Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 September 2021:
Since taking over the reins of power and governance in 2018 in Sierra Leone after winning presidential elections, president Bio’s government continues to face many allegations of abuse of office, corruption, and poor governance, not least by the Africanist Press.
Those allegations run across the corridors of power – from the president’s office to the office of the wife of the president, running into tens of millions of dollars, as well as government departments and agencies, including the ministry of foreign affairs.
In their latest report, Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman of the Africanist Press are accusing the Bio-led government and the Anti-Corruption Commission of turning a blind eye to serious allegation of malfeasance in the country Petroleum Directorate.
This is what they said:
Financial records of the government of Sierra Leone examined by the Africanist Press shows that the Sierra Leone Petroleum Directorate, the agency responsible for regulating the country’s petroleum resources, paid for alleged services worth over Le727 million (over US$84,352) in 2019 alone without following the country’s procurement rules and procedures.
Section 37(1) of the Public Procurement Act of 2016 requires the Directorate to employ an open bidding process, with an open announcement and giving equal access to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination, when procuring goods and services.
Africanist Press discovered that the Petroleum Directorate paid for purported energy consulting services worth Le436 million (over US$45,000), security services for Le115 million (over US$17,400), cleaning services for Le56 million (about US$6,500), and internet services for Le120 million (US$14,000) in 2019 without following the 2016 Public Procurement Act.
Section 37(1) of the 2016 Public Procurement Act specifically provides that “public procurement shall be undertaken by means of advertised open bid processes, to which equal access shall be provided to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination.”
Procurement documents reviewed by the Africanist Press show that the Petroleum Directorate did not comply with the relevant provisions of the 2016 Public Procurement Act when hiring a global energy consultant in 2019. We discovered, in particular, that the Petroleum Directorate signed an energy consulting contract dated 4th January, 2019, with one Jacqueline Khoury of the Global Energy Consultancy Group at a monthly cost of US$8,000 for a period of 12 months ending 31st December, 2019.
The contract stated only that the consultant provide services in connection with the Directorate’s business; neither tasks nor deliverables were listed. In addition to the US$8,000 monthly costs, the Petroleum Directorate was also required to “provide safe reasonable housing and reliable non-commercial transportation for the consultant when on-site at the Directorate’s headquarters.”
In the event that the consultant is required to travel on behalf of the Petroleum Directorate, the contract also stipulates that an advance payment for all reasonable expenses related to travel, including airfare, hotel, meals, parking, taxis or rental cars, telephone calls, internet service, facsimile, and postal expenditures for each member of the consultant’s staff approved for travel will be paid by the Directorate.
Africanist Press discovered that Petroleum Directorate did not follow Section 37(1) of the 2016 Public Procurement Act to source and recruit Jacqueline Khoury from the Global Energy Consultancy Group as its energy consultant in 2019. We found no records that the Directorate advertised a call for an energy consultant in 2019, neither was there any evidence that the said Ms. Khoury was recruited from a pool of experts who applied to any such advertised position at the Petroleum Directorate in 2019.
Africanist Press also reviewed the Petroleum Directorate’s payment records for 2019, and we observed that payments totalling Le436,069,965.00 (about US$50,596.30) were made on the consulting contract without reference to the stipulated procedures governing payment for services as required by the 2016 Public Procurement Act. These payments included four months’ flat fees totalling Le280,664,480 (over US$32,000) and Le155,405,485.50 (about US$18,031.40) on accommodations, air tickets, and other expenses allegedly borne by the Directorate for the consultant.
We identified ten specific payments in the financial records of the Petroleum Directorate made between 4th February 2019 and 5th July 2019 in the name of the Global Energy Consultant. These payments included only four monthly payments to the consultant that were made on 26 February 2019 in the amount of Le69,134,560.00 (about US$8,021.53), and three subsequent payments made on 27 March 2019 (Le70,093,600.00/US$8,132.81), 18 April 2019 (Le70,446,160.00/US$8,173.27), and 9 May 2019 (Le70,990,160.00/US$8,236.63) respectively, leaving unpaid balances for eight months.
Thus, Africanist Press found no records in the Petroleum Directorate’s financial statements and the corresponding procurement documents regarding the outstanding balance of US$64,000 (eight monthly payments) due to the energy consultant, Ms. Jacqueline Khoury. The Petroleum Directorate’s administrative records provides no evidence on the status of the energy consultancy beyond May 2019 after the fourth payment was made.
In the course of our investigation, we found that an internal audit had questioned the procedures used by the Petroleum Directorate to hire Ms. Khoury as an energy consultant in 2019, and they had also asked that a report justifying work done by the energy consultant be submitted for verification to justify value for money spent.
“A report justifying evidence of work done by the consultant should be submitted otherwise amounts paid totalling Le436,069,965 should be refunded by the consultant,” the audit noted in early March 2021.
A management query also sent in late March 2021 to the Petroleum Directorate asked for evidence on the status of the consultancy contract demanding to know whether the consultancy was terminated or rescinded by any of the parties and the grounds for such termination.
“The Petroleum Directorate is exposed to the risk of litigation by the consultant, and if this happens, it could lead to reputational damage and loss of public funds,” the management query stated while demanding that “evidence justifying termination or rescinding of the contract be submitted to guard against future litigation.”
The Petroleum Directorate is the national regulatory agency responsible for the general management and monitoring of Sierra Leone’s petroleum resources. Led by a director general appointed by the President, the institution, created in 2003, operates under the direct supervision of the President’s Office.
Officials from the Petroleum Directorate and the President’s Office had not responded to the management letter sent in early March 2021 to the agency by auditors who had earlier investigated the operational issues of the agency including its unregulated use of public funds.
Africanist Press contacted the former head of the Petroleum Directorate, Timothy Kabba, who refused to comment despite having made promises to do so. Kabba was the director general of the Petroleum Directorate when Ms. Khoury was hired as an energy consultant in 2019. Kabba has since been appointed Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources by President Julius Maada Bio in July 2020.
The Petroleum Directorate’s head of finance, Zainu Deen Karim, also insisted that a letter from the Africanist Press must be sent by post to their office in Freetown, otherwise they would not comment on issues relating to their operations.
In FY 2019 alone, the Petroleum Directorate received an annual budgetary allocation of over Le26.7 billion (over USD$2.6 million) from Sierra Leone’s national treasury to fund its operations; a budgetary allocation that is three times more than most government ministries, agencies, and departments.
Africanist Press discovered that more than 85% of the Petroleum Directorate’s annual budgetary allocation for FY 2019 was spent on unregulated procurements and travel-related activities, including costs of flight tickets and per diems.
In subsequent reports, Africanist Press will further examine how the Petroleum Directorate utilized its budgetary allocations between 2018 and 2020, including its payments for goods and construction projects for its new headquarters.
We have published on the Africanist Press website a document showing Petroleum Directorate 2019 payments to the Global Energy Consultant. Check the link below for more information:
Sierra Leone: Petroleum Directorate spent over Le727 million without following procurement requirements
“Two captains can not run a ship, otherwise it will sink”. Two auditing firms can’t function to provide a homogeneous result. In my opinion, the issue of processes and procedures leading to the attention of the Africanist press must have been cross checked first with the Auditor General’s office before making such claims. Do you think it is everything done by any government that its publication can reach everyone. Government has 30 appointed Ministers with Ambassadors, Agencies and Departments in its administration. If it is true that all The issue that was mentioned by the Africanist press as something already noted in the audit report and recommendation been made to it then it should be noted by the authority concern. Consequently, Africanist press was asked to write a letter and post it to the petroleum directorate office for further enquiries and that has not been done till date. The question one may want to ask is who is this Africanist press and from what angle is it operating?
In my opinion, I view the Africanist pressmen as sons and daughters of Sierra Leone being recruited from within the workplaces and whose ideology has been fixed to a specific political party or parties of their interests. I have followed the Africanist press articles for years now and from all the writings of the Africanist press for Sierra Leone, the author has not been much more concern about investigating past governments of massive corruptions in workplaces compared to the Bio led government. I want to believe that this same author should be very much appreciative of the good work of the Bio led government order than been enviable of the strides made by the Bio led government. Under his watch, my president, your president, our president Dr. Julius Maada Bio repealed part v of the public order act 1965, thereby giving the press freedom to express its opinion. Moreover, the work of the Auditor General’s office is seemly to be be given much support to fight grafts under the Bio led government than all other previous governments.
Another thing to note is that, each time the Africanist press publishes its report, it is either the author is trying to psyche the minds of the public about the issue raise or wants to draw the attention of the ACC commissioner to act. This is because, the report is not a News. Sierra Leoneans are much appreciative of the strides made by the petroleum directorate under the leadership of H.E Dr. Julius Maada Bio. Under his watch, he has tried to create a very transparent pricing system of the petroleum regulators to the expectation of the least Sierra Leone. It has even made the public to be very predictive of the outcome of petroleum price in Sierra Leone each time there is a shortage or increase in price. The Petroleum price norm signed by the leading petroleum firms’ managers in Sierra Leone is very welcoming and help preach transparency. Unlike other past governments, the hike in petroleum products can just happen suddenly with very little to showcase to the public how these bodies concern reached an agreement. This discourse of trust and distrust about government will never end. We remain to think, think and think that sometime our thinking gets into metaphysics.
I wonder if this allegations of malfeasance of corruption allegations made against some of Bio’s buddies warrant any investigation, or should just be kicked on the long grass for some other future governments to deal with . We know if this allegations were made against people that doesn’t fit Bio’s circle of friends, the ACC will be coming down on them like ton of bricks. Because what is blatantly clear by now, the ACC, is not looking into any of this allegations made by Mr Bah and his team of investigative journalists in the Africanist press . Not long ago when Ben Kalifah was praise for inviting former President Bia Koroma to answer some of the questions swelling around his estate at Makeni, the whole country was collectively holding their breath, and acknowledging Ben Kalifah’s efforts, and the ACC for going after the former President.At the time, in an interview he gave, why is he going after the fomer president? he was quoted of saying, he goes where ever the evidence leads him. and by the way no one is above the law .
Judging by what have happened since, that assertion doesn’t stark up. More like he was saying there was no political witch hunt going on. That was before mostly going after former ministers and public officials of the past APC government.Now we know that was misquoting the truth by Mr Kalifah. Suddenly the tables were turned when similar allegations of corruption started to appear on the Africanist press against the Chief Minister, the first lady and host of others.More like the Bio’s untouchables brigade . Then the ACC boss started to develop cold feet in going after Bio’s people.He was suddenly transformed from being Bio’s attack dog when it suits his agenda, to the little cat lying in the sofa that can’t catch a mouse even if the mouse wags its tail. No more threatening to take action against corruption, or corrupt public officials associated with Bio , instead his lease was shortened, and was rewarded by Bio, by nominating him to the African union advisory board against corruption.
I know Sierra-Leoneans have got a sense of humour, but that nomination was a joke taken too far. But for some of us might have seen it as a sick joke, but for Bio, it was a calculated move to blunt any efforts for Ben Kalifah going after his people. That appointment took the pressure from the Africanist press allegations that were coming fast and furious . This allegations will continue to come. Now the real action needed here is from our international development partners like the IMF, ADB, World Bank, and the British government, and the European Union, to ask the difficult questions, whether the aid money they are giving to Sierra Leone is reaching the people they are meant to help. We are all in this together. We want the international community to help us figth corruption. By demanding transparency, and accountability from the Bio government.
Ladies and gentlemen. Did you remember the First Lady Fatima Bio’s appeal to the supernatural powers for harm to come to all Sierra Leoneans who don’t want Sierra Leone to prosper? Well, the curse seems to have come to pass, and that the magical powers have answered that call. All these financial scandals, woes, troubles and problems befalling President Bio and First Lady Fatima Bio’s offices tell me that the First Lady’s wishes are impacting them. Never curse for something when you know very well you are part of it. Your curse will return to you.
The supernatural powers have listened to Fatima Bio’s appeal and will succeed in irradicating corruption, starting with State House. But, the people of Sierra Leone are noting everything day and night and will take action in 2023, in Jesus’ name. Such revelations are disturbing. You never know whether a dangerous colonel is upset with such corrupt attitudes and tries to disturb our democracy, God forbids.
On the other hand, thanks to the Africanist press for letting the people know what is happening. See how well-fed and happy with smiling faces the executives of the petroleum directorate look. They are well-nourished than President Bio himself. “Non, c’est pas possible”. Money from corrupt practices is no problem for these folks, and that money from corruption has provided them with plenty of the material necessary for life and growth, whilst the people go hungry as a bear and bored. That is unacceptable to me. President Bio must take action. A word for a wise is sufficient. That’s it. God bless Sierra Leone.
They will say much more and let them continue with their failures, this is APC is quite different from the APC our fathers used to support and die for it. People pray for prosperity for their country after civil war, but Sierra Leone we are totally different in behavior. If APC party thinks like they destroying Bio, hell no, that’s a mistake, they destroying themselves. I’m happy that “dictator Conde” is gone forever.