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British MP – Denis MacShane – Speaks to the Sierra Leone Telegraph about the alleged corruption of Sierra Leone's Ministers

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

13 March 2010

It was during question time in British Parliament, which took place on 11 March 2010, that the South Yorkshire Labour MP accused ministers in Sierra Leone of lining their pockets with British tax payers’ money, sent to Sierra Leone for tackling poverty. Was his allegation true or false? The Sierra Leone Telegraph investigates.

We start with the extract from Hansard, of the proceedings in Parliament on the 11th March 2010:

Hugh Bayley (City of York - Labour Party): How many days National Audit Office staff spent in developing countries when auditing the expenditure of the Department for International Development in 2009?

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I have been asked to reply.

During 2009, National Audit Office (NAO) staff spent a total of 183 days in developing countries as part of the NAO’s financial and value for money audit work relating to DFID. That total includes days spent in developing countries both by NAO employees and by employees of audit firms that the NAO engaged to assist it with its audit of DFID’s annual resource accounts.

Hugh Bayley: That amounts to barely two days per country in which DFID has programmes—programmes that involve billions of pounds. Today the International Development Committee published its annual report on DFID’s performance and said that although it welcomes the continued rise in DFID’s budget, it is concerned that DFID’s staff is being reduced, making it harder to ensure that money is well spent in the field.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Public Accounts Commission to get the Comptroller and Auditor General to look at the problem, write a report and consider whether additional audit staff are needed to ensure that DFID money is well spent in the field?

Mr. Leigh: Constitutionally, the Comptroller and Auditor General is, quite rightly, completely independent in what he determines to study for the Public Accounts Commission and the Public Accounts Committee. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, which I shall relay to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

To be completely clear, the NAO has worked recently—this year—in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya and India, so it takes very seriously the work of DFID and will continue its work.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham – Labour Party): Through the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), I request that the National Audit Office look particularly—[HON. MEMBERS: “Wrong one!”] I am terribly sorry—I mean the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee; forgive me.
Will the hon. Gentleman look specifically at how DFID money in Sierra Leone is spent? An hon. Member and other friends have just come back from there with the most alarming stories of diversion of DFID aid into the pockets of Ministers down there, and we really need to get Sierra Leone under full transparent audit.

Mr. Leigh: That is an extremely good point. I shall of course relay the right hon. Gentleman’s point of view to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and I am sure he would be very happy to undertake a study in Sierra Leone if that were indeed appropriate. End of extract.

Following these proceedings in the British Parliament, and within hours of this news breaking, the Department for International Development (DFID -SL) issued the following press statement:

International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas said:

“DFID has not been informed of these allegations and I would urge anyone with evidence of corruption to get in touch with the department.

“The National Audit Office has just returned from Sierra Leone and found no evidence to substantiate these allegations. DFID does not tolerate corruption and has strong systems in place to ensure UK aid gets to those who need it.”

“In fact, we actively pursue those who steal money meant for the poor and have been working with the Government of Sierra Leone to investigate and prosecute those suspected of corruption.” End of DFID’s Statement.

Corruption in government ministries and institutions in Sierra Leone is very well acknowledged – even the President himself has, on at least two occasions had cause to name and accuse those suspected. But no minister or head of department, has been sacked or prosecuted, based on the President’s very own evidence.

Notwithstanding this fact, and in view of the significance of British donor aid to Sierra Leone - totaling £47 million annually, and the special relationship that former British Prime Minister – Tony Blair has with President Koroma, it was inconceivable that DFID (SL) would be so careless and negligent in their auditing, as to miss vital evidence of ministers directly pocketing British cash meant to support the poor in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, the Sierra Leone Telegraph observed with dismay, the impact that such allegations made in the British Parliament would have on the people of Sierra Leone, if proved to be true.

Quite rightly, therefore, the Sierra Leone Telegraph had decided to suspend all judgement until it had given the British MP – Hon. Denis MacShane, the opportunity to explain the motivation behind his accusation and to provide any evidence he may have.

In assessing the reply of Denis MacShane given to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, we strongly suggest that readers ensure that they cross-reference his comments against the proceedings in Parliament (produced above) as recoded in the British Hansard.

Hon. Denis MacShane MP - In Reply to the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

“Had Mr. Edward Leigh said that the National Audit Office had visited Sierra Leone and carried out an audit, I would not have made my intervention. If DfID is now saying that the National Audit Office did visit Sierra Leone this year and carried out an independent audit, then clearly the statement made by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – Mr. Edward Leigh (see above), which did not mention Sierra Leone needs to be corrected. That is a matter for DfID and the National Audit Office.”

“On the wider problem of good governance and corruption and how UK and Western aid does not help produce social justice and promote balanced economic growth, my interest in Sierra Leone was sparked by a BBC report by Humphrey Hawksley last summer and conversations with him.”

“I think there is a major problem and while I would never make any suggestion about any DfID official I am of the view that we now need a major debate and investigation as to whether UK aid to many poorer countries does help them become less poor or whether powerful politicians are able to divert funds to their own ends. As you can see (Sierra Leone Newspaper and State House reports), it is the President of Sierra Leone who makes this accusation, as do Sierra Leonean journalists and the press.”

Denis MacShane - MP


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