Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 June 2020:
Last week, the government of Sierra Leone, through its National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) announced that it has assisted over 200 people across the country that have been seriously impacted by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But questions are being asked about the accountability, and fairness in the distribution of millions of dollars provided by the World Bank, for direct cash transfers to those at the bottom of the poverty scale that are struggling to survive.
Critics say that the beneficiaries of the government’s coronavirus financial response are mostly SLPP supporters of the government and their party officials and families. Some say that others are having to bribe State officials in order to receive the cash benefits.
Last Friday, 7th June, 2020, the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said it has commenced “strategic supervision and monitoring of all Emergency Response Projects” across the country, after a month since the Commission launched a Special Task Force on Transparency and Accountability in the utilization of COVID 19 Funds.
According to the ACC, the role of the Task Force is “to ensure that the targeted beneficiaries for the World Bank supported National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) direct cash transfer efforts, are captured in a transparent and accountable manner.”
Speaking on radio two days ago, Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the ACC – Augustine Foday Ngobie, warned that officers handling the cash transfer project must be very careful, adding that anyone caught manipulating the system for selfish purposes will face the full penalty of the law as provided under the amended Anti-Corruption Act of 2008.
“Our mandate in this particular cash transfer provided by World Bank through NaCSA is to ensure that the specific categories of persons affected by the economic downturn due to Covid19 in Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Port Loko are captured”, DC Ngobie emphasized.
He further warned that the cash meant for the targeted beneficiaries must not in any way be passed on to other persons in the form of bribes, but purely meant to cushion the economic burden on business owners in the targeted regions of the country.
Mr. Ngobie also said that the cash transfer is not meant for any political party, local leaders or groups other than those targeted, who are in the informal sector so as to ensure that their businesses do not hit rock-bottom with the outbreak of the pandemic which has halted many viable commercial activities in Sierra Leone.
Whilst commenting on the penalties for abusing the cash transfer system, the Coordinator for Operations at the ACC – Emmanuel Koivaya Amara, reminded the people of Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Port Loko that President Bio’s administration signed an agreement with the World Bank in 2019 for US$30 million – a grant from the International Development Association (IDA), to finance the Social Safety Net (SSN) Project which initially targeted 35,000 beneficiaries in all 16 districts of the country.
Launched by President Julius Maada Bio in early 2020 in Kenema, Mr Amara added that, many great and positive testimonies were told about the involvement of the Anti-Corruption Commission in the World Bank Project, something he said is a motivator for the Commission’s continued strategic role in the project.
“Any person who has gone through registration, verification and subsequent cash transfer must not by any means give money to anyone, and that anybody caught soliciting such cash from beneficiaries will be arrested and further investigated,” Mr. Amara emphasized.
He encouraged beneficiaries to report anyone soliciting a bribe to the ACC, through officers attached to the payment system.
In a similar engagement, the Deputy Commissioner of the ACC and team visited verification points in Bo and Kenema communities, to supervise and monitor the registration, verification and payment exercise so as to get first-hand insight into the entire payment system.
The Team is expected in Makeni and Port Loko in the coming days.
The World Bank funded pro-poor project, implemented by NaCSA, targets the most vulnerable fragment of society who are provided direct cash to ease the devastating effects of poverty and economic harshness on their lives.
The Corona Virus pandemic and the consequent declaration of a state of emergency occasioned the need for funding for Emergency Cash Transfers (ECTs) to vulnerable persons and businesses within the Sierra Leonean population.
The scheme targets households with informal sector workers, including those working in micro and small enterprises and low-paid workers in the service sector in the regional headquarters.
The Social Safety Net (SSN) is implemented by three partners; NaCSA – the parent implementing agency, Statistics Sierra Leone, which is charged with the responsibility to ensure that the targeted deserving beneficiaries are selected for payment, and the ACC which supervises and monitors the process to ensure accountability and transparency and also crucially provides an avenue for grievance redress.