Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 April 2022:
Suspended Auditor General of Sierra Leone – Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Deputy – Tamba Momoh, accused of alleged professional misconduct by the Attorney General, last Thursday appeared in front of a tribunal set up by President Bio to carry out an investigation. But there was drama, as the ill-prepared State legal officials, failed to present the government’s case and evidence in support of their allegations.
Instead, both the Auditor General – Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Deputy Tamba Momoh were asked to confirm whether they understood “the object of the Gazette for which the tribunal was set up by His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio to inquire into a case for stated misconduct against them,” to which they responded in the affirmative.
Representing the State, Lawyer Thomas A. Freeman asked to be granted four weeks so as to file and serve relevant papers on Lara Taylor-Pearce and Tamba Momoh, claiming that the Tribunal Secretariat has not yet been properly set up.
In her response to the State’s request, Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Nyawo Matturi-Jones replied: “This is a season of adaptation.”
Commenting on whether the Auditor General should enjoy the constitutional protection granted to Judges as many legal experts have previously argued, Justice Nyawo Matturi-Jones referred to section 137 of the Constitution which is specifically provided to protect Judges’ tenure of office, noting that the Constitution also provides in Section 119 (9) that the Auditor General be accorded the same protection of tenure of office as Judges.
This has prompted many legal commentators to once again question the legal and constitutional basis for the suspension of the Auditor General and the setting up of a tribunal to investigate her alleged professional misconduct, details of which have never been put to the Auditor General nor the Board of Audit Service Sierra Leone who are responsible for overseeing the work of the Auditor General.
Reporting on last Thursday’s procedings, this is what Leon Blyden Jenkins-Johnston who is the Ombudsman of Sierra Leone, said:
Wenesday 7th April was the second sitting of the Tribunal set up by his Excellency the President to look into the performance of the Auditor-General Lara Taylor-Pearce and her deputy Tamba Momoh. All three members of the panel were present. Justice Matturi-Jones JSC ( ret) presiding, Justice Ivan Sesay JA and Lahai Farma Esq.
O. Kanu, J.K. Sesay, T.J, Freeman represening the State; R.S.V Wright for the Auditor-General; M. P. Fofana and K. Yillah for the deputy Auditor-General.
• Justice Ivan Sesay started off by saying Justice demands that the court tells the defendants their purpose of being here and it is for the court to inform them.
• The registrar of the supreme court was then asked to read the gazette dated 17th March 2022 to the Auditor-General and her deputy which contained the mandate and terms of reference of the tribunal.
After the first reading,the Learned Judge then asked the Auditor-General if she understood what was read to which she replied in the negative.
The Learned Judge then asked the Registrar to read the gazette a second time and the same question was posed to the Auditor-General and her deputy and on this occasion they both answered in the affirmative that they understood.
• Lead counsel for the state indicated that he was unsure as to how to proceed and wanted the courts guidance as to the procedure which should be followed.
• The head of the tribunal instructed that the state gets their documents in order and made it clear that as the panel was currently sitting the secretariat is not functional and requests have been made for the necessary equipment to get the secretariat up and running. The judge expressed that this is a season where everyone must adapt to the changes as they come and that everyone should be patient.
• It was made clear that the three members of the tribunal had been working on practice directions independently and were now working towards putting these together to form comprehensive directions, but this should not stop the tribunal from dealing with preliminary issues.
• In the meantime, this delay should provide the state with enough time to ready their papers. The tribunal indicated that their eyes were focused on fair play and justice. The tribunal panel promised that the practice directions will be sent to all parties involved as soon as possible.
• Counsel for the 2nd defendant brought to the panel and state’s attention that certain benefits and allowances which are due to his client and ought not be affected by the ongoing tribunal,have been suspended to his detriment.
• The judge indicated that the defendants should be patient and that the practice directions are almost complete and that they will surely address all of these issues that are being raised and that the directions will sufficiently guide the proceedings. It is hoped that by then printers and other equipments required would have been ready.
• The tribunal also indicated that the practice directions does not stop them from giving additional directions as the investigation progresses.
• The matter was then adjourned for 2 weeks to the 21st day of April 2022 when the tribunal will give its directions.The state requested and was granted a four-week period within which they are to file their papers.
• The judge asked that people exercise patience and she further explained that there is no precedent binding and guiding the tribunal as to how they should approach such a tribunal.
She stated that they will be guided by rules of procedure and common sense.
She further explained that no one person has all the experience and most people if not all had never seen section 137 of the Constitution in action, and that they take particular interest because it applies to judges as well.
The tribiunal was adjourned to 21st April 2022.
Writing on social media, this is what one commentator said: “Well today was the second hearing of the tribunal for Lara Taylor-Pearce and Tamba Momoh as Auditor General and Deputy Auditor General. Last time I thought the hearing and the lack of preparation by the Attorney General and his team and the tribunal members was a waste of tax payers money.
“Today was reportedly much worse, embarrassing and very disgraceful. How far have we fallen in this country that the Chair retired Justice Nyawo Matturi-Jones would tell the public that they do not have a printer to print? Can anyone beat that? They now have to write to State House to procure some items. Had they not thought of that before setting up this sham? Could they not find a printer in the whole of the judiciary?
“The Attorney General and most of his battery of lawyers were absent today. The State’s lawyers present asked for four weeks for them to put their evidence together and serve the lawyers of Taylor- Pearce and Momoh. Did they not have this evidence when the Secretary to the President suspended them by letter last November? Were these not presented to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission when they obeyed the order to recommend a tribunal?
“What was witnessed today was the Tribunal looking to the State lawyers for direction and the State lawyers looking to the tribunal for direction. This is a film called Embarrassing Moments playing out for the world to see. They are playing with two people’s careers and a nation’s dignity. They adjourned to the 21st of April. By which time, they would have found a printer supplied with ink and paper and printed the rules.
“Maybe the Government might still need two weeks more to find its evidence and witnesses. By the way Justice Matturi-Jones said this was the first time this was happening, and she wants to get it right rather than lament later. Are they learning on the job? Everybody seems lost.
“I hope at the end it will all be worth it, as you said you are grateful for the experience. Pity the victims will not feel the same way. Whoever thought these suspensions was a good idea should be sacked.
“I suspect the issue really now is how do we untangle this mess. That is why five months after that haughty decision we have no rules, no evidence, no specific allegation, no office supplies, no administrative back up etc etc and the State is only now compiling its evidence. “Act in haste, repent at leisure.”
“….he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:29