Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 May 2019:
Last week, the chairman of Sierra Leone’s Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts – Sengepoh Thomas MP, wrote a letter to the country’s Anti-Corruption Czar – Francis Ben Kaifala, directing the ACC to commence investigations into the findings of the Auditor General’s Report on the technical audit of social security, telecommunication, civil works and energy sectors.
The letter further went on to direct the ACC to bring charges in court, against anyone deemed to have been involved in the misappropriation or misuse of public funds, or abuse of office, following investigations. And a press statement published by the ACC on 2nd May 2019, in response to the call by the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts – Sengepoh Thomas MP, confirmed the ACC’s readiness to proceed with the investigations.
This is what the ACC said:
“In a letter addressed to the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), dated 30th April, 2019, and signed by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Hon. Segepoh S. Thomas; the Parliament of Sierra Leone has granted ACC the unfettered clearance to further investigate and, if need be, prosecute relevant officials in connection with the Auditor General’s Report of the Technical Audit on Social Security, Telecommunications, Civil Works and Energy sectors.
“The Commissioner had earlier informed Parliament that it will work with them to investigate alleged acts of grand corruption as contained in the findings of the Technical Audit Report. This clearance removes any technical issues between the two institutions and allows for impunity to be removed from public service going forward.
“It was in this vein that, on 16th April 2019, the ACC convened a Press conference to inform the public on the Commission’s position on the Technical Audit Report, stating that the Commission was only waiting on the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to conduct initial inquiry into the activities of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Parastatals.
“The Commission wishes to reaffirm its unwavering determination in the fight against corruption, with the view of ensuring that stolen public funds are recovered, and justice delivered to the people of Sierra Leone.”
But yesterday, APC Member of Parliament – Lahai Marah, wrote a letter to the Speaker of Parliament – Dr Abass Bundu, accusing the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee – Sengepoh Thomas (of the SLPP party), of breaching parliamentary rules and procedure. Lahai Marah MP is also the Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. This is what he said:
“Request for further investigation and, if need be, prosecution of relevant officials in connection with the auditor general’s report on the technical audit of social security, telecommunication, civil works and energy sectors”.
“I write with reference to a letter dated the 29th of April 2019 and captioned as above, written by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament; acting in his capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, addressed to the Commissioner of the Anti – Corruption; upon which the Commissioner has already issued a press statement.
“Mr. Speaker, by this letter, the Chairman has requested the Commission to conduct further investigations on the Technical Audit Report recently tabled before this Parliament purporting that the Committee “after considerable deliberations…..has resolved to forward all the issues in the Report for further investigation, and if needs be, prosecution of relevant officials and a report of
findings submitted to the Committee for final recommendations that may form part of the Committee’s report”.
“He also stated that the authority to do such is founded in Section 93 (3) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991.
“Mr. Speaker, Section 119 (5) of the Constitution provides that Parliament should debate the Report and where necessary appoint a Committee to deal with the matters arising therefrom. Our understanding of this provision is that the Audit Report is a report for Parliament and that until it is debated by the Plenary of the House, no other body can act on nor take ownership of it.
“The powers of the Public Accounts Committee are limited to dealing with the matters arising therefrom and preparation of a report (including recommendations) to be tabled and debated by the full complement of House.
“Mr. Speaker, I bring to your attention that the Public Accounts Committee had commenced public hearings on the Report and tremendous progress is being made but that at no time was there considerable deliberations and resolution of the members of the Committee to request assistance from the Anti–Corruption Commission, as claimed by the Chairman. We are well aware that if even we so desire, we can only do so through you and the Plenary of the House.
“Section 93 (3) of the Constitution upon which the Chairman relied gave him no such power to refer a parliamentary document, which we are still working on, to a third party. Section 93 (3) gives the Committee power to investigate or inquire into activities or administration of ministries or departments assigned to it, and such investigation or inquiry may extend to proposals for legislation. Inviting the Commission to inquire into the document is in no way synonymous to making a proposal for legislation.
“Mr. Speaker, the Chairman by acting as he has done, has acted outside his powers and I humbly call on you to reverse this unilateral decision as allowing it to stand will amount to the usurpation of the powers of Parliament, more so, when the hearings have revealed several anomalies in the Report.
“As a Committee, we will appreciate if we are allowed to complete our work and submit our report to the Plenary for debate and necessary action thereafter.
“Your Sincerely, Hon. Lahai Marah – Dpt. Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
“Cc: The Hon. Deputy Speaker; Hon. Leader of Government Business; Hon. Leader of the Opposition; Hon. Leader – NGC; Hon. Leader – C4C; Hon. Clerk of Parliament; The Chief Minister; The Secretary to the President; The Auditor General; The Commissioner – ACC; The Country Manager, World Bank; The Head of Office, DfID; The Head, EU Delegation.”
Given the implications this objection may have on the work of the ACC in investigating alleged corruption by ministers and officials of the former APC government, the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, asked the ACC Czar whether Lahai Marah’s objection is likely to stop the ACC investigations and possible prosecution of those found wanting for corruption.
In his reply, the ACC Czar said: “No. Our investigations will not take into consideration his objection. That is between them in Parliament. We are already in advanced stages of our investigation.”
According to the recent Auditor General’s Report on the technical audit of social security, telecommunication, civil works and energy sectors, hundreds of millions of dollars cannot be accounted for across various government agencies and sectors, by ministers and officials in the former government led by president Ernest Bai Koroma.
Many in Sierra Leone are accusing the opposition APC members of parliament of attempting to stop the corruption investigations. They are also accusing the APC party of trying to bring the country to a standstill, an accusation the APC denies.