Sierra Leone parliamentary report into missing Ebola funds is a whitewash

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 June 2015

Missing Ebola fundsThe long awaited parliamentary report into the missing $14 million Ebola funds, that was last Thursday presented to parliament by committee chairman Chernor Bah, is nothing but a whitewash and a travesty of justice.

The publication of this report follows the strong criticisms and misgivings raised by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, regarding the controversial decision of parliament, which prevented the police, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the judiciary, from carrying out the investigations and prosecuting those charged with criminality.

This politically motivated action by a parliament dominated by ruling party members, is not only regarded as contemptuous of the people’s liberty, but undermines the independence of the criminal justice system and the credibility of the ACC.

Above all, there are fears such precedence will also undermine efforts to rid the country of the culture of corruption that sadly defines its international image, and is responsible for the sickening levels of poverty it suffers, as well as decades of under-development.

Government ministers and parliament have no business interfering in the due process of law, when citizens are being held accountable for their actions by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

This government has proven that it is no different from the Kabbah government it criticised endlessly, for political interference in the work of the ACC.

When citizens break the law or are suspected of wrong doing, it is a matter for the police to investigate and the courts to pass judgement, based on the balance of evidence put before the courts by the ACC.

grand corruption in africaBut this perversion of justice by Sierra Leone’s parliament has done serious damage to its own credibility, as well as established precedence where future governments may under any circumstances, choose to usurp the constitutional role and functions of other state institutions, such as the police and judiciary.

Be that as it may, and the fact that the parliamentary report is now out, the question that is now being asked is whether the parliamentary public accounts committee has done justice to those alleged to have misappropriated Ebola funds or violated procurement and accounting rules.

More importantly, has the interrogation conducted in parliament by the committee, been a productive use of parliamentarians’ time, and hence yielded value for money for taxpayers?

Of course not, because according to its own words as stated in their report, the committee has added no value to the work of the Auditor General. “I wish to confirm that the findings, Management responses and verifications contained in the report are almost reproduced verbatim as they were stated in the Ebola Funds Management Report by ASSL,” the committee accepts.

What a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

Furthermore, a close examination of the manner with which the parliamentary committee conducted their ‘interrogation’ of suspects, revealed that it could not have been possible for the committee to carry out the forensic investigation necessary, for them to safely conclude that wrong doing have been committed or otherwise.

ParliamentariansFirstly, forensic accounting is not an expertise expected of the parliamentarians. Secondly, a casual interview of suspects and those responsible for managing the Ebola funds, cannot be expected to provide the necessary rigour, needed to determine wrong doing or breaches, without a thorough examination of all the evidence – as it ought in a court of law.

So how does the committee justify the need to take it upon itself to conduct this investigation, rather than leaving it to those that are competent and paid to carry out such a task – the police, the ACC and the courts?

This is what the committee says in their report to parliament:

“It is a fundamental tenet of parliamentary democracy that governments collect revenue and make expenditure that has been authorized by Parliament. Governments are accountable to the Legislature (the people’s representatives) for the way in which they spend the funds raised from taxpayers and other sources. Before taxpayers’ money is spent, the Legislature approves government income and expenditure plans, and after expenditure, the Legislature demands assurance that the money has been spent as intended and in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.”

“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, the PAC is a Standing Committee of Parliament. Its members, all of whom are MPs, are responsible for reviewing the financial statements of Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) and examining issues relating to the management of public money. “

“Mr. Speaker Hon. Members, it is clear that this Ebola Audit Report provoked an unprecedented level of public interest in the form of spirited and at times acrimonious discourses, often based on personal opinions, misconceptions and misinterpretations. “

“That situation motivated Parliament to intervene; reminding the public of the rights of officials and individuals mentioned in the report, to be respected until a fair hearing by the PAC is concluded.”

But the committee could not resist the temptation of taking a rather cheap swipe at the Auditor General:   “…the Auditor General’s office is encouraged in the future to take more steps in making their presence more visible to the MDA’s, Institutions and the general public during auditing exercises.” This statement by the committee is nothing short of mischief making aimed at undermining the credibility of the Auditor General.

On the question as to how the committee conducted the proceedings – now dubbed Koroma’s kangaroo court, the committee chairman said:

“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, it is against this background and pursuant to the laws of Sierra Leone and the Standing Orders of the House of Parliament, that the PAC conducted public hearings on the Audit Report of the Ebola Funds in the House of Parliament from the 25th February to 23rd March, 2015.”

“The hearings comprised of a review of the Auditor General’s report and other relevant supporting documents. PAC also conducted interviews with officials of the MoHS and the NERC, who were the designated government officials responsible for the management of the Ebola funds .”

joseph kamara acc2But did the Committee consult with, or sought the professional guidance and advise of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner (Photo), as initially promised by president Koroma?

No it did not, and this is what the committee says in their report: “Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, the PAC works in collaboration with ASSL, which provides the technical assistance that enables the PAC to provide effective oversight in relation to the manner in which public resources are utilized by MDAs.”

“Pursuant to Section 119 (1)-(7) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991 the Auditor General audits public expenditure, and expresses an independent opinion on how MDAs and other public institutions expend financial resources that are allocated to them.”

Has the committee therefore conducted their investigations to  a much higher standard of rigour  than  that which the police, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the courts could have achieved?

The committee said: “Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, as stated earlier, the Committee conducted public hearings from the 25th February to 23rd March, 2015, during which relevant officials of the MoHS and NERC were rigorously questioned on the management and ultilisation of the resources allocated to them for the fight against the Ebola Epidemic.”

“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, whilst, the enquiries started with questions aimed at gaining more insight into the capacity of the officials involved, their scope of responsibility, and general management of the funds; auditees were also interrogated on specific areas of major concern in line with the findings and recommendations of the Audit Report. These areas included procurement to wit: awarding of contracts, payment to contractors etc., hazard payments to workers in the health sector, withholding taxes and delivery of materials and services.”

So what are the key findings of the committee?

Widespread systemic failings as previously noted in the Auditor’s report 

  1. The Internal Audit Unit in the MoHS was ineffective. This was due to the fact that less attention was paid by the Ministry officials to Section 6(1)-(4) of the Government Budgeting and Accountability Act(GBAA).
  2. It was also stated by Vote Controllers that political heads in the Ministry were directly involved in certain areas of operations in their Ministry outside their mandate which was in direct contravention of Section 46(1) of the GBAA.
  3. The MoHS officials involved in the management of Ebola funds failed to apply the basic existing laws relating to procurement.
  4. Withholding taxes were not deducted and paid to the National Revenue Authority (NRA) from payments made to various suppliers and contractors, thus violating the Income Tax Act.
  5. The existing Procurement Committee was not charged with the responsibility of managing procurement activities. Rather, procurement activities were handled by an ad-hoc committee known as the “Case Management Team”. This act was in contravention of Section 18(1-3) of the National Public Procurement Act (NPPA).
  6. There were inadequate controls over the disbursement of funds from the Emergency Accounts.
  7. Most sole-source procurement methods carried out by the Ministry were done in violation of Sections 46 and 47 of the NPPA.
  8. No evidence was provided by the auditees to support delegation of responsibilities to subordinates. This act was also in contravention of Section 3(1) of the Financial Management Regulations Act, 2007.

Some of the other findings and judgements relating to individuals and organisations accused of wrongdoing are summarised as follows:

  1. Cheque donations valued at Le1, 670,000,000 not honoured by the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank

A review of the donations register and bank statements as at 31st October 2014, of the Health Emergency Response Accounts (No. 003001118285030109 and No. 003001118285030109) held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB), revealed that Le87billion and US$560,000 respectively were received as donations from generous individuals, institutions as well as from the government of Sierra Leone.

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The issues regarding donations through cheques that were dishonoured have now been settled with the full amount of Le1,670,000,000 receipt of which was confirmed by the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and evidence submitted to and verified by the Committee. Therefore, the Committee recommends that the matter be closed.

  1. Withholding taxes neither deducted nor paid over to the National Revenue Authority (NRA)

Inconsistencies were observed for a number of procurement activities agreed on between the MoHS and the suppliers; with some not having any provision for the deduction and remittance of the 5% withholding tax to the NRA. As such the Ministry failed in its obligation to withhold the 5% tax estimated at Le525, 721,555.36 and US$70,500 respectively.

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

(a) The Committee observed that Section 116 (1) of the Income Tax Act was breached, meaning that in most of the contracts awarded by the MoHS and its agents during the period under review the 5% withholding taxes were not deducted. However, the Committee observed that some of the taxes that were to be withheld have now been paid to the NRA.

(b) As a result, the Committee recommends that NRA performs its mandate and ensure the collection of all outstanding taxes withheld or supposed to have been withheld.

(c) All contractors who were to pay taxes, and are still outstanding should make payment within a month after the adoption of this report by Parliament and failure to comply should lead to the individuals and/or shareholders stopped from participating in any business activity within Sierra Leone directly or indirectly.

(d) All payment made after the stipulated grace period ( one month) must attract penalties pursuant to the relevant tax legislations/laws of Sierra Leone.

  1. Observations on funds transferred to four (4) Ebola holding centres in Bombali district – overstatement of Le 216,800,000 in respect of incentive payments to healthcare workers.

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee observed that some public officials do not treat their responsibilities seriously. The Committee was dismayed by the statement of the Hospital Secretary of Bombali Regional Hospital that “It was an oversight regarding the inconsistencies in the spread sheet for risk allowance payment” which was observed by the auditors. However, the Committee also noted that the sum of Le216, 800,000 being overstated payment by the hospital officials for 271 names had been refunded into the Health Emergency Response A/C before the Audit Report on Ebola Management was published. Therefore, the Committee recommends that this matter be closed.

  1. Connaught hospital – payment of incentives to unauthorised healthcare workers

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee noting with conviction the explanation provided and documentary evidence submitted by the Hospital Secretary, recommends that this matter be closed.

  1. Rokupr government hospital – unclaimed incentive payment of Le1,800,000 in respect of healthcare workers

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENADTIONS

Satisfactory documentary evidence in respect of refund made by the hospital authorities to the tune of Le 1,800,000 was submitted to the Committee during the public hearings and thus recommends that this matter be closed.

  1. Construction of a 90 bed treatment centre at Kerry Town valued at Le 1,760,000,000

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee observed that the procurement committee in the MoHS was not fully functional. Consequently, all procurements for services under the period of review were authorized by an ad-hoc Committee known as the Case Management Team. Furthermore, the role of the Procurement Officer in the Ministry was not fully utilised.

The Committee acknowledges that CL group has paid in full the 5% withholding taxes but equally note that CL group should refund the sum of Le 160,000,000 which was the contingency fees of the contract amount paid to the group contrary to the terms and condition of the contract as same was paid to the contractor without any record to suggest that a contingent event had happened. The Committee therefore, recommends that the said amount be refunded within one month after the adoption of this report by Parliament.

  1. Procurement for the supply of twenty (20) ambulances valued at US$ 1,050,000

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 Procurement procedures were not followed;

Proper inspection of the 16 ambulances was not done as initially claimed by the Transport Director of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation; and

Withholding taxes were not deducted

The Committee recommends that the payment of withholding taxes amounting to US$ 52,500 should be paid by the contractor within one month from the date of the adoption of this report and the remaining (4) ambulances must be delivered in Freetown also within six weeks after the adoption of this report.

Regarding the issues raised on Mr. Kawusu Kebbay viz DSA and Air ticket, the Committee noted with conviction that the explanation adduced by Mr. Kebbay and the documentary evidence submitted by him to the Committee during the hearings was sufficient and therefore recommends that this matter be closed.

  1. Loan to Health For All Coalition (HFAC) – Charles Mambu

THE COMMITTEE’s COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The cheques totaling Le 160,900,000 were made in the name of Mr. Charles Mambu, instead of the organization under which he requested the loan, Health For All Coalition;

The Ministry acted in contravention of Section 118[1] of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991;

There was no loan agreement between the MoHS and Health For All Coalition;

Mr. Charles Mambu, who received funds from WHO and UNICEF, which should have been used to pay back the unlawful loan he obtained from the Ministry, did not pay back the said loan. This was viewed by the Committee as deliberate and an attempt to deprive the government of Sierra Leone of needed resources.

The Committee therefore, recommends that Mr. Charles Mambu repays the loan of Le 160,900,000 within one month after the adoption of this report.

  1. Procurement for the supply of thirty (30) used vehicles valued at Le 1, 350,000,000.

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 The Ministry of Health and Sanitation was in a rush to make payment for the 30 used vehicles procured by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. Payment was made before inspection;

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation was in contravention of government policy regarding procurement of used vehicles by government institutions; and

The vehicles procured were mini vans which were not equipped for burial purposes. Therefore, extra cost was incurred for partitioning and repairs to suit burial purposes to the tune of Le25,050,000 and Le29,497,000 respectively.

The Committee further observed with concern that the vehicles were all purchased at the same unit price irrespective of their difference in make, year and model.

However, the Committee acknowledges the fact that the vehicles were necessary for the purpose for which they were purchased and that withholding taxes on the contract have been paid in full and thus recommends that this matter be closed.

  1. Procurement procedures not followed – Payments of Le708,442,300 were made to the Architectural Services Manager, Ministry of Health and Sanitation for construction activities at Lakka Government Hospital on diverse dates between June and September 2014.

THE COMMITTEE’S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

 The Committee observed that Payments in the amount of Le708, 442,300 to the Architectural Services Manager, MoHS for construction activities at Lakka Government Hospital on diverse dates between June and September 2014 were in breach of government procurement policies and procedures.

The Architectural Services Manager in the MoHS was an employee of the Ministry and at the same time serving as a contractor of the Ministry. With regards to Laka Hospital, the Committee considers that the role of the Architectural Service Manager in the MoHS was inconsistent with her actions in the MoHS. And considering her primary functions and professional background, the Committee believes that she can do better in her previous engagement at the Ministry of Works, Housing and Infrastructure.

The Committee therefore recommends that the Architectural Service Manager be immediately sent back to the Ministry of Works, Housing and Infrastructure.

But what is clear from the findings and recommendations of this parliamentary report, is that the committee totally misunderstood its role and function.

What parliament ought to have done after the Auditor General had published her report into the missing Ebola funds is that, the Anti-Corruption Commission – working with the police, should have carried out a thorough forensic investigation into each of the cases cited in the Auditor’s report.

Once that task had been completed by the ACC and the police, charges should have been brought, and those indicted brought before the courts.

Following the completion of the court trials, parliament should then carry out an inquiry into the systemic failings that had led to the mass theft of Ebola funds, and published its report – making policy recommendations as to how such blatant corruption can be avoided in the future.

But it is clear by all accounts that, the interference of parliament in this unprecedented corruption scandal was politically driven, and has cast serious doubts once again, over Koroma’s government ability and capacity to provide good standard of governance in Sierra Leone.

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015

And as the international community and the World Bank consider options as to how best to financially support Sierra Leone in its recovery after Ebola, it is important that issues of competence, resource capacity and governance accountability be taken into consideration.

All post-Ebola recovery funds must be channelled directly to non-governmental sectors through contractual agreements, with clear mandates, performance monitoring and governance assurance arrangements.

Once again, it must be reiterated that Koroma’s parliament has established a dangerous precedent for future parliaments under different governments, that may decide to continue to usurp the role and functions of the judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It is worth noting also, that several people accused in the Auditor’s report for receiving large sums of money from the Ebola funds, have shamelessly escaped the so called parliamentary justice – simply because of their close connection with those at the top of government, and by virtue of their seniority in the ruling APC party.

You can read the full Report here:

www.sl-parliament.org

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