In Sierra Leone – Inquiry into the conduct of Auditor General Taylor-Pearce starts today

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 March 2022:

After months of delay and uncertainty, following the suspension of Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce by President Bio, accusing the Auditor General of professional misconduct, the Tribunal set up by the President to conduct an inquiry has started sitting today at the Main Law Courts Building, Siaka Stevens Street, in Freetown.

Critics of the government say that both the Auditor-General, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce (Photo) and her deputy – Mr. Tamba Momoh are being investigated for allegations of misconduct, after publishing a damning report into the government’s mismanagement of the country’s financial affairs. They are accusing the government of witch-hunt.

The Tribunal appointed by President Bio is made of Justice (Rtd) Mrs. Nyawo Matturi-Jones as chairperson, Justice Ivan Sesay, and Mr Lahai Momoh Farmah.

The Auditor General is accused of violating the Financial Management Act of 2016, the Fiscal Management and Responsibility Act of 2017 and the National Public Procurement Act, 2016. The government alleges that recruitment of private audit firms by the Auditor General did not follow procurement rules.

It is also alleged that: “The Auditor General’s initial refusal to comply with the legal opinion of the Solicitor General to set up a Single Treasury Account for the payment of audit fees was strongly opposed by the Ministry of Finance which led to the intervention of the Speaker of Parliament.

“Mr. Tamba Momoh is believed to be a member of several Boards of Directors of Government or Government Assisted Secondary Schools which fall under the audit mandate of Audit Service Sierra Leone. This is seen as a conflict of interest.”

On the 8th of November 2021, the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice wrote a letter to the Chief Justice and Chairman of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, quoting Section 137(5) of the country’s 1991 Constitution which they said makes provision for the suspension of Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Deputy – Tamba Momoh.

It is not certain when the investigations will be concluded, but serious concerns are being raised across the country about the impartiality of the Presidential appointed Tribunal and possible miscarriage of justice.

A public notice published yesterday by the Judiciary reads: “The Judiciary of Sierra Leone wishes to inform the general public that the tribunal set up by His Excellency the President, Dr. Julius Maada Bio with the mandate to inquire into a case for stated misconduct against the Auditor General, Mrs Lara Taylor-Pearce and Mr. Tamba Momoh will commence hearing tomorrow 17th March 2022 at the Main Law Courts Building in Freetown.

“To enhance transparency and accountability, the Judiciary hereby invites members of the Civil Society, Journalists, Professional bodies, Close family members of the litigants, and other observers to monitor the proceedings. Because of limited space amid the COVID 19 Pandemic, only a limited number of 50 people including Lawyers will be allowed on a first come first serve basis. We encourage your full cooperation during this process.”

Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamin Tarawally has assured Sierra Leoneans including the suspended Auditor General-Lara Taylor Pearce and her Deputy-Tamba Momoh, that the Tribunal is not a “witch hunt but a compliance on good governance and democracy.”

He said today marks the commencement of the Tribunal set up to inquire into a case of misconduct of the Auditor General and her Deputy.

But Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has issued a statement saying that it “has just received complaints from some journalists that they were denied entry to cover the first day proceedings of the tribunal of the suspended Auditor-General and one of her deputies.

“We call on the Judiciary of Sierra Leone to allow media access to the tribunal proceedings (and even live coverage) so that the public follows the process in the interest of transparency and fair hearing. The tribunal should be opened to all media not just a selected few,” a statement signed by Alhaji Manika Kamara, Acting National Secretary General of SLAJ reads.

 

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