Friday October 14, 2011 - CORRUPTION, MORE CORRUPTION AND EVIL CORRUPTION LAID BARE AS STATE HOUSE IS IMPLICATED IN MISSIONS' SCANDALS: As the government abandons most of its key pledges to the electorate on governance, the rule of law and corruption, with the massive thieving and rampant corruption in our overseas missions exposed by the Auditor-General, we await to see what action the smoke and mirrors President will take in trying to put a stop to this massive stealing of the peoples' money. We await with keen interest the heads that will roll in a corruption scandal that sends a message to the donor and international community just how committed the government is to the pledges made to alleviate the lot of the ordinary Sierra Leonean.
We had to wait for a couple of days for all especially true Sierra Leoneans and friends of the mother country to absorb and try to comprehend the large-scale and rampant thieving that has been going on in our missions abroad as outlined below in the Auditor-General's report. It sends a chill down the spines of Sierra Leoneans who care and shudder to think of how this rampant thieving could be in many a replicate in the affairs of this government. We would again remind the ruling party, the one and only APC, the All Peoples Congress party of the pledges made to the people in its manifesto as it wooed them with what is now clearly a honey-coated sweet with an inner core of arsenic. Here is part of the preamble as it laid into the then seemingly uncaring government headed by former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
"The economy under the present Government (President Kabbah then) is bankrupt and propped up by the grace of institutional donor funds which are grossly misused. Furthermore our economy is characterized by many factors including endemic institutional corruption, alarmingly chronic youth employment, unbearable cost of living and a lack of political resolve to check and curb corruption...what emerged in the last ten years however, has been a pathetic and painful picture of socio-economic decline corruption and generally poor governance. The challenge of any incoming government in 2007 will be to reverse this trend, by establishing proper governance and sustainable development, and generally breaking the depressing cycle of poverty."
Four years on, what has emerged is a monster with an insatiable appetite for corruption, graft and all the ills it had accused the Kabbah administration of - thus dashing the hopes of many who had yearned for a new direction in the management of the affairs of a rich country that remains extremely poor. Thanks to a less than five percent of the population holding the rest of the country to ransom. The recent report of the Auditor-General could well be a mirror of what operates in other arms of government with high levels of dishonesty, a lack of accountability, a lack of transparency and outright thieving of the resources of the people.
The Auditor General's report highlights just how appointments are made in these missions, how funds are used to finance the spending habits of mission staff and associates as well as a deliberate attempt at refusing to comply with laid down rules and regulations relating to how government monies are to be disbursed. This has resulted in those with the right connections treating our missions abroad as personal fiefdoms as long as the core belief remains that they are in the good books of "the Pa" and hence immune from prosecution and accountability. We are now beginning to understand why certain elements - as key supporters of the party - imagined or otherwise are just so vitriolic in their reaction any time "the Pa" our very own smoke and mirrors President is criticised for his failings and not adhering to promises made to the electorate. We found this statement in the report on the country's Mission to the United Nations very worrying, if not alarming and portending the complete breakdown of order and discipline.
Internal Communication in the Mission was far from satisfactory and this has had a negative effect on their work culture and performance.
We are disappointed, very disappointed because although we knew the history of government officials when it comes to corruption we actually believed that with a new man at the helm at State House, things would improve for the lot of the ordinary Sierra Leonean. We started getting doubts, serious doubts when reports both public and from other sources seemed to point out that State House itself was at the heart of a new wave of corruption that made nonsense of what we had been accusing the Tejan Kabbah administration of starting off with those deals aimed at giving a semblance of regular flow of electricity to the capital Freetown. Then followed others, and each time, State House or "the Pa" would be said to have either given the nod or had a direct hand culminating in the India rice deal which saw the President's brother becoming a dollar-waving "businessman" overnight.
A cursory glance through this audit report sees similar patterns
Unauthorised payments - It was observed that Children’s Allowances were being paid arbitrarily. In some instances, Children’s Allowances were paid to Diplomatic Staff not entitled to it.
Neglect of Mission property with this observation for one such property - It was observed with utter disgust, that the embassy was housed on the ground floor of a 19th floor Social Housing Estate with no in-built heating system. Our recommendation was that the Ambassador and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation should take appropriate steps to relocate the embassy to somewhere more dignified.
Another - The property (Chancery and Residences) of the Embassy still remained uninsured; A colossal amount of US$396,742 had been spent or utilised on the maintenance and rehabilitation of the Chancery & Residences; The construction work at the Chancery was incomplete. There was still a lot of work to be done at the Chancery Building to bring it up to an insurable state or standard;The Ground Floor of the Chancery Building was in a state of complete dilapidation. The electrical, plumbing, asbestos and elevators were damaged or worn out; and An independent Certificate of Work done in respect of the maintenance and rehabilitation of the property was not produced for inspection to support payments made for work carried out on the properties.
Lack of accountability - Disbursements were not supported by Payment Vouchers.
Lack of transparency - In one mission abroad, they had twelve accounts, while another had eight and another six.
Visa and other fees collected were not properly accounted for and expenditure was unauthorised - The Embassy was operating twelve (12) different Bank Accounts which made it difficult for reviews and follow-ups. In addition, these accounts were not balanced and reconciled monthly. Disbursements were not supported by Payment Vouchers.
Reimbursements and payments of medical bills were suspect as were monies paid for children's allowances with no proof offered on age and paternity/maternity.
What has raised eyebrows in many quarters and that has now got many voices calling for an audit of State House, the President's own office are these revelation regarding, in this case, travels by the President to address the United Nations General Assembly.
The report notes these double payments and requests and explanation from the Financial Secretary. The Financial Secretary is a man whose track record leaves much to be desired when it comes to playing around with government money.
Edmund Koroma was one of four officials caught in the dragnet of the Anti Corruption Commission over the NASSIT purchase of rotten ferries and was ordered much to the chagrin of anti-graft watchers to pay back to the state five hundred million leones. From that institution he was made the country's Financial Secretary, sending a message to the donor and international financial institutions just how serious Sierra Leone was in tackling the evils of corruption and nepotism.
In section 6 of the report subtitled - Duplication of payment in respect of United Nations Assembly meetings, it is noted
That MOFED paid twice for accommodation and other incidental allowances in respect of the United Nations General Assembly Meetings in New York- once to the Office of the Secretary to the President and again to the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission to the United Nations. During the Financial year 2008, the Office of the Secretary to the President received US$57,161 for the 63rd UN General Assembly Meeting; for the same period an amount of US$43,800 was also remitted to the Mission for the same purpose.
In the 2009 Financial Year, the MOFED paid US$46,691.00 in respect of the 64th UN General Assembly Meeting and remitted US$36,596 to the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission for the same purpose.
During the 2010 Financial Year, the Office of the Secretary to the President received US$54,267 to cover accommodation, incidental and imprest in respect of the 65th UN General Assembly meeting and for the same period an amount of US$49,915 was remitted to the Mission. Of utmost concern to the auditor was the unavailability of the relevant supporting documents and schedules to cover those payments. We therefore recommended that the Financial Secretary should explain, with substantial evidence, why duplicate payments were made in respect of the UN General Assembly Meetings; in the absence of which the amounts involved should be refunded by the officers concerned.
Now you have an idea why we have been asking for figures on the size of the President's delegation to the recently-concluded 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the amounts spent on accommodation and transportation as well as all allowances.
That State House and our overseas mission could be at the centre of graft is nothing new it seems. Kindly read this line from the 1985/86-1991/92 (Momoh's Presidency) audit report which we published in March 2004. It is about the President's Office then, under President Joseph Saidu Momoh and our missions in London and Lagos.
Leone Commission, Lagos - Expenditure
We await the Auditor-General's report on the President's Office since its occupation by one Ernest Bai Koroma, Fountain of Honour etc etc.