Corruption syndicate uncovered at Sierra Leone’s ministry of social welfare

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 August 2016

Poverty in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Two ministry of social welfare personnel are now at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), helping with investigations regarding an alleged corruption syndicate involving senior public officials, uncovered at the ministry.

Sources at the ACC have this afternoon confirmed that they are both persons of interest. One of whom is the permanent secretary of the ministry – Mr Momo Bockarie Foh – the younger brother of the country’s vice president Victor Bockarie Foh.

It is understood that the other individual in ACC custody, is the chief accountant of the ministry – Mariatu Harding.

Yesterday, the permanent secretary at the ministry of social welfare in Sierra Leone, was caught red-handed attempting to withdraw thousands of dollars from an account held at the commercial bank in Freetown.

The scam was exposed in a secretly recorded audio conversation sent to the Sierra Leone Telegraph yesterday.

Sierra Leone’s ministry of social welfare is believed to be one of the most corrupt and chaotic ministries in the country, which the former editor of Awareness Times newspaper and now minister in charge of the embattled ministry – Dr. Sylvia Blyden was appointed early this year by president Koroma to bring under control.

But there are massive structural and administrative problems crippling her efforts.

More that 70% of Sierra Leone’s GDP or wealth created in the country, is consumed by the country’s public sector, with very little finding its way into the private sector for investment and job creation.

This cannot be good for tackling poverty in a country that is classed as one of the poorest in the world.

With most of the country’s GDP which is estimated at $4 billion, supporting the payment of public sector wages and salaries, the delivery of essential services and the running of government, opportunity for corruption and misappropriation of funds is astronomical.

Analysts say that yesterday’s corruption scam exposed at the ministry of social welfare is just the tip of the iceberg.

Minister of childrens affairs - Dr Sylvia BlydenDr Blyden was brought in, to head the ministry of social welfare so as to make sweeping changes in the way the institution is being managed; bring sanity to the ministry and address the immediate priorities and needs of vulnerable children and women in the country.

But since taking up the job, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that she is being frustrated by the poor conduct and treacherous behaviour of senior colleagues, including the deputy minister.

Rather than being allowed to focus on addressing the plight of the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children and women in the country, she is forced to be spending her time chasing thieves and corrupt officials in the ministry.

Last month – July 2016, Dr Blyden told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that, since her appointment as head of the social welfare ministry in March this year, she had been gathering evidence involving allegation of a network of businessmen and public officials, conspiring to defraud the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars, meant for the installation and operation of computer systems across children’s services in Sierra Leone.

Based on her findings, she had asked the Sierra Leone police to investigate and prosecute those responsible for this serious crime.

“Armed with that information I had quietly gathered, on Friday 15th April 2016, exactly one week after I took office, I decided to undertake a whirlwind nation-wide tour of the entire country in order to elicit the reasons why a Multi-Million Dollars Donor-funded project to, among other things, provide VSAT Internet service to all district offices, was not functional despite the contract signed by Afcom SL Limited with the Ministry to provide such 12 months internet service at cost of $182,400 (One Hundred and Eighty Two Thousand, Four Hundred U.S. Dollars) alongside provide another totally different supply of Call Center equipment and configuration at $17,600 (Seventeen Thousand, Six Hundred U.S. Dollars) for a grand total of $200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand U.S. Dollars),” says Dr. Blyden.

Those allegations are still being investigated by the Sierra Leone police, whom many are accusing of dragging their feet. One of the accused at the centre of that case is believed to be an associate of vice president Victor Bockarie Foh.

So what happened yesterday? (You can listen to the audio recording below).

This is a letter leaked by an unknown source, that was written by the minister of social welfare – Dr Sylvia Blyden, to inform her staff at the ministry about what took place yesterday:

Momo Bockarie Foh - Sierra Leone permanent secretary ministry of social welfare“My Dear Staff of MSWGCA,

“Some of you might have learnt of the act of criminality that the Permanent Secretary Momo Bockarie Foh (Photo: Mr Momo Bockarie Foh) was caught in today involving a secretly duplicated Hajj dollars account at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank.

“Mr. Momo Bockarie Foh in connivance with other persons including the long since retired former finance clerk, MR. ABDUL GEGBAI were all caught red-handed today trying to steal $3,000 (three thousand dollars) of Government money.

“Many of you know the frustrations that I have been facing in trying to lead a Ministry that was long since wired to be corrupt.

“God saw my heart. God knows what I mean to do for my President as His Excellency serves our vulnerable people and today, the powerful God I serve, decided that enough was enough and exposed Permanent Secretary Momo Bockarie Foh for the criminal that he is.

“The audio you will hear accompanying this update is of PS Foh as he speaks to Hon. Mohamed Alie Bah, Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office and Alhaji Sheka Shekito Kamara, the Special Assistant to the President on Social Issues. The audio speaks for itself.

“The fraudulent letter (see below) attempting to steal $3,000 is also going to accompany this update. This is for staff members of MSWGCA to better understand what unveiled in your ministry today.”

“The audio and letter speak for themselves – unauthorised transaction from a secretly held account in the name of my ministry supposedly for Hajj activities.”

corruption exposed at ministry of social welfare - 24 August 2016

Listen to the secret recording: Grand corruption at the ministry of social welfare exposed – Mr Momo Bockarie Foh is the younger brother of the vice president Mr Victor Bockarie Foh.

VP VICTOR FOH - Oct 2015There are fears that $14 million donor funds being set aside to help promote the welfare of young girls and vulnerable women in the country is at risk, as senior officials in the ministry are already scheming to embezzle the funds. (Photo: Vice president Victor Bockarie Foh. He is responsible for presidential oversight of the management of the country’s Hajj programme. How much does he know about this scam?)

In 2014, Sierra Leone’s ministry of health was marred by a massive corruption scandal, in which over $12 million of funds meant for the fight against the deadly Ebola virus were stolen.

Despite a parliamentary investigation into the Ebola corruption scandal, no one was charged to court. The Anti-Corruption Commission was quietly stopped from bringing legal action against those responsible for the theft.

Will the new Anti-Corruption Commissioner – Mr. Ady Macauley be allowed to step into the ministry of social welfare to put an end to the corruption syndicate that is now consuming the ministry and the lives of vulnerable children?

Ady Macauley appointed by president KoromaMr Macauley must go where ever the evidence of malfeasance and corruption leads. He must be allowed by president Koroma to conduct a thorough investigation without State House or parliament’s interference, and ensure that those responsible are charged to court. (Photo: Mr Macauley welcomed by president Koroma to the ACC).

An attempt to steal $3,000 from the account of the ministry of social welfare may be regarded as a petty crime, but speaking recently to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Czar – Mr Ady Macauley said:

“There is nothing petty about petty corruption. For the most vulnerable and poorest in society, there is nothing petty about the proportion of their already stretched income that goes on bribes to access the services they desperately need – health, education, power, water and law and order.

“Nor is it petty when they are deprived of these services because they do not have the money to bribe – it means children do not get the education they need to build a better future for themselves and our country; and the sick die because they are denied life-saving treatment or vital medication.”

Over to you Mr Macauley – the poor and vulnerable children and women of Sierra Leone need you to clean up this mess. 

12 Comments

  1. My analysis of this situation is that one should not jump to conclusion based on the audio and what is being reported. There is a succession battle going on within the APC which is no secret. Corruption must not be condoned however small the amount involved.

    Can president Koroma honestly tell us that he demolished and rebuilt his house on his current salary? If the head is corrupt, what do you expect his subordinates to be.

    Yes it looks bad that the Permanent secretary wanted to withdraw funds from an account that he claims have got nothing to do with Hajj affairs, but claimed in the letter that it was for Hajj related expenses. These are all allegations, the court of public opinion should allow a court of competent Jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

    What about the contract award kickbacks, the income electrix contract, the NASSIT ferry, Ebola funds and a host of other corrupt deals. Why have they not arrested the big fishes behind all these.

    Fighting corruption should not be witch hunt exercise only for those who don’t dance to their tune but rather it should be fair.

    Some of the APC top brass had assumed Victor Foh was a fool when he declared that he will serve the President like SI Koroma did to Siaka Stevens, and had no ambition for the Presidency. Well they got it wrong and don’t understand politics. They are on the back foot.

    This is a battle between the old guard and the new breed APC, as to who will succeed the president. We are watching closely.

  2. Mr. Abdul R. Kabia, what do you mean by saying that:

    “The Sierra Leone masses are very ‘conscious’ of all of this and will ‘rally’ behind anybody who seeks to address issues that directly affect their well-being as a people.” Please explain and be specific.

    Which of the current presidential candidates do you think has these qualities to move the country forward?

  3. Something is astonishing indeed about some of these comments on this corruption case. A direct attack on the personality of Honorable Silvia Blyden, who is working assiduously to wipe out the menace of organized corruption in her Ministry and bring in sanity in this government department, deserves commendation rather than crying her down.

    She is facing a daunting battle with bravery therefore, deserves unconditional support by all those who wish to see good governance in this country.

    If people condone the current attitude of government officials in top offices, and intend to throw spanner into the good works of Honorable Silvia Blyden, it simply means there is a lack of focus on what direction they want to go in order to usher in progress in this country.

    A determination to eradicate organized corruption across the board of government Ministries what ever perception one may have about Ms Blyden, we should focus more on performance and her genuine intention to serve this nation with honesty. She deserves unwavering support to carry on this good job.

    Corruption is the cancer of this country’s backwardness and had destroyed our economic foundation all along the years. Many have had the privilege to do; instead, they joined the boat and sailed on the wealth of the masses paying no attention to their poor condition of living.

    – Corruption mainly, and power abuse of our government drove Sierra Leone into a cruel civil war.
    – Corruption in its chronic stage rubbed the attention of government to provide a safety net in time against the endemic ebola disease into Sierra Leone which caused incalculable loss to the nation.

    – Corruption is the direct cause for the lack of basic amenities and services so needed by the people.
    – Corruption is the direct cause for Sierra Leone not been able to put in place a meaningful economic structure that would sustain the economic survival of the country. Making us the poorest among the poor. Is this not enough to consider this menace a serious plight?

    The Sierra Leone masses are very conscious of all of this and will rally behind anybody who seeks to address issues that directly affect their wellbeing as a people. If commentators are void of this fact in the way they give their views on these issues, I don’t think they are contributing anything towards the change the people desire.

  4. Why blaming Sylvia Blyden for conspiracy against her colleague in the office. The amount involved in this matter is little compared to what we normally hear about our kleptocracy, but none the less, corruption is corruption.

    Corruption has only one definition ” illegal, bad, or dishonest behaviour, especially by people in positions of power”.

    So please let us don’t start to re-define corruption because Mr Momo Bockarie Foh is involved. Let us give the investigation a chance to unveil the truth.

  5. Every Sierra Leonean should remember the national anthem with these words in its second lyrics as follows:

    “One With A Zeal That Never Tires;”

    Yes, we will not relent to call out CORRUPTION by its proper name wherever it rears its ugly and satanic head. As such,

    1. Unduly shifting of the presidential and general elections from November 2017 to February 2018 is CORRUPTION;

    2. To allow a citizen of the United States of America, Mr. Alie Kabba, to contest the presidential and general
    elections of Salone is CORRUPTION;

    3. The nepotistic President Koroma’s family affair in the International Gateway by Teltac Africa without a
    legal License is CORRUPTION;

    4. Because of CORRUPTION over Le 54 Billion was withdrawn from The Ebola Accounts without any criminal
    charges brought against the culprits; whereas neighboring Guinea was able to sentence a pair for the same
    Ebola Financial Embezzlement as recent as July 8, 2016 from 1 to 2 years of incarcerations;

    5. Mr. IB Kargbo’s Lebanese wastegate scandal without any governmental investigation & prosecution is
    CORRUPTION;

    6. The Sierra Leone Police killings of peaceful protesters in Kabala Town, and the innocent executions in
    Gbangbatoke is CORRUPTION;

    7. Ms Blyden’s Bondo failure to outlaw and ban female genital mutilation that is hacking off the lives of girls
    and young women of Salone, for just no health reasons whatsoever, constitutes CORRUPTION;

    8. The anti-bridge construction across the Atlantic Ocean to connect Lungi and Freetown is CORRUPTION.

    By the way, had this long awaited and talked about bridge been built:

    a.) There would have been no riparian boat deaths in this 21st century of the country as experienced
    yesterday August 24, 2016 between Kissy and Lungi Terminals; and

    b.) The remains of Late Mr. Moseray Fadika would have arrived earlier in Freetown than going around from
    Lungi to Freetown via Port Loko District.

    Of course, it is NOT about having brand new ferries on the high sea as a first priority, but simply constructing an overpass bridge across the Atlantic Ocean. Amen.

    http://cocorioko.net/speedboat-capsized-2-dead-8-survived/

  6. Mr NP, you said “This person only attempted to steal $3,000. There is no money to recover because none was taken.
    “If we do a cost benefit analysis, should the ACC be spending time and resources investigating the missing $12 million Ebola funds or the $3,000 someone tried to steal?”

    Whoooa!! Please let us not even go there. I will say investigate both and all forms of corruption in high places.

    This is the permanent secretary of the ministry we are talking about here, the most powerful man in the organisation, and he is the younger brother of the vice president. If it smells like corruption – it is corruption. Is he acting in collusion with his brother the vice president? We will not know the answer until the ACC completes its investigation. So let us allow the ACC to go to work.

    As the editor said, let the ACC go where ever the evidence takes them. No stone must be left unturned. You may have a lower level of tolerance for corruption, but trust me many of us in this country are sick and tired of being fleeced by those in power.

    Please stop downplaying the sum involved. Ok let us assume that there is $1 million in that account that Mr Foh wanted to steal from. He is not stupid like some APC ayampees to go to the bank and walk away with everything in his briefcase.

    Like a squirrel he will steal $3,000 every time he thinks it is safe until every cent is taken away from the account. But like I said earlier I really dont care about the sum involved, it is the principle of stealing or attempting to steal from the poor tax payer that turns my stomach as much as when $12 million Ebola funds was stolen.

    I wonder how many times in the past has Momo Foh dipped his grubby fingers into the coffers to take out a couple of thousand pounds you call petty cash. And because he can take money out without the signature of the minister, raise serious questions about governance in this country, all because he is the brother of the VP.

    You think we dont care about corruption in this country? Of course we do. It is just that when those in high places steal, they cover their tracks so neatly it is difficult to get the evidence and unearth the tracks they have covered.

    But on this occasion, thank God Mr Foh was arrogant and dumb enough to fall for a trap that was set for him. Bravo Dr. Blyden. I want every Sierra :Leonean in this country to lay trap for their fellows and report them when ever they smell corruption. We must defeat corruption by hook or by crook.

    As for the earlier commentator who accused DR. Blyden of committing the lowest form of inhumanity by setting a trap for a crooked employee of the state, I say this: why dont you come to salone and eat some of the dry cassada we eat for breakfast and supper, because of poverty caused by corruption, then you will understand the importance of what Dr Blyden has done today.

    Every day for tiffman – but wan day for master ose!!

  7. This is an example of the lowest form of humanity to be a false witness against your neighbor. This minister is definitely unqualified to be a leader because if she can conspire with outsiders against her fellow employees who she supposed to be working with everyday as a team player and lying about her presence and whereabouts of the other conspirators then records it, concludes that it’s a set up to bring Momoh Foe down and probably to tarnish the image of the Vice President who happens to be his brother. Let nobody jump into conclusions before the start of the investigation.

  8. Sylvia Blyden has her faults and good dose of enemies. But no matter how we feel about her we should not let our prejudice get in the way of justice.

    The amount of money involved in this story is not the issue. It is the principle involved. When someone in authority steals from the public purse it is a crime. Period. So let us not condemn the minister for this.

    The only person I hear on that recording talking about a secretive account that he wanted to dip his grubby fingers into is the permanent secretary who has now been arrested by the ACC for questioning.

    This case is good for Salone as the man in question is no other than the younger brother of the corrupt vice president vouchergate Foh. So let justice rock.

    Go on Mr ACC – we the people are with you all the way to court! Den wan ya don pass mark. Let this be a new beginning for the ACC, whose next stop should be the office of the Veep itself.

    Salone man too tiff. I hope the ACC boss will not relent in his investigations. There must be no orders from above as some sympathisers of corruption in this forum are already beginning to condone this as petty crime.

    $3000 may be petty for some of you working abroad. But for us here in salone it is a huge amount of money that will take three months for a hard working doctor to earn, and 60 months for a poor school teacher to earn. So please stop insulting our people of this country with your comment about $3000 being petty.

    Even if its one Leone that is stolen from our people, you must face the full force of the law. Theft is theft – period.

    I also believe that president Koroma should be held responsible for all the corruption in this country, because he is allowing those close to him to act with impunity and have others arrested.

    He should face an investigation for all the wealth he has accumulated in this country in the past nine years, whilst people are dying of poor health and poverty.

    Shame on you president Koroma for not giving ministers like Dr. Sylvia Blyden your full support to clean up her ministry. I hope other ministers will take a leaf from Dr. Blyden’s book and do what is right – stamp out corruption in their ministries.

    • JW,
      This person only attempted to steal $3,000. There is no money to recover because none was taken.

      If we do a cost benefit analysis, should the ACC be spending time and resources investing the missing $12 million Ebola funds or the $3,000 someone tried to steal?

      How many lifetimes would someone have to work in Sierra Leone to earn the $12 million the auditor’s report has already told us is missing versus the $3,000 this person allegedly tried to steal? How many arrests have been made regarding the $12 million missing Ebola funds?

      With limited resources to fight corruption, let’s be wise in our use of resources. Is it wisdom to tie up police time and ACC time for $3,000 someone attempted to steal or should we be using the human resources policy and whatever disciplinary actions are required? Use the HR policy instead of making an attempt at being the headline news about $3,000 that was not taken.

      In the meantime, people are quiet as church mice about the missing $12 million Ebola funds. How far has the ACC gotten on that case?

      All this smoke and mirrors and people are falling for it hook, line, and sinker. What better way to look effective in your position than to go after someone who attempted to steal $3,000. You can look like you are tough on corruption without actually interrupting the system of thievery.

  9. Like NP enumerated above, this seems more like sensationalism than a real zeal to expose corruption. As far as the recordings and the letter are concerned, they do not prove much for us who are not privy to the investigation.

    However, it is hoped that the Anti Corruption Commission will delved thoroughly into this matter so as to prove or disprove that there is a Hajj sensitization committee, and that the members of that committee have or do not have knowledge that they have to undertaking an urgent sensitization tour for Hajj as claimed by the permanent Secretary.

    The complex nature of running a Ministry in Sierra Leone is that it is the Permanent Secretary who is one of the signatories to all the accounts held by the Ministry. He or she knows what account is operated by the ministry since he or she is the vault controller of that Ministry.

    It has always been a problem as some Cabinets Ministers now and in the past, always crave to be both the political head and operational head (vault controllers) of their respective Ministry.

    We will keep our judgments and see what the ACC will say about this investigation.

    But something is cynical about the recordings, the gathering of the Minister – Miss Blyden and the other persons on the tape – Mr Bah and Sheka Shekito Koroma (husband of Zainab Bangura) in Miss Blyden’s office to out the brother of VP Foh in an alleged corruption scam.

    The APC politics has started earnestly.

  10. I don’t think anyone can argue that corruption is an issue throughout Sierra Leone. I believe the problem is with the person who was tasked with running this ministry.

    After tying her head wrap too tight and transforming into the reverend, haja, Dr, minister, many familiar with her history of enjoying the corrupt system to abuse and exploit others are not amused by her current antics.

    Sylvia Blyden does not have the moral authority to lecture anyone about corruption or any other form of lawlessness. As a known extortionist who is famous for using the judiciary system in Sierra Leone to settle scores with her enemies, President Koroma made a very poor choice when he selected her to head this ministry.

    Unfortunately for the women and children of Sierra Leone, this minister will spend more time creating sensationalism than actually finding solutions to help address their dire circumstances. $3,000 is a drop in the bucket. In order for this issue to be prosecuted, the government would have to spend thousands more in man power hours. $12 million in Ebola funds walked away, but an attempt to steal $3,000 is breaking news?

    This is more of the small fish syndrome and a lot of noise about nothing. In the meantime, how many women will continue dying giving birth, how many will continue to suffer in abusive relationships, how many infants and children under 5 years of age will continue dying? Efforts to eradicate these conditions would be the kind of news we could all appreciate, but instead we are getting recordings of someone attempting to steal $3,000.

    My guess is this a desperate attempt by the reverend, haja, Dr, minister to save her job. If reports are to be believed, things are not going well with her deputy minister and she is not very well received within the APC.

    Unfortunately for her, she has made so many enemies that it doesn’t matter how many alarm bells she sounds or how many secret recordings she releases. There are those who will not rest until they have her removed from any position the president puts her in.

    The victims in all of this are the people of Sierra Leone. They deserve a minister who has the integrity and moral authority to transform this ministry. Instead they have someone who is marred by her own issues that she brought to the ministry which has now been infected by even more ineptitude and ineffectiveness.

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