Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 August 2022:
Allegations of misappropriation of almost One Hundred Thousand Pounds by Sierra Leone’s ministry of finance to fund the president’s latest holiday abroad – with the country in economic turmoil, will not make for comfortable reading for President Bio who is currently in London with his wife and children for a month holiday, as doctors and nurses in the country demand better working conditions and more pay.
With most doctors earning less than Two Hundred Dollars a month, and many public workers struggling to survive on minimum wage as cost of living rises, such accusations of State House plunder of public funds raise serious questions about the President’s honesty and integrity, as well as his morally avowed commitment to fight corruption.
Attempt by the country’s finance ministry to cover-up the allegations was last week exposed and rebutted by the Africanist Press . This is what Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Editor in Chief of the Africanist Press said last week:
A statement attributed to Sierra Leone’s Financial Secretary, Sahr Jusu is being circulated on social media by government officials to explain and normalize a secret wire transfer of £94,050 to the Sierra Leone High Commission in London in the name of President Julius Maada Bio, who is currently on a private visit in the United Kingdom.
In the said statement, Sahr Jusu is quoted to have said that the funds transferred to the High Commission in London is part of government’s “financial obligation to support the activities of all overseas Missions whether they host the Head of State, or it is in furtherance of strengthening Sierra Leone’s bilateral and multilateral relations.”
The Financial Secretary also said the referenced transfer to the High Commission in London was “handled by several government officials from the High Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Accountant General’s Department, to the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.” Thus, Sahr Jusu argues that the alleged involvement of the said officials makes the reported transaction a normal budgetary allocation and a non “secret affair.”
Considering the above, Africanist Press hereby provides the following additional information regarding the reported transaction for more public understanding.
Africanist Press would like to state that the Financial Secretary Sahr Jusu’s claim that the funds transferred to the High Commission in London constituted government’s usual and normal budgetary and financial support to the country’s diplomatic missions is false and deliberately inaccurate.
We do note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ financial activities include the transfer of funds to meet the operational activities of embassies and diplomatic offices abroad. however, the reported transfer of £94,050 to the London Mission initiated on 27th July 2022, and flagged by Africanist Press, was carried out specifically in the name of President Maada Bio, who is currently on a private visit to London.
The said funds were transferred and processed strictly for the alleged purpose of the president’s visit and is not related to the official budgetary transfers and normal allocations to diplomatic missions in respect of their official activities abroad. Thus, the financial secretary’s inaccurate statement is a deliberate official effort to normalize an obvious example that illustrates the use of the Sierra Leone diplomatic mission in London to carryout special transfers of public funds in the name of the President disguised as normal budgetary allocations to the country’s embassies and diplomatic offices abroad.
Africanist Press would also like to underline the fact that the letter from the Accountant General’s Department (REF#: AGD/YB/BOSL/22/607) dated 27th July 2022 which authorized the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone to carry out the said transfer as instructed by Financial Secretary Sahr Jusu clearly stated that the funds in question were transferred as “payment in respect of the presidential working visit to London, United Kingdom from the 28th July to 15th August 2022.”
Neither the instruction letter nor the authorization letter, or any other document relating to the said transfer, included any information regarding the details of the transfer other than the stated official purpose that it was a payment strictly for the presidential visit to London.
We should equally establish that budgetary allocations to fund other charges and operational costs of Sierra Leone’s diplomatic missions are often carried out on quarterly basis. Allocations to replenish the Other Charges Accounts of embassies are often made available to meet administrative costs ranging from utility bills, staff DSA and allowances, local travel of embassy staff, and other sundry expenses, excluding salary payments.
Government of Sierra Leone’s financial records of disbursements towards Other Charges Accounts of diplomatic Missions are in specific volumes depending on the size of the Mission and its specific diplomatic area of coverage. It is obvious that the Financial Secretary, knowing the £94,050 transferred to London is truly not part of the quarterly allocations to fund other charges of the Mission, failed to mention the stated purpose of the transaction, which is clearly marked for no other purpose but the alleged “working visit of the president.”
It is also important to note that the said transfer was not initiated from the bank account of the Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Sierra Leone Mission in London as is usually the case with normal transfers to diplomatic missions abroad. Instead, the funds in question were transferred directly from the GoSL Bank Account # 0111001279 from the Bank of Sierra Leone to the Sierra Leone High Commission London Bank Account # 73328147 held at the Barclays Bank.
This fact emphasizes the point that the said transfer is not only a special transaction, but it also did not follow the usual pattern and procedures of banking transactions that normally characterize transactions relating to budgetary allocations to the country’s diplomatic missions abroad. Again, the Financial Secretary’s statement that the transferred funds were in line with government’s “financial obligation to support the activities of all overseas missions whether they host the head of state or in furtherance of strengthening Sierra Leonne’s bilateral and multilateral relations” contradicts the stated purpose for which the said funds were transferred.
Africanist Press would also like to specifically underline the obvious discordance between the stated purpose in AGD’s authorization letter and the financial record regarding the said transaction. Whereas finance officials processed the said transaction in the guise of funding a “presidential working visit”, the official record from the President’s Office relating to his UK trip is completely different.
That is, though the authorization letter from the Accountant General’s Department stated that the transferred funds were for a “working visit of the President in London,” which implies that the President is on an official trip to London, the President’s Office stated that “President Julius Maada Bio and First Lady Fatima Bio departed Sierra Leone for a private visit to London, United Kingdom.”
It is important to note the obvious difference between an official presidential trip and a private presidential vacation. Thus, the difference in the stated purpose of the wire transfer and the stated purpose of the President’s trip specifically undermines the Financial Secretary’s effort to normalize the use of the London Mission to carry out special fund transfers disguised as the usual official budgetary allocations to the country’s diplomatic missions.
It is also important to recognize the similarities between the transactional arrangements and conflicting purposes relating to the £94,050 transferred to London and the patterns and stated purposes used in the transactions surrounding the withdrawals and transfer of over Le10 billion (more than US$1 million) to London and Beirut in August/September 2020 during the infamous Lebanon honeymoon.
We would like to specifically emphasize that for both the London and Lebanon transfers, financial records relating to the purposes of the presidential trips and the stated purposes of the accompanying financial transactions are drastically in contradiction. Thus, the normal official operation to be noted here is the innovative mechanism obviously used by Sierra Leone’s finance and diplomatic officials to illicitly transfer public funds abroad in the guise of international travel, and to allegedly fund diplomatic missions and their operations abroad.
A clear example is the method and stated purpose used by foreign affairs officials and diplomats in late 2018 and 2019 to transfer over US$4.6 million to the Sierra Leone Mission in New York for stated construction purposes that were never carried out.
In a nutshell, we must note that the Financial Secretary’s statement has confirmed that the details of the transferred funds reported by Africanist Press are accurate and factual. In addition, the statement also underlined the ongoing regular transfer of public funds from Sierra Leone’s national treasury to international destinations each time the President and other senior officials of the administration travel abroad. This is a subject that Africanist Press has extensively covered in the last two years.
On 27th June 2022, for instance, a transaction of Le640,370,700 was charged out of the President’s Local and Overseas Travel Account # 0112007302 through a similarly authorized letter of payment (REF# AGD/YB/BOSL/22/532) from the Account General’s Department for supposed “hotel accommodation of the presidential visit to Paris, France for the UNESCO Pre-Summit from 25th – 30th June 2022.” These transactions were processed even though the presidential delegation had withdrawn advanced funds for travel costs, including for hotel charges and per diems.
Between 15th June 2022 and 28th July 2022 alone, at least Le15 billion (nearly US$1.3 million) was taken out of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone in the name of President Maada Bio to allegedly fund his travel expenses. This aggregated amount included a recent transfer of Le10 billion from GoSL’s Other Charges Account #0111001279 on 15th June 2022 also through an authorized letter of payment (REF#AGD/RSW/BOSL/22/500) by the Accountant General’s Department to replenish “floating allocation of funds for local and overseas travel of the President.” Thus, local and international transparency organizations should consider investigating the obvious use of international travel by Sierra Leone’s presidential delegation to traffic money abroad.