Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 November 2021:
There was high drama in the committee room of Sierra Leone’s Parliament yesterday evening, where the Mayor of Freetown – Mrs Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and her senior management team of the Freetown City Council met with MPs representing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer questions the PAC says are part of its review of the Auditor General Report of 2019 into missing records and documents.
The drama started when the Chairman of the all-male PAC MPs (Sengepoh Thomas) who arrived hours late for their meeting with the Mayor, apologised for their lack of professionalism.
The meeting then commenced with Sengepoh Thomas attempting to school the Mayor and her senior management staff about the meaning of good governance in public office and the need for accountability and transparency to the surprise of the Mayor, who tried to interject but denied by the PAC chairman Sengepoh Thomas who is also the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
But the confident and no-nonesense Mayor Aki-Sawyerr held her professional ground and refused to give way, explaining to Chairman Sengepoh and his committee of MPs, that all of the information on the 49 projects requested by the MPs for scrutiny are on the back of the Auditor General’s Report of 2019 as Appendix, and that in any case she has brought copies for the committee if they hadn’t properly read the 2019 Report.
Not satisfied in his attempt to belittle the Mayor, PAC Chairman Sengepoh Thomas interjected several times to stop the Mayor from reading out the list of documents and records which was handing over to the Clerk of Parliament for the committee’s perusal.
Failing in his condescending battle to shutdown the Mayor, the PAC Chairman realising that the Mayor had come to Parliament armed with tons of records and documents to prove that the Freetown City Council is well governed, PAC Chairman Thomas thanked Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and her team and told them that MPs will study the records and documents for examination before the next hearing.
The session – filled with drama, tension and a few laughter, was formally brought to a close by a flustered and bewildering looking Chairman Sengepoh Thomas.
Many in Sierra Leone have hailed Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s professional performance in Parliament yesterday as victory for commonsense and victory for women in politics and society, where leaders of male dominated institutions give very little respect if at all to their female counterparts.
Mrs Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is a legally elected Mayor of Freetown, a city with a population of over two milion people that she is accountable to. Moreover, the total number of votes won by Mrs Aki-Sawyerr at the last Mayoral elections, was far greater than the total number of votes won by many of the MPs she faced in Parliament yesterday.
But this counts for very little in Sierra Leone politics today, where absolutely power trickles down from the sitting President to his ruling party MPs, in a Parliament that several reports have questioned their integrity and lack of accountability for millions of dollars received every year.
Sierra Leone’s Parliament was named in a Transparency Report recently as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.
A key highlight of yesterday’s drama in the PAC committee encounter with Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, came when she apprised the committee of the fact that projects which are delivered for the benefit of Parliament but not funded by Parliament, cannot and should not be expected to be shown in the End of Year Accounts of Parliament. The same principle the Mayor told the MPs, must apply to the Freetown City Council and all other public institutions.
Supporters of the Mayor say that the Mayor’s professional performance in Parliament yesterday, has significantly unhinged attempts by the government and others to humiliate and discredit the Mayor, and impugn her integrity.
Mayor Aki-Sawyerr is a highly qualified and experienced public administration practitioner with accountancy and MBA degrees. She is a worthy recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) awarded to her by Her Majesty the Queen for services rendered during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, which took the lives of thousands of people.
Victor Ako Mengot who is a former Committee Specialist of the House of Commons in the UK, commented yesterday on the Process for Reviewing Annual Audit Reports Re: ÀSSL’s 2019 Report. This is what he said:
“The Audit Report is prepared annually by ASSL and laid in the table of Parliament. Once this process is completed it will be submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for review by its members. The Committee comprises of 11 members plus the Chairman. In most Parliament in the Commonwealth of which Sierra Leone is a member, the Committee is chaired by a member of the opposition and the members are selected according to the numerical strength of the various parties in Parliament.
“The conduct of the inquiry by the PAC is prescribed by the Standing Orders in Parliament. The PAC normally invites Ministers, Senior Civil Servants and Heads of Departmental Agencies to appear before the Committee over a period of a fortnight to answer to questions on the findings and recommendations of the Audit Report.
“Members of the committee also ask those appearing before the Committee to provide all relevant documents that includes internal audit reports, financial statements, procurement contract etc.
“Those attending the Committee hearings will be questioned by the Chairman and members during the inquiry. They would have also received copies of the Audit Report before publications and given the opportunity to make good any anomalies raised by the Auditors and these are presented as addendum to the Audit Report.
“After the Committee has reviewed all the written and oral evidence, they will prepare a report with recommendations and members will have to vote on the recommendations before the report is finalised. If there is a tie in the voting, the Chairman has the casting vote. Even dissenting views by members are added to the report as an appendix.
“The full report is then submitted to full House for debate followed by vote by all MPs. The voting process and number of votes will be recorded by the Clerk of Parliament and this and the full report is published in the Hansard.
“Until this process is completed no other authority can review the findings of the original report.
“We are now expecting the 2020 Audit Report and it is only now that the PAC is looking into the 2019 Report starting with Mayor and FCC.
“Interestingly some of the complaints against the Auditor General leading to her suspension are relating to the findings of the 2019 Audit Report even though it is now that the PAC is looking into it.
“We have always been told to “trust the process” so Let’s see how this pans out with the parallel inquiry by the Tribunal and the PAC.”
You can listen here to what happened:
You can also watch the video of the Mayor in Parliament here:
Listen to Sierra Leone’s most respected female opposition leader – Femi Claudius-Cole, speaking about Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s performance in Parliament yesterday: