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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).”
- 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.