Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 April 2019:
Last weekend former president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, announced his surprised re-entry into national politics, despite promising to take a back seat as leader and chairman of his defeated APC party at last year’s elections.
But yesterday, as he resumed office at his party’s headquarters in Freetown, from where he will be directing the affairs of his opposition APC party, he was greeted with a statement from the SLPP government’s ministry of finance, inviting the media to a press conference where details of an audit into the financial conduct of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) presided over by president Koroma will be revealed.
And by late afternoon, the extent of impropriety, abuse of office and misappropriation of public funds became all too clear.
According to the technical financial audit conducted by a group of international auditors drawn from Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, president Koroma and his heads of MDAs are to account for over $1 billion of public funds, misappropriated over a period of just three years.
Details of the international technical audit report into the grotesque corruption in high office presided over by the former president of Sierra Leone – Ernest Bai Koroma, are troubling and makes for sombre reading.
Sierra Leone is ranked among the poorest nations in the world, yet in just three years, corrupt public officials and ministers were able to spectacularly siphon over $1 billion of funds meant for the development of the country.
In four sectors alone, over $538 million was misappropriated by public officials in connivance with their private sector cronies, between 2015 and 2018.
According to the international technical audit report, which it is understood will now be the main focus of the three Commissions of Inquiry set up by president Julius Maada Bio and the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, the four main sectors used by ministers and senior public officials as gravy trains were telecoms, roads, energy and social security (NASSIT).
Mobile phone companies contracted to provide the country with 4G network were allowed by ministers and senior officials to defraud the state to the tune of more than $10 million in unpaid licence fees and taxes.
NATCOM – the telecommunications regulator, had entered into a contract with a company that did not tender a bid for provision of services, after the company had doled out nearly $1 million of donations to youth groups, as well as kickbacks to MPs and officials of the information and political affairs ministries.
The international audit report also found that, at the state-owned communications company – SIERRATEL, there were 74 million missing recharged voucher serial numbers and 109,000 customers used recharged vouchers not generated by the system, amounting to $245,000.
Two IT staff working at SIERRATEL ran their own personal point of sale terminal operations in their own names with total unaccounted revenue of Le33.5 Billion in January to Nov 2018 alone.
In January – May, more than Le 19 Billion collected as revenue for point of sale recharge couldn’t be accounted for, says the report.
Although SIERRATEL’s financial records show that almost Le 2.5 Billion was spent on the purchasing of vehicles, the audit report found no vehicles, yet they were listed in the company’s accounts as assets.
In the government’s agency responsible for rolling out internet cable network across the country – SALCAB, the international auditors found that more than $526,000 and Le2 billion were paid respectively to a company to provide services which ought to have been provided by SALCAB’s Board.
But those services were never performed by the company. The contract was bogus.
Large sums of money were transferred or withdrawn as cash from SALCAB’s bank accounts without the necessary supporting documents and without provision of services, amounting to $ 2.4 million and Le 1.6 Billion respectively.
No supporting documents for “Board Expenses” for the 2015 financial year amounting to Le386 million.
In addition, Le3.2 Billion of tax payers’ money were donated to former ministers and MPs without any policy for approving and processing such gifts. This is corruption.
At NASSIT, the NAPOS II software purchased for over $2 million is said by the international auditors as unfit for its intended purpose.
64 people were found to be listed as pensioners but without social security numbers. These people were paid over Le 409 million.
248 pension claims amounting to Le 5.4 billion were paid out without meeting the set criteria.
Billions of Leones were fraudulently paid by corrupt officials to people who had not reached the statutory retirement age.
There was total disregard for procurement procedures in the awarding of a $35 million contract for the construction of a multipurpose market and transport terminal in Bo (Sewa Grounds) through sole sourcing.
The original contract for the rehabilitation of the Bintumani conference centre by NASSIT was inflated from $8.2 million to $16.2 million.
Details revealed by the international auditors of the extent of corruption in the awarding of contracts for road construction are equally troubling.
These are just some examples of the grotesques corruption unearthed by the international group of auditors that will now become the subject of investigations by the ACC and the Commissions of Inquiry. Those found wanting must pay back every cent and receive jail sentence.