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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.

Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organisations convenes bi-annual general meeting in Bo this Thursday

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The Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (SLANGO) will convene its 13th Bi-annual General Meeting (BGM) on the 25th and 26th November 2021on the theme ‘Defining Genuine Partnership and Collaboration in National Development’. This BGM will be held at the Haikal Hall situated at no.1 Zainab Avenue along the Koribondo highway in Bo city.

The AGM will bring together over 200 national non-governmental organisations (NNGOs) and 76 internationalnon-governmental organisations (INGOs) operating in the country.

According to SLANGO’s National Coordinator Shellac Davies, the goal of this BGM is to primarily address challenges to the sustainability of the Association. She said the BGM will also discuss reforms the Association needs to undergo and develop initiatives on strengthening bilateral cooperation and collaboration between and among NGOS and the Government of Sierra Leone.

She said the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Francis Kaikai would deliver the keynote address; and a few presentations would be made by the Director of NGO Affairs in the ministry and another by a Committee Member on the SLANGO Functionality Report. Also, the SLANGO secretariat would present its five-year report to the general membership. 

SLANGO was established in April 1994 to coordinate all humanitarian and development activities of national and international NGOs operating in the country. The Association was to later serve as the liaison between the Government of Sierra Leone and NGOs, donor agencies and the general UN family in the country.

Following the ratification of its new constitution at its last BGM in 2017, it was agreed that SLANGO should hold the next BGM in 2020. But due to the coronavirus outbreak coupled with the government imposition of lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings, it was impossible to convene the BGM as stated. Consequently, the BGM due last year was deferred to this November.    

It is observed that most SLANGO members are excited to attend this year’s BGM despite a dispute that persisted earlier as a result of some INGOs wanting to break away and form a parallel structure.

With all of this at play, the SLANGO Board and Secretariat have encouraged all paid-up SLANGO members to attend the BGM and be committed to addressing these issues once and for all. 

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

Signals of regime change cause sleepless nights for Julius Maada Bio

By Lawrence Williams

We dreamt of it; now it has come to pass. A coalition that will repel this juntacracy has been formally formalised. And that is causing sleepless nights for the incumbent Julius Maada Bio. This coalition exists in the form of a pressure group known as the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP).

The formalization of this consortium ensconced in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by all thirteen registered political parties gives hope to the citizenry that our collective aspirations for better governance are nigh. And you will agree with me that if the COPPP were to be pooled together they would defeat the incumbent without heading for a run-off. And if that is so then our rallying cry to the consortium is to agree on forming a formidable alliance that will present a compromised candidate to defeat the incumbent in the next polls if the hardship and misery undergone by so many under this regime should become a thing of the past.

After being battered by the depravities of the past, the people are now inclined to be more chivvied, pestered, badgered by the political transgressions of this regime. Fears of the swirl of political fury that characterised the Margai and Stevens era reappearing subtly, even as the ‘tribal card’ becoming more pronounced under this political dispensation, is a stark reality. But instead of directing their energies and foci on building a cohesive society where the promise of a better life for everyone could be attained, the regime is rather preoccupied with how to create a psychologically unhealthy environment where the vicious cycle of hate, resentment and revenge would continue to fester.

As though they assumed office in an apparent state of sublime ignorance, their promise of a better life for everyone, ensconced in the New Direction manifesto, appears to be a distant dream – a far-fetched reality! The observable fact is that their foot soldiers are now marshalling the old dirty tricks of politics to turn savage our democracy. This is evidenced in the conduct of government operatives during bye-elections in Tonko Limba, Goderich, Koinadugu, among others. What is even more disingenuous or rather outrageously outrageous is the act of destroying or burning ballot papers and voting materials in full view of security and observers.

Another very worrisome trend is the action of NEC officials who now change figures on purpose, as was the case with the recent bye-election in Koinadugu. This singular act has the propensity to undermine the security and peace of the country. Let me hasten to state that most people who take up arms or violence do so to address a perceived injustice or what Galtung called structural violence. So the consortium must see to it that the excesses of this regime do not go unchecked, and we all bear a responsibility to aid the Consortium in achieving that.  

The European Union has recently communicated to the rest of the International Community the political triggers that could drive the nation into chaos as we march onward to 2023. That position should be exploited by the COPPP to send a loud message to the international community that there is a better alternative to a rogue system.

Since they came to power in 2018 revenge has been the order of the day: massive sackings, disregard for processes and procedures, violation of the constitution, suppression of dissidents, victimization of the opposition, and many other negative constructions have characterised this administration. Nowhere is economics observed; there is lavishness everywhere. There is an increase in poverty, unemployment and inequality. Transparency is shadowy; accountability is vague. The ‘politics of revenge’ does not augur well for a fragile democracy like ours.

Albert Einstein once suggested that no problem can be solved with the same consciousness that created it. So we must discard the old ways of thinking in order to enter into totally new ways of looking at old realities. But if this advice is ignored; if we continue to pervert justice; if we continue to make use of bad precedents to justify present wrongs; if we don’t rise beyond party sentiments and put the country first, then the circumstances which created the civil war could reappear in its most brutal form, leading to outright destruction of those vital elements that bind us together as a nation.

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.