Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 November 2021:
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a service of Christian worship celebrating the birth of Jesus that is traditionally followed at Christmas. The Christmas story is told in nine short Bible readings, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir music.
The Government’s rationale for suspending the Auditor General, Lara Taylor Pearce and her deputy Tamba Momoh has been discussed by pundits to death. There are several lessons to be learnt and I will attempt to outline them in these nine lessons, but there will be no carols!
First lesson: Coming events cast their shadows
Accusations against the Auditor General have been vitriolic over the past two years and calls for her removal have been made as her audits continue highlighting glaring financial and management problems. The accusations are many and since her suspension, new ones have come to the fore. They have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at her.
Let me just cite a few: She mixes up old audit findings with new ones to put the government in a bad light. She has practised mis-procurement in recruiting auditing firms. She gives jobs to her relatives. She falsifies reports. She is responsible for leaking sensitive audit reports to outside critics of government- Africanist press has been cited. The only thing missing is killing somebody’s cat, bearing responsibility for global warming and committing murder!
Second lesson: “Moses law” still reigns supreme
Not surprisingly, many government supporters have cited “Moses law”- “You do me ar do you”, as is now normal with most issues in this country. There is no doubt the APC did many things wrong. This does not make it right to repeat the same feats and attempt to perfect them. Extra judicial removal of people from top positions with little recourse to constitutional and other legal provisions and due process have always been commonplace and may continue to be so.
Third lesson: The more things change the more they stay the same
Recent audits have been the same as previous ones. They indicate an absence of processes and procedures and wanton misuse of government resources. The weak capacity of oversight institutions and limited compliance with audit recommendations continue to limit Sierra Leone from rooting out corruption and making service delivery to its citizens more effectively and efficiently.
The tension between the Supreme Audit Authority and governments in Africa is not new. The solution by governments in many cases is the same-hunt the hunter! Governments are mandated to pay the salaries of audit staff but are often criticised by report findings. It is important for audit offices to establish and retain fiscal independence.
Fourth lesson: Professional Audit institutions, the Audit Service Board and Public Finance Committee of Parliament seem to have been completely ignored
It is surprising that for all the misgivings government has had about the Auditor General and her office, these have never been brought to the attention of professional institutions in Sierra Leone and abroad. Professional institutions are very important for self-regulation and can in fact be made to rescind the certification of their members found wanting in the most egregious circumstances. Despite raising several concerns over the years about this office, successive governments have never thought it fit to report issues of “poor professional conduct” of any of these officials of the ASSL to professional bodies. Could it be they really have no leg to stand on?
And as for the Audit Service Board, if they really were exercising oversight over this institution, why have they not rang the alarm bell for the “crimes” committed by the Auditor General and her Deputy? Why was the Deputy brought into these proceedings? What has been the role of the Board?
Does the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee have any wind of all of these? Why have oversight bodies either not spoken or been bypassed prior to this “inquisition”?
Fifth lesson: The devil is the father of all lawyers
As with other contentious cases that always seem to crop up, our lawyers have started taking sides. As is usual, they are on all sides of the divide. It is obvious that the lack of clarity in our constitution and our other laws have not helped the situation and these clever wig wearers have adopted all kinds of interpretation to the issue at hand. Make no mistake-there are good lawyers that are well meaning and interpret the law as they honestly see it.
There are however many who are charlatans and have always injected themselves into legal arguments that have profound implications for poor governance in the country for unsavoury reasons. The lawyers have not agreed on this issue. Whilst some say the correct procedures were not followed for suspending the Auditor General and her deputy, others say they were.
Whilst some say the Deputy Attorney General’s letter on the issue was invalid, others say he was right to stand in the stead of the Attorney General.
The devil of all liars?
I am not against lawyers and indeed have a lot of lawyer friends. I can’t however help but relate this joke. A priest asked a lawyer friend, “do you ever make mistakes while in court?”. “Very rarely,” the lawyer said, proudly, “but on occasion, I must admit that I do.” “And what do you do when you make a mistake?” the priest asked. “If they are large mistakes I mend them,” the lawyer said. “If they are small mistakes, I let them go. Tell me Reverend, don’t you ever make mistakes while preaching?”. “Of course,” said the minister. “And I dispose of them the same way that you do. Not long ago, I meant to tell the congregation that the devil is the father of liars, but I made a mistake and said the father of lawyers. The mistake was so small I let it go.”
Sixth lesson: There are glaring absurdities in the 1991 constitution
That infamous document of a constitution continues to stir up problems. As a layman, I have been intrigued to learn that the process of removal of an Auditor General is the same as that for removal of a High Court judge. My professional mind caused me to ask why there were no professional bodies involved in such an investigation and removal.
I have also asked myself who has the competence to decide whether or not the Auditor General has behaved professionally. Just as I thought I was probably naive in asking these, Charles Francis Margai, a lawyer of no mean repute comes in with the same questions.
According to Margai, who references sections 119 and 137 of the constitution, he does not think it is prudent for the Judicial Service Commission, who had no hand in the appointment of the Auditor General to be involved in his/her removal. He thinks other procedures would have been more appropriate. No wonder–CKC boys think alike!
Seventh lesson: Top civil society organisations now have many hands
Kudos to some civil society organisations for standing tall and taking these issue headlong. Ibrahim Tommy of CARL has called for rescinding the suspension and moving forward. He has provided a compelling rationale for this. There are also institutions like SLAJ and others that have expressed concern about the irregularities in this saga, calling for details of the accusations to be made clear to the public.
Some big ones however (call name nor mix!) who have always given the impression of independence now seem to have two hands on some of these thorny issues- “On the one hand, civil society should have got the Auditor General and the Financial Secretary to sort out their misunderstandings”. “On the one hand, government may be wrong to suspend her. But on the other hand it may be right to suspend her.” It does not bode well for the country when those who are supposed to have a moral conscience have many hands.
Eighth lesson: It is not easy to bring a good man down
It is not easy to sully a stellar career. There is little doubt that nationally and internationally, the Auditor General has a good reputation. There are many people locally who have respect for her integrity and consistency in saying it as it, regardless of the party in power and of the potential consequences. The letter from the global International Organisation of Supreme Audit Authorities (INTOSA) speaking about the need to have independence of the Supreme Audit Authority and touting the virtues of the current Auditor General are very telling.
It states: “The existence of a Supreme Audit Authority (SAI) and its protection from undue interference is a key element of democracy and adherence to the rule of law.” and says about Lara- “Her leadership qualities, integrity and professionalism are globally recognised. She currently serves as the Chairperson of the African Organisation of English-speaking Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E)”.
The Auditor General has done a lot to make this office more visible since her appointment in 2011. Concerted efforts have been made to raise levels of citizen awareness about the contents of audit reports and a much wider range of audit service including performance audits are being carried out.
Ninth lesson: This may be an exercise in futility
Should the JSC find the Auditor General and her deputy culpable and recommend her removal from office and the President accedes to their recommendation, it would still need a two thirds majority in Parliament to effect this. This is highly unlikely given the stance of the opposition parties on this issue. So one may legitimately ask the question as to what the objective is. Is it to discredit and sully them in the eyes of the public and professionals at home and abroad? Is it a matter of temporarily getting them out of the way for devious reasons? I am still pondering.
Going after the Head of a Supreme Audit Authority, especially at a time when the annual audit report is imminent can be seen as an abandonment of the practices of transparency and accountability and a sign of being jittery about an imminent audit reports and is certainly bad optics-Unless off course she has done something so egregiously wrong and kept a secret that the outcome of the tribunal will be a report so earth shattering that a “saint will become a sinner” overnight.
Now that the die is cast with the tribunal, we wait with bated breath for the outcome. Meanwhile, let us ponder these nine lessons, but remember there are no carols to be sung-at least not now until the tribunal tells us to sing “Sing Alleluia forth in duteous praise”.
Ponder my thoughts.