Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 July 2015
First there was vouchergate. Then came timbergate. Now the poor people of Sierra Leone are facing another possible corruption scandal, with the latest $12 million fiasco, referred to by the Sierra Leone Telegraph as the ‘Busgate’ Chinese procurement affair.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed by a senior source at the Anti-Corruption Commission, that they have started conducting an investigation into the purchasing of the 100 buses by the ministry of transport.
The editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph was told that the ACC are now questioning persons of interest in their investigation. “We are looking into the matter and persons of interest are assisting the ACC,” sources confirmed.
In particular, the ACC are interested in finding out whether there has been a breach of any of the provisions of the country’s Public Procurement Laws; whether anyone can be charged with abuse of office, misappropriation of public funds, bribery and corruption.
But sceptics believe that so called ‘powers from above’ – a euphemism for those occupying presidential office, may decide to thwart the ACC investigation, if the ACC Commissioner attempts to expose any wrong doing that may have serious consequences for the minister of transport – Balogun Koroma.
Last week, the transport minister in an attempt to explain how the $12 million was spent, revealed how seriously the sums do not add up or make any sense.
This is a transcript (in English as the interview was conducted in Krio) of part of the transport minister’s interview with a local radio station:
Minister Koroma: “The president brought up the suggestion to acquire 100 new buses. So we pursued that relentlessly. It took us a very long time. The buses were manufactured. After the manufacturing then Ebola struck. It took us almost six months to acquire a visa for the inspection team to go and inspect the buses.
“After clearing that hurdle, we had another hurdle of trying to find a ship that was willing to transport the buses to Sierra Leone. We have gone through all that and finally the buses are here.
Radio reporter: “There are reports on social media that the buses are not brand new and that the cost of purchasing the buses is too high”.
Minister: “In regard to whether the buses are new or old, journalists can go and inspect the buses, the engines, the manufacturing dates, and the interior, to confirm whether they are new or old buses. As far as I am concerned they are brand new buses.”
Reporter: “What about the costs involved in purchasing the buses?”
Minister: “The money involved was $12 million, of which 30% was spent on machinery and equipment for replacing the old road transport workshop, costing over $3 million; 10% of the $12 million was spent on purchasing three years worth of spare parts – costing about $1.2 million; 10% which is about $1 million spent on training of staff, rebuilding of the training centre, and capacity building; 5% of the $12 million spent on travelling and miscellaneous expenses; and shipping and insurance cost was $10,000 for each bus.
“Then you have the cost of borrowing the $12 million at 4 years interest, which will cost 50% of the total cost of the 100 buses.”
Do these figures add up? No Mr. Minister Balogun, they do not add up.
Critics says that by persistently failing to publish all of the documents relating to the purchasing of the 100 buses, including the invoicing and bank payment documents, the transport minister has exposed the government to ridicule, accusation of unaccountability, impropriety and corruption.
Early this year, the ACC commissioner took steps to conduct an investigation into the missing $14 million Ebola funds. This was vetoed by president Koroma, who then went on to politicise the investigation, by asking his parliamentary cronies to instead conduct their own investigation.
The parliamentary committee responsible for conducting the investigation into the missing Ebola funds, failed to involve the Anti-Corruption Commission and the police, before publishing its report that has left far more questions unanswered.
Since the publication of the parliamentary report, no one has faced justice for their crimes in the missing $14 million Ebola funds.
And as the international community today contemplates handing over almost $1 billion to the government to help Sierra Leone recover from the impact of the Ebola crisis, questions must be asked whether they can trust the Koroma government to manage such vast sums of money.
Hence, independent observers believe that president Koroma will be doing himself and his international image a great favour, if he can simply allow the ACC commissioner to get on with the task of conducting his investigation into the $12 million Busgate scandal, without hindrance, fear or favour.
Meanwhile, as questions continued to be asked as to whether the imported buses are indeed new or second-hand, after several were abandoned on street corners last weekend due to engine failure, the road transport authority has released this statement:
“The attention of the SLRTC has been drawn to the postings on social media of a bus engine purporting to be that of one of the newly acquired 100 buses and a diesel spill on the ground at the rear of the bus.
“The SLRTC wishes to unequivocally clear the air and clarify that the engine shown is an attempt to damage the effort of the government and the SLRTC in particular, knowing full well that the engine shown is a car engine and not any of the world renowned USA Cummings engines that are on the buses.
“Secondly, the diesel spillage shown on the ground is from the bus’ rear and not the front where the engine is located on the red bus in question.
“The much talked about red bus not being able to climb Savage Street was as a result of the driver engaging the wrong gear, whilst negotiating the slow traffic that caused the fuel tank to gravitate to the back end, preventing the flow of fuel to the engine.
“The public is confidently assured that it was not mechanical problem as has been wrongly reported by negative social media agents.
“In view of the above, and to assure every tax payer of the government’s prudential investment of the nation’s resources, the general public is hereby invited to view the 100 brand new buses, and you are encouraged to feel free to inspect the open bonnets while you take a good view of the engines at the national stadium, starting from tomorrow Monday 13 July 2015, until they are deployed for regular service nationwide asap.
“We wish to further inform the public that it was anticipated by SLRTC that the process if insuring and licensing of the buses would have been completed by Friday last week. Unfortunately due to unusual large number of buses, the process can only be completed this week beginning Monday 13 July.
“As such we are craving the indulgence of the public to exercise patience whilst we complete the process, And be rest assured that the opportunity will be made available asap with a new date to be announced to our devoured public.”
Concerned that a bus carrying dozens of passengers could automatically malfunction because the driver simply engaged the wrong gear as alleged by the SLRTC, is if true, very dangerous to passenger safety and could render the bus permanently unroadworthy.
As a result of this concern, the Sierra Leone Telegraph put this statement to a handful of highly experienced motor mechanics operating in the UK for comment:
“The much talked about red bus not being able to climb Savage Street, was as a result of the driver engaging the wrong gear, whilst negotiating the slow traffic that caused the fuel tank to gravitate to the back end, preventing the flow of fuel to the engine.”
Not a single one of the mechanics spoken to, could understand how the fuel tank of a brand new bus can gravitate to the back end, preventing the flow of fuel to the engine, thus causing the bus to malfunction.
Also not a single one of those mechanics questioned could understand why a brand new bus could be losing so much oil, simply because the driver engaged the wrong gear.
Are these 100 buses brand new and made to specification based on road and climate conditions in Sierra Leone?
How much did the government pay for each, and could they have bought them cheaper elsewhere?
Why did the government fail to go out to competitive tender in order to obtain value for tax payers’ money?
Is RITCORP – an insurance company partly owned by the state, with president Koroma owning a very large share capital in the company, responsible for insuring the 100 buses? If so, is this not conflict of interest?
Who provided the $12 million loan for the buses and at what rate of interest?
These are just some of the questions the Sierra Leone Telegraph is expecting the ACC to put to the minister of transport this week, in their investigation into the Busgate corruption scandal.