Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 December 2021:
Sierra Leone’s Auditor General’s Annual Report for the financial year ending December 2020 which has been viewed with much dread by the government is out, and makes for unpleasant reading. Has President Bio (Photo above) lost the moral high ground in fighting corruption?
Just weeks before the Report was tabled in parliament, the Auditor General – Mrs Lara Taylor-Pearce was suspended by President Bio, accusing the Auditor General of professional misconduct.
Since then, the President has appointed a Judge-led tribunal to investigate the allegations made against the Auditor General.
But what is not clear is whether the Report that has been tabled in parliament for review and now in the public domain, is the same Report that was written by the suspended Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce which it is understood – the President had found problematic because of its findings of financial impropriety in the Office of the President as well as across government departments.
What is certain though, is that the content of the published 2020 Auditor General Report speaks of serious failings by the government in managing the resources of the country.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world despite having massive stock of mineral resources.
Critics of the government are accusing the President, his wife and ministers of stealing over one hundred million dollars since coming to power in 2018. Today’s Auditor General Report exposes financial malfeasance of the highest magnitude.
These are just some of the highlights of the Report:
“During audit verification, letter of executive clearance from the Office of the President for the payment of the net salaries to contract staff as highlighted in the contract details of the contract staff were submitted for audit inspection. With such instructions, one would have expected the Ministry’s Accountant to gross-up the net salaries to take account of the tax deductions, but this was not the case.
“Furthermore, the Ministry being the legal adviser of government failed to note that their action was in contravention of Section 110 (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, which states that no taxation shall be imposed or altered otherwise than by or under the authority of an Act of Parliament and furthermore, the situation did not fit the exemptions provided for in the same provision.
“As a result of the aforementioned, this matter remains unresolved and the vote controller who is the withholding agent that failed to withhold tax as required by the Income Tax Act 2000 (as amended) should be personally liable for this amount in accordance with Section 129 of the same Act.”
Ineligible Accommodation and Allowances (Commission of Inquiry Judges were overpaid)
“Although judges of the Commissions were not entitled to free accommodation, they were housed at the Sierra Estate Management Company (SEMCO) property in Goderich at a total rent charge of Le1,775,386,399 (only Le1,719,599,311.92 relates to the period up to 31st December,2020; the balance Le55,787,087.08 relates to FY2021). The three Judges also received monthly allowances which amounted to Le890,000,000 which was not indicated in the letter of appointment issued to them.
We recommended that the Permanent Secretary should ensure that the three judges settle their accommodation bills.”
“A review of the payroll records of the CMO revealed the following:
“Total gross salaries of Le1,060,081,190 were paid to four personnel whose names were not on the staff list. We could not confirm whether these individuals were staff of the office.
“Seven months total gross salaries of Le183,125,504 were paid to a staff with PIN No. 737514. His name was however not on the staff list for the year-end of 2019 and 2020; and his personnel file was not presented for audit inspection.
“Six staff were paid salary arrears of Le313,420,129 but their terms of reference, and source documents that justifies the reason for the payments were not presented for audit inspection.
“Two staff were paid a total gross alary of Le274,543,168 for January to June, but their appointment letters were not presented for audit inspection.
“During the year, five starters were not paid gross salaries which amounted to Le584,257,912, for which they were entitled.”
Judiciary Procurement Splitting to Evade Competition
“We observed that procurement worth Le894,273,835 and Le 294,731,327 regarding refurbishment in favour of Abimer Construction and General Supply, and electrical works in favour of Fortune Electricals respectively, were split into tranches in order to avoid the due procurement process of open bidding and national competitive bidding (NCB).
“We recommended that the Procurement Manager should provide appropriate reason why the procurement was divided, and the inappropriate procurement method used.
“In addition, going forward, the Department should design and implement a framework contract with a suitable supplier for the procurement of the refurbishment works, electrical and comply with all relevant procurement laws and regulations.”
“Total revenue of Le329.89 billion was outstanding tax liabilities resulting from non or a part payment, illegal tax credit claims, recalculation of tax liabilities, non-submission of evidence of payment and confirmed revenue arrears.
“The National Minerals Agency (NMA) failed to pay some component of their revenue, totalling Le15.9 billion into the consolidated fund during 2020.
“Outstanding amounts of US$479,877.64 and US$408,157.62 for 2019 and 2020 respectively, owed to the Government of Sierra Leone were neither remitted by the Sierra Leone Maritime Shipping Registration (SLMARAD), nor disclosed in the revenue arrears in the GPFS.
“Revenues were deposited into several Escrow accounts by companies for which government shares amounting to Le13.19 billion based on the agreements, were deposited into the General Revenue Account at the Bank of Sierra Leone. Relevant data and reports as required from the agreements were however not submitted for audit.
“We reviewed 1,245 duty waiver documents that were without adequate supporting documents. We therefore could not ascertain whether these duty waiver concessions, granted to these taxpayers which amounted to Le144.7 billion were legitimate.
“From data in the ASYCUDA World, 58 Non-Governmental Organisations that obtained import duties and GST waivers from the Ministry of Finance totalling Le4.5 billion were not in the NGO gazette of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development.
“Revenue arrears disclosed in the GPFS for the year ended 31st December 2020 was Le346.64 billion.
“We selected a sample of arrears for confirmation for which no response to our confirmation requests was received from these taxpayers; and these arrears amounted to Le271 billion (which represent 97.4% of the total arrears).
“In 2020, arrears approximately Le7.2 billion and Le1.9 billion for the National Minerals Agency and Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, respectively, were not included in the arrears figures in the GPFS.
Overseas Traveling Expenses of the President and his Wife (Accused of falsifying receipts and invoices)
“We noted management’s response regarding the circumstances that led to the selection of the company to provide private jet services. In the absence of a clear and detailed procurement process, we conclude that it’s reasonable to enquire why a company whose main business is wholesale of pharmaceuticals, toiletries, household goods and chemist, was selected to provide private jet hiring services. We therefore conclude that this matter remains unresolved.
“Original” receipts all with dates in September 2020, to support total payment of US$352,481.77 for hotel accommodation and medical treatment was presented during the audit verification exercise.
“We however concluded that one of the retirement receipts of US$156,113.73 for hotel accommodation dated 18th September 2020, was marred by discrepancies, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. It was also disputed by the concerned third party, whose record show that the bill remains outstanding.
“In view of such discrepancies and dispute, the matter still stands and the amount of US$156,113.73 should be refunded by the payee, the State Chief of Protocol. We noted that hospital bills to the value of US$170,489.04 were settled in cash at the hospital in question. The audit concludes that although the amounts had been paid and supporting documents provided, in the interest of transparency, good public financial management practice, and exemplary anti-money laundry reasons, we are of the opinion that such a settlement should have been done through a bank transfer.”
Critics of the government say that the “SLPP Paopa is the most corrupt government in Sierra Leone’s history. In just less than four years of the SLPP Paopa government, over one hundred million dollars is missing from the government purse”.
You can read the full Report of the Auditor General here: