By Lawrence Williams
The tribunal investigating suspended Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce (photo) and her deputy Tamba Momoh continued its hearings on 24 October at the main law court building in Freetown. During the hearing, defence lawyer Roland S. V. Wright cross-examined state witness Ibrahim Barrie, a principal auditor at the Audit Service Sierra Leone who was the team leader in charge of the audit of the Office of the President for a compliance audit for FY2020, which was conducted in 2021.
Lawyer Wright began by referencing International Auditing Standards (IAS) 240, which highlights the importance for auditors to exercise “professional scepticism” in audit exercises. The witness affirmed the need for auditors to “always have questions in mind” when carrying out an audit exercise. Lawyer Wright then raised doubts about whether the witness had exercised professional scepticism while auditing the Office of the President.
Lawyer Wright referenced the exhibits one by one, beginning with exhibit A-10, a receipt from the Ocean Bay Hotel in The Gambia to the Office of the President with a price quotation of £1,825 per room. He pointed out discrepancies in the payment made, noting that the amount paid for a seven-day stay was quoted in dollars instead of pounds sterling, and that there was also an apparent shortfall of $700.
“The price quotation on the receipt is £1,825 per room,” Wright said: “When you multiply that by seven, it should give you £12,775. However, the payment made was $12,075, and even with that, there is a shortfall of $700,” lawyer Wright said, adding that, “these documents are forgeries”.
Ibrahim Barrie was asked if he was satisfied with exhibit A-10 during the audit, and he replied that he was, stating that according to IAS 240, the auditor could accept a document as genuine unless they had reason to believe otherwise.
Lawyer Wright proceeded to cross-examine exhibit A-11, a receipt issued to the Office of the President by a hotel in South Africa. Wright argued that there was no clear indication of which president’s office the receipt was issued to since the country of the payee was not indicated. Other exhibits were questioned in a similar manner, and Wright continued to cast doubt on the authenticity of these documents.
Referring to exhibit A-19, a Draft Compliance Report prepared by the witness and submitted to his superior Tamba Momoh, Lawyer Wright noted that the report did not mention the retirement details that were the subject of the audit. He asked whether the witness had prepared the report before seeing the relevant documents that were the subject of the audit. The witness stuttered a little, and said that they were focused on retirement details.
Lawyer Wright questioned Ibrahim Barrie’s satisfaction with the receipts provided by the Office of the President. The witness relied on IAS 240, stating that auditors may accept documents as genuine unless they have reason to believe otherwise. Lawyer Wright then posed the possibility that these documents might be forgeries, to which the witness responded that he couldn’t tell.
Lawyer Wright also inquired about Tamba Momoh’s right to cross-check documents and exercise professional scepticism. The witness acknowledged that his boss had the authority to review his work and reference third-party sources.
Lawyer Wright argued that it was through Tamba Momoh’s exercise of professional scepticism and third-party authentication that the forged nature of the documents came to light. The witness said he was unaware of the specific methods used by Tamba Momoh. The tense exchange concluded with Lawyer Wright vehemently stating, “These documents are forgeries.”