SIERRA LEONE EMBASSY, RUSSIA FOR THE PERIOD 1ST JANUARY, 2008 – 31 DECEMBER, 2010
1. Poor Financial Performance
A VSL was not maintained even though a computerized system of Commitment Control had not been adopted by the embassy. Quarterly expenditures were not planned as monies were spent on an adhoc basis. A Cash Book was not maintained and Bank Reconciliations were not carried out.
We highly recommended that the Vote Controller should provide an explanation as to why the Mission had never operated a VSL or computerized system. He was also to explain the basis on which he had been preparing the financial returns to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
We recommended further that the VSL or its equivalent in computerized accounting system, be put in place immediately upon the approval of the Accountant General and this office be informed of such an action.
The HOC in his response stated that there was no professionally trained accountant from the AGD working in the Embassy as in other counterpart institutions. He added that he combined his duties as Vote Controller with that of accounting and book keeping. Furthermore he said, with such a situation, there was bound to be lapses in the administration of accounting methods which was going to be rectified.
The HOC also noted the observation of the ASSL as regards considering the management system and that the Head Office intended to deploy a professionally trained accountant from the AGD to fill in the gaps.
On the issue of VSLs, the HOC informed the ASSL that for a long period of time, VSLs had not been available in the Embassy which had resorted to other forms of accounting and transparency. He stressed that efforts had been made to get supplies of the VSL from the AGD in order to operate in line with regulations and ASSL’s recommendations pertaining to a computerized system in lieu of the VSL.
2. Financial Management Reports
There were no records to indicate that quarterly financial returns were prepared and sent to the Accountant General. In addition, the Financial Reporting Templates were not used by the embassy. This was in violation of the instruction of the Accountant General in a circular referenced AGD/RC/FA/10/06 of 19th May, 2010.
It was therefore recommended that the Mission should provide evidence that they had been adhering to that directive, or provide an explanation for the deviation. It was also recommended that the Mission should provide this office with copies of its financial reports for six months.
3. Misuse of Credit Cards
Payments for Credit Cards were not supported by receipts.
It was recommended that the receipts for every transaction on a credit card statement should be attached to the statement before payments were made.
The HOC noted the ASSL’s observations and recommendations and also promised to take necessary action to improve the receipting system of credit cards.
4. Unauthorised Payment
In August, 2008, an amount of $5,000.00 was paid out of the Other Charges Vote, to Ambassador Turay on the death of his mother, without authority from either the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation or the Ministry of Finance. We recommended that the necessary authority for that expenditure should be provided for verification; otherwise the Accountant General should ensure that the former Ambassador refunds the sum of $5,000.00 into the CRF and provide evidence of the refund to this office for verification.
The HOC stated in his response that in the case of an Ambassador and a representative of His Excellency the President, it was prudent to offer something higher than the cost of an Economy Class Air Ticket which was plausibly the case for former Ambassador Turay.
5. Expenditure on welcoming a new Ambassador
It was observed that the sum of $10,550.00 was spent to welcome the new Ambassador in October, 2010. Further examination of supporting documents revealed that expenditures totalling $789.00 did not relate to the event for which the amount was withdrawn. Responding, the Head of Chancery (HOC) wrote: “During occasions, all Missions are bound to present gifts to institutions, organisations and fellow diplomats at the expense of the institution which you serve”. It was also noted that Medical Bills for the outgoing HOC was included in the expenditure.
We recommended that the Mission should give a breakdown of the amount per type of expenditure. For instance the following expenditure headings can be used if applicable:
Gifts for Incoming Ambassador; and
Gifts for Others(which should include the $789.00)
We advised that the Mission should explain how the above items were distributed (i.e how many Diplomats benefited from these gifts).
The HOC stated that necessary action will be taken on the recommendations of the ASSL to give a more comprehensive account of the expenditure incurred. The financial documents requested and outlined by ASSL will be solicited and produced for a more compressive report, he added.
6. Late payment of salary
Salaries were paid a week or sometimes two after their due date of the end of the month.
We advised that the Accountant General should transfer funds for the payment of salaries as early as possible in the month, to enable the Mission to meet its salary obligations at the end of the month.
The HOC noted the observation of ASSL but however stressed that recently, Government had been remitting salaries and emoluments on a timely basis thereby resolving the problem.
7. Payment of staff salary in cash
Salary payments to all Local Staff, except for one staff, were withdrawn from bank and paid by cash
It was recommended that all salaries of members of staff should be paid directly into their individual bank accounts through bank transfers.
In his response, the HOC informed the ASSL that the preconditions for opening a personal account was tedious in the Russian Federation, especially if requests were to be submitted to open personal accounts for a sizeable number of employees in an Embassy. In addition the HOC stated that it was preferable to maintain the status quo for administrative and disciplinary reasons such as abandonment of work by an employee while he or she continued collecting salaries.
8. Unclaimed salaries not brought to account
Unclaimed salaries, totalling $38,160.00, were not paid back into the Consolidated Revenue nor was there evidence that these monies were later paid to the beneficiaries. Details are given below:
We recommended that the amount of $38,160.00 or its equivalent in Leones at the time of refund be paid back into the CRF by the Vote Controller and a paying-in slip forwarded to this office for verification, except a contra evidence could be produced.
The HOC noted the observations of the ASSL and promised to take necessary action.
9. Incorrect staff records
The following were observed:
The information contained in some staff personal Files did not match with conditions that were in practice in the embassy. Salary Scales in Personal Files were at variance with those on the paid Salary Vouchers;
The Mission’s principle of offering employment to Local Staff subject to a satisfactory completion of a probationary period was ignored. A Local Staff, appointed on 23rd October, 2008 with six months probation starting 3rd November, 2008 was not confirmed. It was however observed that this staff collected and signed for her salary from the end of November, 2008 to August, 2009; and
The name of the HOC (Mr. Ibrahim Kondoh) was omitted from the Salary Voucher for September, 2010 with no explanation from either the Accountant General or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Internation Cooperation.
It was therefore recommended that:
all current Staff Files should be reviewed and amended correctly to reflect their current realities;
the good practice of probation and confirmation should thereafter be continued;
a copy of the Conditions of Service for Local Staff should be made available to this office for verification; and
the Accountant General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation should provide an explanation for the withholding of Mr. Ibrahim Kondoh’s September, 2010 salary.
The HOC noted the concerns of the ASSL and stated that measures had been put in place in correcting the files of all members of staff.
On the issue of non payment of salaries to Mr Ibrahim Kondoh for the month of September 2010 whilst he was still in post, the HOC said that it had been brought to the attention of the MFAIC for necessary action.
10. Employment of a staff previously terminated.
A driver, employed in May, 2009 was terminated, re-employed in the same year, terminated and re-employed again in April, 2010. It was further observed that when his services were terminated the first time, he made claims against the embassy for Termination Benefits.
It was highly recommended that the Mission should not state in its appointment letters what it was not prepared to implement and it should ensure that all staff contracts were clear and in agreement with the laws of the land, to avoid future possible claims by dissatisfied or disgruntled employees.
The HOC replied, saying that the concerns have been duly noted and the services of the driver terminated.
11. Location of Embassy
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.
The HOC stated that his Excellency the Ambassador had brought the matter to the attention of Government and consideration was being given to the request regarding relocation of the Residence Chancery to the town centre, at a premise befitting the diplomatic status of the country.
12. Rent arrears
Outstanding rents, in respect of the former office and residence of the Ambassador for the period 1986-1999, totalled $1,122,819.52; apart from the current office accommodation and Ambassador’s Residence.
It was recommended that the Mission should bring the matter to the attention of both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, if they have not already done so. It was further recommended that the Mission should try and secure, in writing, the assurance that the total debt had been cancelled or written-off by GlavUpDK.
The HOC said that Government was aware of this age old problem and that the premise in question which was incurred at that period was vacated and the Residence relocated to its present environment. The issue was unlikely to come up since it was no longer being mentioned in the debts being quoted, he added.
13. Non payment of rent by a former Ambassador
A former Ambassador received her monthly salary (including her Rent Allowance) but failed to pay her landlord (GlavUpDK) the sum of $58,595.04 as at 30th May, 2008. In spite of repeated requests by key personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the amount was not paid. Instead, the sum of $20,000.00 was withdrawn from the Other Charges Account to pay part of this amount, as the matter was a constant embarrassment to the Embassy.
We highly recommended (except the Mission and/or former Ambassador can prove otherwise), that the Accountant General should recover the full amount of $20,000.00 from the former Ambassador. An explanation was requested from the Mission as to how the balance of $38,595.04 was to be settled.
The HOC noted the observation of the ASSL and brought the issue to the attention of the MFAIC for necessary action.
14. Inventory Register
An Assets Register was not maintained; only a list of assets was being maintained by the Embassy.
It was recommended that the assets of the Mission should be recorded as required by Section 231 of the Financial Management Regulations and evidence provided to the office for verification.
The HOC in his response noted the gaps outlined by the ASSL and said that measures will be taken to replace the present system with a more systematic one.
15. Unauthorised payment for accommodation
In spite of the fact that the First Secretary was entitled to a Rent Allowance covering everything to do with accommodation, an expenditure of $1,500.00, was incurred by the First Secretary in securing accommodation. This amount was later refunded to him from the Other Charges Account, without approval from either the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation or the Ministry of Finance.
It was highly recommended that the Accountant General should recover from the First Secretary the full amount of $1,500.00 and pay it into the CRF and provide this office with a copy of the paying-in slip for verification.
The HOC said that the refund of $1,500/00 to Mr. Henry Nyandemoh arose out of the exigencies of the service and expediency. He said in Moscow, the securing of housing for diplomatic staff was not an easy task and that Mr. Nyandemoh’s arrival in Moscow before the availability of a suitable and affordable flat was unavoidable.
He further said that since Mr. Nyandemoh had become wearied of staying with someone else, for the privacy of his family unit, he had no alternative but to accept the offer by the Mission.
16. Unauthorised additional payment by a former Head of Chancery
In June ,2008, the HOC in addition to his monthly Heating Allowance of $383.33 appropriated to himself a further sum of $791.71 for the payment of his Heating Allowance for Flat 308/309.
We highly recommended that the Accountant General should recover from the former HOC, the sum of $791.71 and evidence provided to this office for verification.
The HOC noted the audit observation and promised that the matter will be brought to the attention of the officer concerned.
17. Failure to bank Consular Fees
Consular Fees were not banked but kept in the office, even though there was a bank account approved by the Accountant General. It was also observed that fees collected were being used for Other Charges expenditures.
It was highly recommended that the Vote Controller should provide an explanation as to why the provisions in Section 42 of the Financial Management Regulations were violated.
It was also recommended that, with immediate effect, whenever the Mission received money (whether for fees or otherwise), that money should be paid directly into the Mission’s bank account. At the end of each Quarter, fees collected should be remitted to the CRF at the Bank of Sierra Leone.
The HOC noted the observation of ASSL and further explained that the main problem the emanated from the regulation had to do with Other Charges that were often remitted in arrears almost retrospectively and that some utility services may be disconnected if payments were delayed causing embarrassment for the diplomatic status of the Embassy. He added that it was in view of this that borrowing was done from the fees and replenished and remitted when the anticipated money was received from Freetown. For reasons of exigencies of the service, it became difficult to strictly adhere to the provision, he concluded.
18. Failure to submit weekly report of Mission’s activities
In spite of a directive from the former Acting Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, of 15th October, 2008, the Embassy had never prepared and submitted Weekly Reports on its activities.
It was recommended that the Mission should provide an explanation for failing to produce the said Report. It was also recommended that, except the Ministry had instructed otherwise, the Weekly Activities Report should be produced weekly and copies sent to this office for verification, for the next two months.
The HOC noted the audit observation and further stated that the Ministry had adopted a new model of report based on operational plans and performance contract which was being instituted.
19. Travel without ministerial clearance
In spite of a memo dated 12th December, 2008 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, instructing all missions to seek clearance for official travels before embarking on them, the former Ambassador and HOC made a visit to Kiev in December, 2009, without obtaining the necessary clearance. The total amount involved was $5,360.00. Details are given below:
We recommended that (except the Mission could provide evidence of the Ministerial Clearance for this travel), the Accountant General should recover the amount stated above from the officials concerned and evidence sent to this office for verification.
In his response, the HOC explained that the visit by His Excellency the Ambassador and Officer before written permission may have arisen out of emergency and absolute necessity, especially bearing in mind the fact that Ukraine was one of the twenty-two countries to which His Excellency the Ambassador was accredited. Furthermore, he stated that it does happen sometimes that visits were made in such cases prior to the Honorable Minister’s approval.