Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 April 2019:
Did Sierra Leone’s minister of finance – Mr J.J. Saffa lie or deliberately mislead the people and the media, when he said in a press conference staged by his ministry last week, that a forensic audit investigation carried out by a group of international auditors found that over a Billion Dollars was misappropriated by former government officials?
According to the country’s Auditor General – Mrs Lara Taylor Pierce, speaking on national radio and TV yesterday, she has gone through the report – all 523 pages with a fine-tooth comb, and found no evidence of the reported missing One Billion Dollars.
If the Auditor General is correct – and there is little reason to doubt her statement made on national TV yesterday in Freetown, then finance minister – Saffa has a lot to answer for, while he considers his position as minister, which many in the country now believe has become untenable.
Time for cabinet reshuffle Mr President
President Bio must remember that it is his credibility as president that is at stake, each time a member of his team behaves unprofessionally or improperly, as the international community builds confidence in his leadership.
He therefore cannot afford to have any member of his cabinet derail his New Direction agenda, which must be based on trust, honesty, probity, transparency, and propriety.
No one is suggesting that bad things were not done by bad people in the Koroma led APC government, including the former president Koroma himself. But to lie about a missing $1.6 Billion is very bad indeed.
Once again, it must be said that these charges against finance minister Saffa rest on the belief that the Auditor General has done her homework diligently, as she has done for several decades with the highest professional standards.
Speaking on national television yesterday, the Auditor General did not mince her words as she poured cold water on the finance minister’s missing billion story. This is what she said:
Watch the video recording:
Minister saffa and BBC reporter – Umaru Fofanah who broke the news last week on behalf of the government in his BBC report – claiming that he had had sight of the full 500 and odd pages report which he said is full of evidence of serious malfeasance by former government officials, are this morning under fierce attack from the opposition APC and critics of the government.
Questions are now being asked about the accuracy of the report, following the Auditor General’s statement. Did finance minister Saffa lie to the public and the media? Was there a conspiracy to deliberately mislead the media and the public?
Some of the comments by critics of the government are quite chilling.
“The credibility of this government is seriously in doubt. We drew voters attention and sounded the alarms during the release of the ‘Government Transition Report’ and in repeated claims by the President that he inherited the worse economy since Independence.
“We continue to call on this government to abandon the campaign trail and turn to governance – there is an urgent need for President Bio to abandon Tribal and regional politics and unify this nation. This is indeed a sad day for the nation – To note that we’ve all been sold a bill of goods that JJ Siaffa himself may find hard to stomach.
“We are vindicated, once again and we take this opportunity to thank Mrs. Taylor-Pearce for her candor and high degree of professionalism. We await another press conference with the BBC’s Umaru Fofanah to see if JJ Siaffa would retract his false report; and whether Parliament would call for the ouster of JJ Siaffa from office”, one critic commented this morning. (Photo: This is what critics are saying this morning).
Whilst it is obviously clear that the opposition APC are capitalising on the Auditor General’s debunking of minister Saffa’s claim of a missing billion, president Bio must take note and act decisively to save the credibility of his government, by commissioning an independent verification of the evidence in the forensic and technical audit reports being sold to the public and the media as facts. This must be done as a matter of urgency.
There must also be a cabinet reshuffle to help refocus the minds of ministers and put new energy and drive into efforts to rebuild the economy, address the bread and butter issues that are of most concern to millions of people in the country.
Once again this is a transcript of what the Auditor General said on national television yesterday, seen on the video above:
Reporter 1: When the Minister of Finance was launching the summary of this your Audit report, he made mention of over one billion dollars in the four major sectors, was discovered by your auditors as not accounted for by the former APC government officials. Is that really the amount inside your audit report?
Auditor: Actually Khadija, I knew this question will come up this morning for me. Let me therefore inform that I have gone and again looked at my Audit Report from Page 1 to Page 523 and I have also looked at the Appendix which is over 200 pages and I have not seen that figure inside my Technical Audit Report. I did not see that kind of figure.
Reporter 1: Since this Audit report broke, there has been so much controversy with lawmakers and members of the Executive; everyone having their own explanations and now you are saying there is no such amount of over one billion dollars cited inside your Audit Report.
If misinformation like this is going to the public about work which you did and most people are imagining from where and why is this wrong information being sent out when you had not even published your Report by then?
Reporter 2: So your Report is now out and the information that was initially put out was about over one billion dollars but from your own words that you say right now, that per se, is not the money that you have as what your audit found out. So who should we believe between you and the Finance Minister?
Auditor: Well Asma, what I will say in this situation is that I was not in the Finance Minister’s press conference nor have I looked at any of his spreadsheets that were flying and flying all over social media. So I don’t even know what is going on about that.
At the end of the day, what I can say is that the document has now been put on our Auditor General’s website yesterday for the general public and so people can go look at it for themselves. I have not seen anything like over one billion dollars missing in that report. Let people go and study the report to see if it is there.
Reporter 1: So quickly for clarity sake. Are you insisting that no such over one billion dollars that the Minister of Finance claims is missing was ever stated in your report?
Auditor: I have no such figure in that Audit Report.
It does not take much to get Sierra Leoneans in an explosive mood these days – tempers are really frail.This makes it impossible for some people to take a deep breath,sit back and calmly use simple logic to give an issue a circumspect analysis before drawing conclusions.
Even the headline which The Telegraph gave the subject seems to anger some people,they completely forget that there are synonyms in all languages which some of us are too lazy to look up and use sometimes.The Telegraph could have used false or spurious in place of debunk – they all mean the same thing.
On the face of what the Auditor-general said ,why should The Telegraph be denigrated for contending that Lara Taylor-pierce poured cold water on the forensic audit report written by international auditors? Auditor-general Taylor-pierce clearly said that having gone through the entire report she did not see any missing $1 billion as alleged by the Minister of Finance – J.J.Saffa. In other words, the allegation of the Minister was/is false,and so the Telegraph used the word “debunk”.
The question we should all be asking is who is right – the Minister or the Auditor-general ? We can only know the answer to the question if both individuals hold a press conference together to let us know how they arrived at the opposite ends of the same report. Blaming The Sierra Leone Telegraph for anything is unfair and cannot be justified.
Korthor Santhkie Sorie, as usual, interesting arguments. But wouldn’t it have been easier for the Auditor-General to state precisely that the audit report established no missing funds between 2015 and 2018 or that there missing funds but not up to $1 billion?
To me, the answers of the Auditor-General leave open too many questions that must be addressed. One such question is, is the Auditor-General trying to minimize the gravity of an issue that continues to gain momentum with the passing of each day? Theft especially public theft is an issue that cannot be minimized.
What difference does it make if the Minister of Finance stated that $1 billion was missing when in actuality it was $800 million that was missing? Do we need to split hairs on an issue like this?
I hope the Auditor-General has not jeopardized her job by appearing to protect the interests of an erstwhile corrupt regime. Let’s wait for the parliamentary debate on the issue.
Disgraceful! It is a mere disgrace and embarrassing situation that the Auditor General exhibited huge doubt over the forensic report of the $1 billion that was stolen by unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans who were trusted with power to better the lives of citizens.
The Auditor General in her response was completely unprofessional. What surprises everyone is that she pretended not to be aware of the numerous corruption cases she has been reporting after each audit since 2008. This kind of unprofessional and unpatriotic statement from the Auditor General has no place in society.
First, she was to draw a dichotomy between Forensic audit done by foreign professionals to her own national audit reports. Can Madam Taylor Pearce please come to the open to tell the country whether she was involved in the forensic audit? I do not even think she understood the question she was asked. In fact she now seems suspicious as to whether she is covering up criminals for her own personal gain. She has proven incompetent.
The past regime was as corrupt as the kingdom of hell, who will deny it? Come…….stop this blame game. J.J Saffa is a very senior economist and has built his integrity long time ago. Why should he lie or pretend to be false? We trust in his reports and we strongly believe Madam Pearce has something to hide.
In fact she clearly shows that she did not read the forensic report. So do not change the goal post for us. The government of Sierra Leone is focused on the fight against corruption. It is corruption that is fighting back, but we will win.
I was rather unfortunate to have missed the interview which was broadcast on 98.1 because I was on my way to Freetown. But I was fortunate to watch her interview yesterday morning on AYVTV and I was really impressed by her performance ( Mrs Taylor- Pearce) whose demeanour seemed like a very humble and patriotic Sierra Leonean.
What she clearly stated was some of the processes and procedures were breached by former government officials especially the procurement procedures and based on the findings of the forensic audit reports lots of money has been unaccounted for. In my personal opinion, the biggest Crime the finance minister committed is to exceed the normal acceptable threshold within our nation which is millions of dollars instead of 1 billion dollars.
My only advice to the finance minister is to be extra sensitive to the plight of those past corrupt officials by reducing the misappropriated amount by at least a dollar below billion which will probably be 9.999999 millions. Based on my personal experience in sales for over two decades 99 cents or $ 999 is a better deal is a better deal than $1 or $1000.
Good one, Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas. It makes one naive to express their views on this publication. Some people see it as an exclusive medium and should only cater for SLPP hype and propaganda. Anything that is pro-APC is seen as taboo!
It should be called as the Sierra Leone Peoples Party Telegraph (SLPPT) then – a boring and lacklustre publication for people who are not inclined to competition. No wonder many brilliant people out there, are not bothered to send their inputs. Where is the DEMOCRACY …
Mr. Sahr Matturi,
It appears that you are making premature judgments without even reading the audit report. Upon reading the full report, I could not understand why folks are calling the minister of finance a liar. The man was giving an approximate figure of missing funds between 2015 and 2018. The report contains numerous figures of funds that are unaccounted for. So, what is so bad with the minister making an approximation?
To answer your question, the issue is not whether I believe the Auditor General’s statements about the audited report in her interview or J.J. Saffa’s presentation at his press conference. The issue is whether the facts as presented from the report are factual, accurate and credible.
My professional instinct informs me that the report is factual because the Financial Secretary presented the different sub-totals of the different sectors audited in a PowerPoint presentation at their press conference. It is the sub-totals of the four sectors audited that aggregated to the grand total of $1.3 or 6 billion.
Furthermore, the Auditor General could not talk about the dollar amounts in the audited report in her interview because of the constraints of her profession. Auditing rules and procedures prohibit auditors from presenting or talking about the results of audit reports to people who are not their audit clients. In the case of a corporation, the audited report is presented to the Board of Directors from which the Audit Committee is formed in the company.
In the case of the technical audit report we are discussing here, the government of Sierra Leone is the audit client that ordered the technical audit of the four sectors to be audited, more specifically, the audit client is the Sierra Leone parliament.
This is the reason why the Auditor General went out of her way to explain that the only reason why she gave the audited report to the Minister of Finance Mr. J.J.Saffa was out of “professional courtesy”. Moreover, she deliberately avoided attending the press conference conducted by the Ministry of Finance chaired by the Minister of Information to protect herself from professional misconduct.
Additionally, it would have been unprofessional for her to make comments on the figures in her interview with 98.1 because it will violate audit-client protocol or rules. According to audit rules as I have explained, the only institution she should discuss the results of the audit with, is the government of Sierra Leone – the Sierra Leone parliament.
J.J. Saffa the Finance Minister should not have presented the audited report to the public.
He usurped the powers of parliament by presenting the report to the public and thus the reason why the members of parliament are up in arms with his behavior. He acted ultra vires in this sense. The audited figures he however presented are accurate and credible.
As to whether you care or not about whether J.J. Saffa is a brilliant economist or finance professional, I think all right thinking and rational Sierra Leoneans should care whether the person who represents them at the highest level of policy formulation and implementation of their finances is qualified to do so. J.J. Saffa is a capable, qualified and competent financial economist and he is doing excellently well at the Finance Ministry, and we should care.
Dear Sahr Matturi,
I am sorry, but I have to disappoint you here. Your view or opinion on this matter is very wrong! The Lady never SAID that no mismanagement of funds took place. We the citizens do not really care about any figure/amount, but all we are about is that – significant money were mismanaged by these people.
Also, I think the President will also disappoint you, by you calling to replace the Finance Minister is an arrogant and selfish request. Just as what others are saying, [THE] Minister has done nothing wrong that would warrant the President to replace him. What a joke are you talking about – I asked you.
Please be assured that this time around, we are NOT going to buy into ANY Propaganda by any APC supporter(s). So please stop the jokes and let us support the President’s development agenda for a better Sierra Leone. NO MORE APC RULE IN SIERRA LEONE – Period!!
All what you have just said in all your three paragraphs Philip, are DISGRACEFUL and DISGUSTING – even with your very CONSCIENCE, let alone mine or with the general public. First of all, we are not talking about MISMANAGEMENT OF FUNDS, REPLACING THE LIARTEERS or APC PROPAGANDA.
You are completely out of CONTEXT or ILL INFORMED on the article. What we are talking about is the BUNGLING of a very serious report for POLITICAL GAINS by some UNSCRUPULOUS GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND POLITICIANS. READ the article over again, prepare yourself PROPERLY and come back to me so that we could discuss and debate this ISSUE.
I am very prepared and have enough FIRE POWER and AMMUNITION for anyone who wants to TWIST or COVER UP this very important issue. The PARLIAMENT or the PRESIDENT just have to drop the hammer and inflict the highest possible punishment on the LIARTEERS. Sierra Leone cannot continue like that. Those days are gone I’m afraid. SORRY.
We can only put SIERRA LEONE FIRST by being very AGGRESSIVE on stamping out all forms of corruption in our society. Even the President has said it many times. He has several times said, he will not tolerate any form of corruption by anyone is his GOVERNMENT. He must act now in order for him to be CREDIBLE. I don’t see how these LIARTEERS will escape this.
These GENTLEMEN should just RESIGN – which will be GRACEFUL to them. I am happy that people like you continue arguing blindly on something that is clear and straight forward. It makes the ISSUE LIVE to discuss and debate, which is good for our democracy. Thank you very much.
When GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS who must know or do better go LOW, we KICK them OUT. PERIOD.
If ever there were any doubts associated with Finance Minister Saffa’s utterances relative to the recently released technical audit report, the Auditor-General, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, did not nothing to clarify the situation. Was it very difficult for Mrs Taylor-Pearce to state that the audit found no missing funds or that x amount of funds were missing? To just state that “I have not seen that figure inside my Technical Audit Report” does not clarify the situation.
Would J.J. Saffa be labelled a liar if $800 thousand were missing instead of over $1 billion? We also must remember that Saffa was responding to a question at a press conference and he may have just given an approximate figure of the missing funds. I find it ludicrous to entertain the thought that an audit of the APC government found no missing funds.
I grew up in an APC household but will never give my support to a party that is so recklessly corrupt and depraved like the APC.
Although I did not support president Bio during the last elections, his performance in office over the last years has won my admiration and support. I also do not see any need for the president to reshuffle his cabinet at this time. The saying that if it is not broken don’t fix it is appropriate here. Bio and his men are doing a fantastic job. In particular, J.J. Saffa has been instrumental in restoring Sierra Leone’s credibility in the international arena. Why replace the man?
Our political system is based on a winner takes all model. Thus, president Bio has a right to govern with the men/women that he trusts. Frequent cabinet changes was the APC style of governance. If anything, it only breeds chaos in governance. Let the folks who want to join Bio’s cabinet and are not members of the SLPP join the SLPP and work their way up like the likes of J.J. Saffa and others.
Quite often we either fall for APC’s cheap propaganda or are quick to make excuses for them. Before the elections, we were told that Maada Bio would never be allowed to set foot on American soil if elected president. Then when Bio made his first presidential trip to America last year, Cocorioko, the APC mouthpiece, stated that the president will not be allowed to travel beyond forty miles of the United Nations location in mid-town Manhattan. Yet the president traveled as far as California. And Bio was again in the United States two weeks ago. Who are these APC guys fooling?
A simple critical examination of what Mrs Lara Taylor Pierce – Auditor General of Sierra Leone said on Radio Democracy 98.1 would have revealed the truth of this matter. The Auditor General did not say there was no missing billion dollars in her report. She said she did not do the calculation to report the grand total of the billion or more dollars J.J. Saffa and his colleagues at the finance ministry reported at the press conference.
Indeed, as Auditor General, her job is to identify errors, leakages, weaknesses in a system, be it financial and telecommunications, Social Security etc and report on the financial lapses of the system. This is exactly what her technical audit revealed, and based on her statements during the interview, she did say that the technical auditors from Kenya, Ghana etc brought out deep failings in the financial records of the four sectors that were audited. Therefore, the duty of the Auditors anywhere in the world, is to audit and professionally report the mishaps, failings, and impropriety in the financial records of institutions, and agencies they audit. This is exactly what her office did.
She said it is not her duty to aggregate these records or numbers and proffer opinions as to how the failings, or improprieties in financial records took place. This is the job of policy and decision makers in government. As a professional, she used her discretion to share the report with the ministry of Finance as the Finance Ministry partnered with her office in conducting the audit.
It is as a result of this “professional courtesy” her words, that led to the Ministry of Finance’s receipt of the completed copy of the audited report before submission to parliament. J.J. Saffa an expert in development finance has every reason to worry about the colossal amounts of funds revealed by the audited report and therefore blew the whistle on the lacuna.
He therefore got his total figure of more than $1 billion dollars by aggregating or adding up all the figures of the Auditor Generals report to come up with his total figures from the audited report. This is not rocket science, and knowing J.J. Saffa, as a mathematical and econometric wizard, it was easy for him to sum the figures up.
I am therefore mystified to read APC talking point and propaganda piece in this credible news outlet that we have come to rely on for our news on burning national matters in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Telegraph is better than this. This is because the trust and confidence it has built over the years can be lost in seconds with this type of reporting.
John, I have one question for you to answer because, you seem to be backing the GENTLEMEN. Am I wrong?
My question to you is this – who do you believe? THE THREE LIARTEERS PICTURED or the writer of this article?
I will ask my former English tutor at Cambridge if there is a way to include the word LIARTEERS in the Oxford dictionary.
Expert in Development Finance or not is none of our business John.
Being a MATHEMATICAL AND ECONOMETRIC WIZARD or not, we don’t care. What we care about is for these so called GENTLEMEN to be honest in executing their duties as public servants.
This issue is not going away until PARLIAMENT or the PRESIDENT take action. PARLIAMENT must drop the hammer mercilessly on anyone who encroached on their powers. The GENTLEMEN should not only know how to calculate, but they should also know their limits and boundaries in terms of the constitution, the law or professional procedures.
Finally, you mentioned something in the first paragraph of your comment concerning the $1 Billion which to me is misleading. Can you please clarify once more what the IRON LADY said concerning the $1 Billion dollar in the 523 page report?
John – you are always a brilliant writer whenever you can manage to take off your emotional hat to respond to issues. Sadly on this occasion, you have allowed your emotion to cloud your thinking. Please go back and read our story. As to whether the Sierra Leone Telegraph is cowing to APC propaganda, I note we are also being accused by APC supporters of being SLPP.
Being attacked by all sides is a good sign that we are not towing any party line, but that of Mama Salone. The Sierra Leone Telegraph will continue to defend and promote the interests of the country, as we always have done since our formation ten years ago – 2009. Come on board my friend and be part of this crusade.
Despite your emotional outburst, the Sierra leone Telegraph will continue to give you the space to express your freedom of speech, because we believe Sierra Leone can only be better when we create an open space for democratic freedoms to be freely expressed irrespective of party affiliation. Keep reading the Sierra Leone Telegraph buddy and keep sending your comments. But please do yourself a favour – try to curb your exuberance John and continue to be the good commentator that you can be.
Regarding your comments about what the Auditor General may or may not have said, sadly we cannot comment any further as the Report has now been tabled in Parliament, preventing any further running commentaries. I will respect that until after the parliamentary report into the Auditor’s report is out.
Can everyone recall the first line of my COMMENT on the article – ‘Former president Koroma’s government to account for over one billion dollars – say international auditors’ dated 03/04/2019? This was what I said and I quote – ‘I have some reservations with the timing of this report.’
I said that because, I doubt anything of such magnitude was not presented to the COI in the first place. Moreover, 1 Billion Dollars is not a chicken change that any government will mess around with and go scorch free, especially with the COI in place.
LOOK AT THAT. A LADY defeating those so called GENTLEMEN by 100% by letting the FACTS out. The so called GENTLEMEN (the minister of finance and the financial secretary) have just been bungling us all the way on this all important report.
Look at that SWEET, SOBER and HONEST FACE of one of our IRON LADIES compared to that GUILTY FACE of the so called GENTLEMAN heading the MINISTRY OF FINANCE. A picture is worth a thousand words.
This so called FINANCE MINISTER has just given me the FIRE POWER to continue to advocate placing our able IRON LADIES at the HIGHEST HELM of responsibility in our country. For years now, MEN or GENTLEMEN, whatever you call them, have not proven most times to be honest and truthful in public offices. Women so far have done extremely well on every front where they are given the opportunity and responsibility.
I confirm what this writer and other writers have said about a cabinet reshuffle. President Bio should CONSIDER twice before appointing so called GENTLEMEN as MINISTERS. He should APPOINT 90% of any new CABINET with WOMEN. The President should just FLOOD the whole CABINET with LADIES. That will help the country a long way. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of CANADA has done that and everyone have seen how PROGRESSIVE that government is. His GOVERNMENT is the most successful government in the world right now.
Why can’t President Bio do the same to put our MINISTRIES and the COUNTRY on the right track. MEN have just failed us in every area of our ADMINISTRATION. The SLPP has lost some CREDIBILITY by the way their MINISTER OF FINANCE manipulated this all important report for POLITICAL GAINS of the SLPP. The President must be disappointed I reckon.
I have said it from the beginning, that President Bio must make his first term a referendum on himself if he wants to win in 2023. The SLPP and his MINISTERS will not help him. They will just make errors and distant him from winning. Remember, former President Koroma has entered politics again and he is trying at all cost to defend the gains he made whilst he was in office. He is also trying to clear his name and sending political waves to his supporters that he is in control. That must be worrisome for the SLPP.
Things are becoming even worse, now that the SLPP through one of their MINISTERS for now is damaging not only the reputation of the SLPP, but the reputation of the PRESIDENT.
My view is that, this minister and his financial secretary must be INVESTIGATED and if found GUILTY of any CRIMES or wrong doings, must be dismissed and handed over to the appropriate authorities.
What Mrs. Taylor-Pearce has just done, can be compared to what Sierra Leone’s Inspector General of Police – Dr. Richard Moigbe did during the dispute regarding the questioning of former President Koroma. Anyway, there are some GENTLEMEN like Dr. Richard Moigbe who should be respected, whether you like it or not.
Finally, I thank Mrs. Taylor-Pearce for such a NOBLE action. This is what should happen in a democratic environment. No FEAR OR FAVOUR. I SALUTE you Mrs. Taylor-Pearce for your BOLD, BRAVE and FIRM intervention in letting the PUBLIC know the TRUTH about this AUDIT REPORT that was HIJACKED by some UNSCRUPULOUS GENTLEMEN at the HELM of authority in our country.
By the way I am not going to CHANGE my FIRST name because of what my NAME SAKE the FINANCIAL SECRETARY has done. Thank GOD I am Called SAHR MATTURI. Finally, this is a serious matter that the President and the government must investigate. I pray that the next CABINET will have 90% of our IRON LADIES. AMEN AND AMEN.
I think this debate is a simple one. Finance minister reported gross corruption leading to loss of more than a billion dollars between 2015 – 2017. Auditor general spoke diplomatically, saying she did not see the figure the minister quoted.
Did the auditor general say there was no corruption and theft of public funds – no she did not. Why then my friend do u want to create the impression that the auditor general exonerated the APC of corruption? You once opined that the GTT report was fake.
What do you have to say about payments made to government by corrupt officials under the APC. And mind you none of those making these payments have denied wrongdoing. What do you have to say about the evidence unearthed by the COI about the massive corruption perpetrated by government officials under the Koroma regime. Let us be objective in our thinking about national issues.
It’s not about liking or hating political leaders, it’s about us the people of Sierra Leone. Remember our political leaders are employed by us to manage the affairs of the state. They have to account for their stewardship; after all they trumpet what they call achievements, we should also trumpet what we call their failures.
The danger of these past 10 years of APC rule is that they institutionalized corruption and that is why the people of Sierra Leone need drastic actions such as the ACC, COI, technical audits to understand, punish and reduce corruption in government.