding the overpayment of US$7,404 as per diem to officers, management’s response is noted; however, it fails to clear the matter considering the fact that the cost of accommodation for these officers was covered by the imprest. The audit concludes that until there is evidence of refund into the CF, the issue remains unresolved.

With regard to per diem of US$564 payable to the concerned officer, no evidence of payments was made available for verification, therefore the matter remains unresolved.

With regards to the payment for accommodation for officers in receipt of full per diem (which is usually meant to cover the cost of accommodation and sustenance) for traveling officers, the accommodation element of 70% of the per diem is refundable, as the state cannot pay twice for the same transaction. The audit concludes that the sum of US$73,416 should be recovered from the affected officers and paid back into the CF, and unless and until full recovery of these funds are made, the issue remains unresolved.

The True Story Behind President Bio’s Suspension of Lara Taylor-Pearce

By Lawrence Williams

In March this year, the Fritong Post uncovered a plot by the Julius Maada Bio government to remove the astute Auditor General from office. Our publication dated 10th March 2021 revealed a consistent pattern by the Ministry of Finance to exert control over the office of the Auditor-General. That exposé was thought to have embarrassingly embarrassed the government to the point that it became necessary for them to abort their plot against Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce.

Today, we again provide evidence to show how the Auditor General has been a deliberate target of a well-orchestrated state-sanctioned attack and lay bare the facts for all to see and judge. We do this with a cosmic sense of responsibility to uphold the truth and to hold the government accountable and guard against tyranny and the abuse of power, a sacred function of the media ensconced in Section 11 of the Sierra Leone Constitution (Act No.6 of 1991).

Background

On April 9, 2018, President Julius Maada Bio issued Executive Order No.1 on Revenue Mobilization. This Order directed all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that generate revenue for the government to transfer all monies into the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The implementation of the TSA was to be done in accordance with the provisions of the Financial Management and Control Act (FMCA). 

Following the issuance of this order, the Financial Secretary (FS) in the Ministry of Finance (MoF), Sahr Jusu, wrote a memo threatening to STOP funding/budgetary allocation to public institutions including the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) should they fail to deposit retained fees into the TSA, even though the FS was not oblivious of the fact that the ASSL is not listed among agencies specified in the FMCA as revenue generation entities. 

After receiving the FS’s letter, the ASSL sought clarifications from the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. In a letter dated 12th April 2018, the Solicitor General (SG) in the Attorney General’s office asserted that the ASSL was not affected by the fiscal control measures of Executive Order No.1 since it was not a revenue collecting agency as stated in the FMC Act.

“Our conclusion is that the Audit Service Sierra Leone is not a revenue collecting agency of government and therefore Executive Order No.1 of 9th April 2018 on Revenue Mobilization does not apply to its operations,” the Solicitor General affirmed.

Following this concurrence issued by the Solicitor General, the ASSL sought further clarifications from the Office of the President since Executive Order No.1 had been issued under his authority. The Secretary to the President (SP) at that time, Denis K. Vandi diligently inquired into the issues raised by the FS and advised him to abort any prepared sanctioned on the ASSL.

In a letter dated 25th May 2018, the Secretary to the President wrote: “Audit Service Sierra Leone, like any other Supreme Audit Institution, is an independent institution as provided for in Section 119, Subsection 6 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone,” adding that: “The Auditor General, therefore, should have a higher pedestal of Independence than that accorded other agencies of Government and must be jealously guarded to promote and uphold the principles of transparency and accountability, which permits the Office to render impartial and unbiased judgements.”

The Secretary to the President strongly affirms, with the approval of His Excellency, that the ASSL should not be bound by the dictates of Executive Order No.1 due to the unique nature of public sector auditing, and reiterated that the “independence of the institution [ASSL] should be maintained at all times to ensure continued good standing in the Public Financial Management realm of Sierra Leone.”

Surprisingly four months to the publication of the 2019 Audit Report and the Covid-19 Audit Report respectively, the Financial Secretary at Finance wrote again to the Secretary to the President making “misleading comments” about the challenges faced by the ASSL and raising the issue of retained audit fees. The FS strenuously tried to persuade the Government to consider stripping off the ASSL its lawful authority to retain audit fees which would invariably constrain its effectiveness in the discharge of its functions. 

It is important to note that when the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) took up governance in April 2018, its first task was to establish a Governance Transition Team (GTT) to take stock of the out-going All People’s Congress (APC) government headed by Ernest Bai Koroma. The GTT findings were very alarming, leading to the setting up of three Commissions of Inquiry (COI) to thoroughly investigate the malfeasances of the APC regime.

During the COI proceedings, the State heavily relied on previous audit reports published by Mrs. Lara-Taylor Pearce to prosecute almost all persons of interest. These reports were treated as the gospel truth and rightly so, they invariably became the primary evidence used to prosecute individuals who were later found culpable of committing grave financial impropriety and abuse of office during the Ernest Bai Koroma era.

But before then, the Bio government had tasked the Auditor General to conduct a specialised technical audit of the Social, Security, Telecommunications, Civil Works and Energy sectors in the country. The findings of this audit indicted politicians across the divide (APC and SLPP), and that led to the abandonment of this report by the responsible institutions mandated by law to act on its recommendations. This was where the relationship between the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) and the ruling SLPP government began to turn sour for the simple fact that the ASSL had jealously guarded its independence and refused to be compromised. 

Since the beginning of this year, a few weeks after the publication of the FY2019 Audit Report and the Covid-19 Audit Report respectively, the Global Times Newspaper, a pro-government mouthpiece, started bombarding the Auditor-General with unwarranted criticisms as if it was doing the bidding of the FS. The paper made a series of unsubstantiated allegations against Lara Taylor-Pearce relating to retained audit fees and alleged breach of Executive Order No.1. 

In its publication of Monday, March 15, 2021, the publisher of Global Times and former chairman of the now-dissolved Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB) board, Sorie Fofana appealed to the conscience of his SLPP government that the Auditor General should be sacked. 

In a Town Hall Meeting organised by SierraEye this year, President Bio retorted to questions regarding the unwarranted attacks by his party loyalists against the astute Auditor General. Bio retorted that ‘if you can’t stand the heat, don’t go into the kitchen.

Suspension of Auditor General

On Thursday 11th November 2021, we received news about the Auditor-General and the Deputy Auditor-General being slammed with an indefinite suspension. The reasons for their suspension were yet to be disclosed, prompting democracy campaigners to demand from the presidency a concrete explanation for this action. As at the time of writing this piece, the Office of the President has not yet come out with any tangible explanation as to why the suspension was slammed on the Auditor General and her deputy, Mr. Tamba Momoh. Best practice demands that when an employee is suspended, dismissed or sacked, the reasons for such an action should be clearly communicated to the employee prior to or at the time the decision is taken. But such a best practice was neglected outright in this circumstance. However, a State House correspondence says President Bio has finally appointed a tribunal to investigate the two officials for what they termed as ‘lack of professional performance’.

Reprehension

Following the news about the suspension of Lara Taylor-Pearce and her deputy, Human Rights Defenders have come out to express grave concerns over the decision to suspend both the Auditor General and her deputy. Besides the legal argument about a procedural or constitutional breach as it relates to their suspension, there have been a series of reprehensions from pro-democracy activists as to why President Bio should suspend the Auditor General barely a few weeks to the release of the FY2020 Audit Report.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) was the first independent institution to take a position on this matter. SLAJ said such decisions have the propensity to create undue disaffection, confusion and distrust among the general populace. 

It is important to also note that the suspension of the Auditor General came just about two weeks after the European Union Elections Follow-up Mission released its findings indicting the elections management bodies (EMBs) in the country. The EU particularly noted there is a significant decrease in trust in the National Electoral Commission, Political Parties Registration Commission, Judiciary and the Police. 

Legal Link, a rights-based civil society advocacy body that renders pro-bono legal services to vulnerable persons and groups, said the action to suspend the two auditors violates section 137 of the country’s constitution which provides among other things that the question of suspension or removal of the Auditor General must first be referred to a tribunal before the president can take any action. The group said the suspension of the Auditor General undermines transparency and accountability and serves as a disincentive to many women who may aspire for leadership in public life.

Similarly, a renowned gender advocacy group called Fifty-Fifty, in its statement of 12th November 2021, condemned this action by the government to suspend the Auditor General from office. They noted that this suspension might be part of a concerted campaign against high-profile women in the country. 

“Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce has been subjected to continuous harassment and intimidation,” the group said.

In like manner, the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) decried the situation saying it’s a state capture of independent state institutions. COPPP noted that the Auditor General has been under persistent threats because of her impartiality and consistency in uncovering financial impropriety and misuse of public funds by the Julius Maada Bio administration.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sierra Leone (ICASL) has escalated the issue beyond the frontiers of Sierra Leone while threatening to discipline any of their members who may want to take up any substantive appointment to replace the Auditor General and her deputy. Following ICASL’s report to its international bodies, the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) has today demanded the immediate reinstatement of the Auditor General and her deputy, Mr. Tamba Momoh. 

This repudiation by INTOSAI is said to have caused great embarrassment to President Bio and his government.

Barrister Charles Francis Margai, a well-experienced legal luminary on constitutional matters has also published a very sound legal opinion stating that the president’s abrogation of the constitution should warrant an impeachment, citing the relevant provisions contained in section 51 of Act No.6 of 1991, Constitution of Sierra Leone.

A popular Sierra Leonean journalist based in the United States and works for the Africanist Press said the move to suspend the Auditor General “is part of the Bio regime’s efforts to hide scandalous details of its corruption and financial crimes recorded in the FY2020 Audit Report”. 

Albert Einstein once said that “society will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”. 

‘Death is inevitable’, President Bio tells mourners of Freetown gas explosion

By Lawrence Williams

With the death toll rising above a hundred, more than eighty unidentified corpses were yesterday buried in Bolima, Waterloo, the resting place of the Ebola and mudslide dead.

In a public notice issued earlier in the day, the government said the rush to bury the dead was based on the advice from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

At the cemetery, people were seen wailing incessantly as the corpses of their loved ones were lowered into the ground with the national flag laid on them, while the military band played a doleful melody.

“Death is inevitable,” President Bio said; adding that: “but it doesn’t have to be too sudden…too gruesome!”

President Bio addressing mourners at the graveyard

Three-day national mourning had been declared. This would be followed by religious prayers on Friday and Sunday respectively.

What’s next after the burial?

The president had promised to set up a presidential task force to investigate the incident. Many hold the view that such a calamity warrants an inquiry. People are curious to know how and why it happened, and what can be done to prevent its reoccurrence.

But besides that, the victims and survivors are in dire need. The World Health Organisation has dispatched emergency medical supplies and promised to send expatriate doctors to come and assist local medics to treat the critically injured.

The National Petroleum whose tanker was involved in the blast had also mobilised some relief items to aid the response, but are they ready to take up the responsibility to indemnify the survivors and bereaved families?

Meanwhile, lawmakers have today summoned the institutions responsible for road safety and traffic management (SLRSA, Police) to answer queries regarding their handling of the situation before the blast.

This is a national tragedy. And Bolima should now be declared a memorial park for national disasters.

mass graves dug at Bolima

Nearly 100 die in Freetown’s gas explosion

By Lawrence Williams

Nearly 100 people have died in a gas tank explosion at PMB Wellington, east of Freetown.

The explosion which occurred last night left dozens of people hospitalised with severe burns and injuries; and the death toll is expected to rise as more corpses were being discovered at the scene.

Video footages captured from the scene show dozens of people with containers scooping fuel from the leaking tank shortly before the blast.

Some vehicles with passengers onboard were reportedly trapped in a heavy traffic at the time of the accident. Reports say only few passengers escaped the inferno; the rest were burnt beyond recognition.

An eyewitness said the National Petroleum (NP-SL) fuel tanker burst after it was hit by a truck carrying granite, but the nation’s Fire Force is yet to state what exactly ignited the blaze.

The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) is coordinating the response. Red Cross and other partners are providing support. The NDMA says five households and two business structures were affected, with about 66 motorbikes, cars and tricycles completely burnt down.

The Vice President visited the scene this morning and assured of government’s support to victims and survivors.

President Bio who had been in Glasgow for the COP26 is expected to jet in tomorrow to lead the response. We were told the first gentleman had also cancelled his trip to Ghana where he was expected to attend a meeting of ECOWAS Heads of States and Governments.

EU cautions President Bio’s Government

By Lawrence Williams

A European Union Election Follow-up Mission (EFM) to Sierra Leone has observed a waning public trust in the country’s election management bodies (EMBs). Hon. Norbert Neuser, Chief of EFM and member of the EU Parliament told a news conference in Freetown yesterday that there is a waxing mistrust and confidence in the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Judiciary and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). 

He said: “The Mission findings are that these institutions’ reputations are less trusted than is needed. But further, our assessment is that there are real grounds for concern in the ways in which these bodies have administered recent bye-elections.”

Neuser noted that the government has a pivotal role to play in ensuring the independence and neutrality of these institutions if at all our elections would be recognised as credible by citizens and observers. He stressed the need to revive the constitutional review process and to have a fixed date for national elections.

Neuser decried the High Court ruling of May 31 2019 which annulled the election of ten opposition lawmakers and replaced nine of them with the petitioners from the ruling party, in outright violation of section 146 (4) of the Public Elections Act 2012 which states that “if the election is declared void, another election shall be held”.    

He said: “If an election is declared void, according to section 146.4 of the Public Election Act, another election shall be held. The 2019 High Court decisions to declare the runner-up elected in 10 constituencies, eroded confidence in the neutrality of the Judiciary. Unequivocal respect for the rule of law in election petitions is needed to ensure confidence in the electoral process.”

The EFM also repudiated the proposed Mid-Term Census which political pundits say could be used for political gerrymandering. Neuser said this census is unprecedented and unfavourable to the present political atmosphere. 

He said: “The use of an optional census to provide data which might be used to change electoral boundaries shortly before an election is not conducive to the political atmosphere or good electoral practice.”

Nonetheless, the EFM acknowledged the decriminalisation of libel and strengthening of the Independent Media Commission would go a long way to enhance press freedom in the country. He also applauded the government for promulgating the Gender Empowerment Bill in order to ensure women get 30% representation in political and public positions but said the law should be synchronized with political parties’ constitutions.

Hon. Neuser ended with a note of caution to the Julius Maada Bio led government on the excessive use of constitutional powers. He admonished them to exercise restraint in the ‘spirit of democratic compromise’.

Man convicted for sharing sex video of ex-lover

A 34-year-old man has been convicted for sharing a sex video of his fiancée on social media, and then ordered to pay Le20 million ($2,000) compensation to the victim.

Ahmed Issa Kamara, a Forest Guard, was found guilty on four counts relating to making, possessing and circulating an indecent material (nude video) of his girlfriend Abibatu Princess Samba via a social media application, contrary to provisions of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 2019.

Though the accused pleaded not guilty, the learned judge, Justice Alhaji Momoh-Jah Stevens, after examining that the facts of the matter, ruled in favour of the prosecution. He noted that the prosecution was able to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubts. They presented three witnesses and provided proof to show that the mobile phone used to record the sexual activity belonged to the convict.

The judge also noted that this act by the convict was deliberately intended to demean and ridicule the victim to others and to portray her as a prostitute.

According to the particulars of offence, Ahmed Issa Kamara, between 1st March and 2nd April 2020, in the Freetown judicial district, made an indecent material of the 29-year-old Abibatu Samba while having oral sex, and circulated the said video to Abibatu’s former boyfriend overseas and uncle Vandy Sheku Barbay.

The judge said two videos were played in a closed court session: one showing the victim performing oral sex (blow job) with the convict and the other showing Kamara bedding the victim. He said both the accused and the victim had been in a domestic relationship.

“Circulation of sexual video is uncalled for and unacceptable,” said the judge. He then sentenced the convict to five years imprisonment on each count or pay a fine of Le80 million. In addition to that, the judge ordered the convict to pay Le20 million compensation to the victim.

ECOWAS Speaker applauds President Bio’s outreach to Guinea’s junta ruler

By Lawrence Williams

The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Dr. Sidie Mohamed Tunis has applauded President Bio’s outreach to the military junta in the Republic of Guinea whilst urging the Community to intensify its engagements with the regime’s leaders to return the country to constitutional rule.  

Hon. Tunis was speaking at the opening ceremony of the ECOWAS Parliament Seminar on the theme, “two decades of democratic elections in ECOWAS Member States: achievements, challenges and the way forward”. The seminar is hosted in Winneba, Ghana, from 13 to 15 October 2021.

He said: “I particularly commend His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, for his 11th October working visit to the Republic of Guinea, to hold discussions with the Military Leadership on the restoration of constitutional order in the Republic and the ECOWAS democratic transition roadmap. I enjoin His Excellency and all relevant individuals and institutions to continue more of such engagements with authorities in Guinea until democratic rule is restored.”

While condemning the undemocratic seizure of power by the Guinean soldiers, the Right Hon. Speaker said the ECOWAS should pay serious attention to what he called “the new phenomenon of amending the constitution of a State before an election or before the expiration of the tenure of an incumbent President”. He stated that this practice is an existential threat to political stability in the region, and if the trend continues unabated the Community could be plunged into severe chaos and anarchy.

“If we do not take firm and very decisive actions against this ugly trend, ECOWAS will not only be perceived as a body of failed States but will indeed fail,” Mr. Speaker warned!

Speaker Tunis spoke further on electoral fraud within the region. He said hijacking of electoral processes and press freedom attacks by Member States constitute a clear and present danger to sustainable electoral reforms and democratic consolidation. He, therefore, advised ECOWAS to impose stiffer sanctions on perpetrators. He said: “Considering the effect these have caused us and the toll they continue to have on the region, it has become necessary that we go beyond statements that merely condemn these actions and consider imposing harsher penalties on would-be perpetrators.”

Mercury International gives succor to Dr. Kadi Sesay Girls Secondary School

Constructed about a year ago, the Dr. Kadi Sesay Girls Secondary School is the first all-girls school in Port Loko District. This school was built by Mercury International Sierra Leone Limited as part of the company’s $1.5 million pledge toward the construction of 90 classroom blocks in support of the government Free Quality Education Programme (FQEP). It has all the appurtenances of a modern-day school including a well-furnished science laboratory, a well-resourced and equipped library, a child-friendly playground, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, staff offices and spacious classrooms that contribute to effective learning.

The school was named after one of Sierra Leone’s foremost female educationists, philanthropists and peace-building practitioners, Dr. Kadi A. Sesay. Dr. Kadi Sesay was well-known for her dedicated service in the field of education. She also rose to the political limelight following her appointment as Development Minister (1999 – 2002) and Trade Minister (2002 – 2007) respectively.

Celebrating the first anniversary of the school on Friday 8 Oct., Mercury International magnanimously dished out Le100 million to the school administration to be able to provide stipend for teachers without pin codes and to undertake refurbishment of the infrastructure whenever the need arises, even though the government has assumed full responsibility of providing subvention to the school after it was approved as a Government school.

Just twelve months after it was formally opened, the school has enrolled over 100 pupils and has recruited teachers with baccalaureate degrees from recognized universities.

Speaking at the occasion last Friday, the principal Marion Malia Jiba profoundly thank Mercury for making such a huge investment in education; thus giving a promising future to children of a district that recorded the highest illiteracy figures in the 2015 National Census.

A snapshot of school pupils at the ceremony

Madam Jiba however noted that they are faced with resource constraints as government subsidies are usually delayed. She also mentioned that there is a growing demand for education in the district and therefore appealed to Mercury International to construct another facility for Senior Secondary School (SSS) pupils to enable the girls to acquire secondary education without any impediment.

In response, the Managing Director of Mercury, Martin Michael commended Madam Jiba and her entire staff for doing their best in promoting learning outcomes. He noted that the concerns raised would be looked into. In addition to the Le100 million given to the school administration, Mr. Michael also donated 3,000 exercise books for pupils of the school.

He promised to continue supporting the school for as long as he lives. The ceremony was chaired by the Resident Minister for Northwest, Haja Isata Abdulai Kamara.

Theft at Rokel Commercial Bank

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By Dauda Koroma

CSP Francis Lebbie attached to the Criminal Investigations Department updated journalists last week Thursday that seven A.K. Security guards have been arrested in connection with an alleged theft at Rokel Commercial Bank.

CSP Lebbie was speaking at a news conference held at the Police headquarters on Oct. 7, 2021.

He told journalists that they received a report from the branch manager of RCB Umaru Abdul Salam Shyllon on Monday, Sept. 27, alleging that thieves broke into the bank and stole two plasma TVs, laptops and four thousand United States Dollars.

CSP said they arrested the security guards because they were in the bank at the time the incident occurred. He said these suspects are still in their custody helping out with the investigation.

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Youth Affairs named in election violence

It appears as though the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) has adopted a dogged approach to elections; and they will stop at nothing to edge their opponents even if it means promoting thuggery, gangsterism and machismo in the process of achieving their goal. This stratagem was first introduced in the Constituency 110 bye-election where observers noted the commandeering of political thugs who went berserk destroying ballot boxes in full view of police personnel and election observers.

And it is clear that the destruction of election materials during elections is a Paopa phenomenon; a trick deliberately contrived to steal votes in situations where a loss to the ruling party is imminent.

In the two local council bye-elections for Ward 115 and Koinadugu District Council Chairmanship held past Saturday, it was observed that the ruling party employed the same or similar strategy but it eventually boomeranged as the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) had upped its game to raise the red flag on any irregularity or political gerrymandering. 

According to the unbendable election watchdog group, National Elections Watch (NEW), the two bye-elections were characterised by widespread violence and political intimidation, destruction of election materials, and use of thuggery. The tense atmosphere in which these bye-elections were conducted signals an early warning of the mayhem that will be unleashed by Paopa thugs come the next general and presidential elections.

What is shockingly shocking in these elections is how Cabinet Ministers conducted themselves during the poll. NEW observed a strong presence of political party stalwarts in the district on polling day, and this contributed to heighten chaos in the elections. Two prominent senior government officials named in NEW’s report are Amara Kallon, deputy minister of Political and Public Affairs and Mohamed Orman Bangura, the minister of Youth Affairs.     

NEW said these two government ministers “forcibly pushed people out of the polling station” in centre code 6048. Having witnessed the exhibition of their commandos, the marshals accompanying the two ministers then went on the rampage vandalising the driving mirror of a vehicle belonging to Minkailu Koroma of the APC.   

NEW also reported that the SLPP agent in polling station 2 DEC Kagbasia ordered some hoodlums who had entered the polling station carting away with voting and election materials to forcefully take away observation documents including mobile phones belonging to NEW observers deployed on the ground. These observers narrowly escaped the scene.

Also, the SLPP candidate for the Koinadugu District Council Chairmanship election physically assaulted a disabled party agent for the APC and assaulted and wounded another party agent who was trying to have a photograph of the scene. During the tallying process, it was observed that a staff of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) altered the figures in favour of the SLPP candidate. The commotion that ensued led to the suspension of the tallying process. And this was seen as the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Freetown Choral Society Gives Aid To Cheshire Home

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As part of its 70 year anniversary, the Freetown Choral Society (FCS), an organized group that promotes choral music in Christendom and also engages in charitable works, yesterday donated food items and toiletries to the Freetown Cheshire Home (FCH) located in Cline Town.

Reynold Edwin-Jones, assistant secretary of FCS said the donation is part of their charity toward vulnerable and deprived communities. “This donation is part of our goodwill gesture,” he said. Furthermore, he said the donation was made possible with support from Gento Group of Companies, Mercury International, Nesto Farm, Bolloré, Bet Salone, and Dr. Olabisi Cole. 

Making the presentation on behalf of the group, Madam Alice said the move was intended to ease the burden on duty-bearers of the Home to cater for the children during this festive season. 

Receiving the donation on behalf of the Freetown Cheshire Home, Ibrahim Bangura, the operations officer expressed his profound gratitude to the FCS. He remarked that running the Home is not an easy task and therefore appealed to the government to make timely disbursement of funds allocated to run the facility. He said they cannot admit more children into the Home because of resource constraints.

The presentation was climaxed with songs by the Freetown Choral Society 

Note: The Freetown Cheshire Home was established in 1962 to provide primary education for children with disabilities and to cater for their physical, social, medical and vocational development