Sierra Leone Busgate scandal – Anti Corruption Commissioner speaks out

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 July 2015

Ernest Bai Koroma,  Hu Jintao

After last week’s public furore over the $12 million Busgate scandal and allegations of corruption, involving the purchasing of 100 buses from China by the Koroma government without following the country’s procurement rules, fears have been growing of a major cover up. (Photo: President Koroma hosted by the Chinese government in Beijing).

But yesterday, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner issued a strongly worded statement, giving his initial thoughts on this matter, and it does not make for pleasant reading for those suspected of seriously violating procurement rules.

“The use of ‘no objection letters’ to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable,” says the ACC Chief – Joseph Kamara.

In our report last week, the Sierra Leone Telegraph called for an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) into the violation of the country’s procurement laws by the minister of transport, the finance minister, and other officials.

Ebola in LiberiaThis blatant violation of the public procurement regulations, comes just months after the publication of the Auditor General’s report into the missing $14 million Ebola funds, which showed that contracts were arbitrarily awarded to contractors without due process, valued at millions of dollars.

The response of the Koroma government to the massive breakdown of law and order in the management of the Ebola funds, was that most of the $14 million had to be hurriedly spent without keeping proper records and setting aside procurement laws because of the urgent need to respond to the unfolding Ebola crisis.

Whilst this lame excuse is seen by many as woefully unconscionable and unacceptable, there are serious concerns now as to what the government’s excuse is going to be this time, with regards the spending of $12 million on 100 buses, without going out to competitive tendering as required by Law.

But as we have now learnt from the minister of transport – Balogun Koroma, the $12 million used for purchasing the buses is a loan provided by the Chinese government, at an interest rate of 50% per annum.

President koroma and chinese leader

According to the minister, China had insisted that in return for the $12 million loan, the Koroma government must ditch its competitive tendering procurement regulations, and instead award the contract to a preferred named Chinese manufacturer.

The following are just some of the most preposterous statements made by government officials who ought to know better, including the transport minister Balogun Koroma, as published in Cokorioko last week:

An official in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) said; “The buses were purchased with funds from China whose lending practice ensures that its selected state – owned companies get the contracts arising from their financing. You cannot use Chinese money to give contracts to European/western companies for instance.”

Minister of Transport and Aviation – Balogun Koroma shamelessly said; ‘’Under this circumstance, we followed every step set out in the National Public Procurement framework.’’

The Procurement Officer in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) – Unisa Dumbuya said; “The contract was drafted and sent to the Law Officers, who vetted it and made recommendations. One of which was that, given the conditions of the financing that the Chinese State Own Company – Poly Group – should be the contractor, the approval of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) should be sought for sole sourcing.”

And continuing their deplorable un-nationalistic thinking, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) – Brima Bangura said; ‘’Under normal circumstances, such a procurement would have attracted international competitive bidding; the bids would have been evaluated and a winner announced. Then a window would be given to allow for any appeals should a bidder feels aggrieved. When all of these steps would have been covered, the contract would then be awarded. However, under the circumstance, we had to give our acquiescence and it is within the law that we do so’’

law courts building freetown‘’The draft contract was then resent to the Law Officers who now gave the go – ahead having satisfied that NPPA had been consulted and their queries had been fully answered,’’ explained the Ministry of Transport Procurement Officer.

“A Certificate of Approval was now sought from MoFED for the award of the contract which was granted on 8th May 2014.”

“Following the NPPA’s approval, the Law Officers and the contract negotiations by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, an inspection team travelled to China.”

“Led by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (Dr. Kailfala Marrah), the Minister of Transport and Aviation (Leonard Balagun Koroma), Director of Debts – MoFED (Sahr Jusu), the Permanent Secretary – MTA, (Sahr Kpulum), the General Manager – SLRTC (Bockarie Lewis Kamara), these officials travelled to China to ascertain the products were being manufactured as per specification.” (Photo Below: One of the buses in a road accident in one of the congested and very narrow roads in Freetown last weekend).

One of the buses in a raod accident in Freetown

Without any remorse, standing by their dodgy and flawed decision making process, the Procurement Officer of the Ministry of Transport said; ”I am satisfied with the process, because we worked within the procurement framework.’’

But as the ACC makes it abundantly clear yesterday: “The use of ‘no objection letters’ to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable,” says the ACC Chief – Joseph Kamara.

So, why was the procurement regulation not followed? Whose decision was it to set aside the procurement regulation?

Was the president informed, when and by whom? Did president Koroma approve the decision not to go out to competitive tender?

Acc boss - Joseph kamaraThe Sierra Leone Telegraph continues to call upon the Anti-Corruption Commissioner to remain steadfast in conducting his investigation into the procurement of the 100 buses; in particular to hold those responsible for violating the country’s procurement regulations accountable in court.

The ACC must bring criminal charges against those suspected of abuse of office, misappropriation of public funds relating to the purchasing of the 100 buses, including bribery and corruption.

Photo Below: Document showing inflated cost of the buses.

Inflated cost of buses

This is the statement published by the ACC Chief yesterday – 20th July 2015:

“The Anti-Corruption Commission acknowledges with gratitude, government’s acquisition of 100 buses for the use of the general public.

“However, the public is hereby informed that prior to the arrival of the buses, the ACC had commenced an investigation into the procurement process.

“Though the purchase of the buses ushered in a breath of relief upon the weight of the transportation burden on the people, the procurement process cannot be said to be beyond censure.

“The ACC welcomes the heightened public response and vigilance, consequent upon the “citizens audit”, advocated and promoted by the Commission. Officials of state are now subject to public scrutiny for the discharge of their functions.

“Without prejudice to the ongoing investigation, our experience reveals that mis-procurement continues to be the bane of corruption. The use of “no objection letters” to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable.

Sierra Leone Parliament“The ACC urges the Houses of parliament to pay close heed to the gaps which encourage the circumvention of procurement rules and regulations whilst considering the ongoing amendments of the National Procurement Act of 2004.

“In a related development, the ACC also wishes to confirm to the general public that the procurement for Sierra Leone passports is also under investigation.

“Meanwhile, officials of the ministry of transport and aviation, ministry of finance and economic development, Sierra Leone road transport corporation, ministry of internal affairs and the immigration department, are cooperating and assisting the Commission with the investigations.

“The general public is assured that the fight against corruption is key to good governance and the ACC remains unrelenting in that endeavour.”

Transport minister Balogun Koroma lied to the people of Sierra Leone and the international community, when he told local reporter that the cost of purchasing the 100 buses was fully funded by the government from consolidated funds.

The minister said: “This intervention, 100% funded by government, would help to address these problems and make the public transport system more convenient and safer.’’

But now we are told that the $12 million is a loan from the Chinese government, payable at 50% interest a year – over 4 years, when the Koroma government may no longer be in power.

In the meantime, the people of Sierra Leone are patiently waiting to see the investigation report of the ACC, into the $12 million Busgate corruption scandal.

8 Comments

  1. There you go. Vladimir Iorich,owner of Pala, the controlling shareholder of Sierra Rutile and John Sisay’s employer.

    Could the Russian mob be involved in the laundering of funds belonging to the people of Sierra Leone and stolen by their president? Who knows? Nothing surprises me anymore. Follow the money.

    http://www.rumafia.com/person.php?id=1502

  2. If John Bonoh Sisay of Sierra Rutile Plc. is indeed involved in money laundering activities as is being alleged, this is a very serious charge with potentially serious consequences for Mr. Sisay, Sierra Rutile Plc and the Government of Sierra Leone.

    It is being alleged that Mr. Sisay recently acquired an interest in an upmarket hotel and other properties in Brazil on behalf of President Ernest Koroma, with funds which rightfully belong to the Sierra Leone government.

    It has also been alleged that Mr. Sisay’s acquisition of the former government-owned NDMC buildings in Freetown at an amount far lower than the assessed value of the properties, was on behalf of President Ernest Koroma.

    As the ACC in Sierra Leone is believed to be a toothless tiger and its leader, corrupted by President Ernest Koroma, those with inside knowledge of the alleged transactions should consider getting the U.S. Department of Justice involved, particularly on the Brazil deals.

    The U.S. authorities can usually find a jurisdictional theory or “hook” which allows them to pursue corruption cases against non-U.S. Companies and non-U.S. residents or citizens; and over the years, numerous such cases have been brought before the U.S. courts.

    Interestingly, President Buhari who is meeting with President Obama in Washington D.C. this week has asked for the U.S. government’s help in locating $150 Billion in looted funds which was spirited out of Nigeria by corrupt government officials.

    The U.S. Department of Justice released a 120-page Resource Guide in 2012, which is instructive.

    http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/criminal-fraud/legacy/2015/01/16/guide.pdf

    Additional allegations against Mr. Sisay include his involvement in many business ventures outside of Sierra Rutile while being CEO of Sierra Rutile and the lack of full, true and plain disclosure of his interest in such ventures when the companies involved have engaged in transactions with Sierra Rutile.

    Such lack of disclosure would normally contravene AIM securities and governance rules and best practice guidelines.

    All of these should be investigated and the air cleared for the sake of Mr. Sisay, the long-suffering people of Sierra Leone and the shareholders of Sierra Rutile, whose CEO is beginning to look toxic indeed.

    • 50% interest rate? You’ve got to be kidding!

      Let me get this straight. Our esteemed Ministers of Transportation and Finance took a $12 Million loan at 50 (Fifty) percent interest from the Chinese to buy rotten buses from the Chinese? Can these people add and subtract?

      A 15 year old child with limited financial education and literacy would know better. The entire corrupt, incompetent and ill-educated group of ministers, who signed off this contract (particularly the Minister of Finance) and their corrupt President should resign NOW!

    • It is very disappointing to read these allegations about John Sisay who has done a great job with Sierra Rutile, and strikes me as a fine young man.

      I suppose it’s up to the institutional shareholders of the company, particularly Pala Resources, to react to this. And react they must.
      These allegations make for uncomfortable reading and one hopes they are not true.

    • Interesting. The question is whether Switzerland-based Pala Investment Holdings, the largest institutional shareholder of Sierra Rutile, is aware of the ins and outs of Mr. Sisay’s toing and froing on behalf of President Ernest Koroma and his money making ventures outside of Sierra Rutile.

      If they are aware and the allegations about money laundering for President Koroma are true, what are the implications for Pala’s investment in Sierra Rutile?

      Although Pala is a private equity firm, and therefore not subject to the level of disclosure and general compliance that a public company would, it must operate within some kind of “good governance framework”.

      A question for the lawyers I suppose and Pala’s GC and CEO.

      http://www.pala.com/en/about-us/who-is-pala.html

    • Contact the World Bank’s stolen asset recovery initiative in connection with any suspected international money laundering.

      Authorities in Brazil, Interpol and the FBI should also be able to assist, even if the illegally acquired assets are quickly converted to frustrate the authorities. Good luck to the people of Sierra Leone.

      https://star.worldbank.org/star/about-us/our-vision
      https://star.worldbank.org/star/sites/star/files/assets_tracing_country_profiles_acwg.pdf
      http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Corruption/International-asset-recovery
      http://blogs.wsj.com/riskandcompliance/2015/01/14/fbi-to-bulk-up-foreign-bribery-efforts/

  3. A people get the government they deserve. From the beginning of his tenure, Ernest Koroma has micromanaged large scale commercial activity in Sierra Leone and facilitated an atmosphere of “anything goes”, which has translated into the massive corruption and fraud that permeates every organ and arm of government.

    No transaction proceeds without his approval. So it stands to reason that he is involved in every nefarious deal which transpires. It has long been rumoured that he demands a percentage of every transaction.

    While President Buhari of Nigeria has placed good governance and rooting out corruption at the centrepiece of his governing agenda, Ernest Koroma has made Sierra Leone a basket case and laughing stock, a country synonymous with corruption, a wealthy country by any objective measure, yet one which is so poor that it has to borrow $12 Million from the Chinese to buy dilapidated buses for public transport; a country deprived and depraved where hard work and achievement are not rewarded and thieves and the unaccomplished and the loudest sycophants – like the editors of the Awareness Times and Cocorioko Newspapers – are given plum government jobs.

    Foreign investors with good track records of building viable businesses and playing by the rules typically refuse to pay bribes. As a result, they are often turned away or frustrated into exiting the country.

    Those who are willing to line Ernest “Thieving” Koroma, John Bonoh Sisay of Sierra Rutile and Thomas Koroma’s pockets are given the nation’s best assets.

    The business of the nation is so politicized by the nitwits who collectively seem to have the brain power of a cockroach, that wearing or painting the walls of your office in green, the colours of the opposition can land you in trouble.

    Even the wretched Chinese buses – a national asset, were not spared. They were painted red, the colour of the APC because the useless politicians cannot distinguish between politics and governing.

    What a country! What a show!

    I would hope that Sierra Leoneans will take a good long look at the state of our nation and decide whether we want more of the same under a corrupt leader like John Bonoh Sisay of Sierra Rutile who travels the world laundering Ernest Koroma’s ill-gotten gains (and

    I would hope that the allegations about John Sisay’s money laundering activities in Brazil will be brought to the attention of the authorities there as well as the U.S. Authorities as there may well be USFCPA charges that can be brought), or whether we are ready for true change.

    I once met a very successful and highly respected South African businessman who has championed Africa as a place to do business and in many respects, contributed greatly to the African Renaissance story.

    His company is doing business all over West Africa but he described Sierra Leone as the “dark side” a place he would not consider doing business given its reputation for rampant and unbridled corruption, graft and the ruthlessness and greed of its leaders, particularly its president.

    Let’s hope that one day soon, Sierra Leoneans will step into the light.

    • Pala is bad Russian money – a PE fund owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Ilorich. Not sure Russians care about Sisay’s alleged criminal money laundering activities, as long as they are minting money from Sierra Leone. What do you expect? They invented corruption.

      U.S.A or Brits should investigate and make an example of all the crooks, if they are serious about fighting graft. The Yanks are great at these types of investigations. They were dogged about Steinmetz, and got him after a lengthy investigation. But Timis slipped the net – at least for now.

      Sierra Leone is one of the worst in Africa. Lock them all up and send the president to The Hague. John Sisay and the entire group should be behind bars.

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