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.