Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 May 2021:
President Bio yesterday astounded even his supporters, after announcing the appointment of Dennis Vandy as his new finance minister, prompting critics to remind the president of the adage – “appointing a mouse to look after the cheese”.
Can Dennis Vandy be trusted to look after the nation’s finances, or will he be controlled by the president and his cronies to do their bidding?
Dennis Vandy who had served as Permanent Secretary in various ministries under the former Ernest Bai Koroma APC government, is believed by critics to have honed and perfected the art of mismanaging or siphoning public funds between 2007 and 2018.
And when president Bio won the 2018 election, he did not hesitate to appoint his south-eastern brother and SLPP party grandee – Dennis Vandy as his Secretary, a move described by many as a reward for helping to dismantle the former APC government machinery ahead of the 2018 elections.
On 29th May 2018, President Julius Maada Bio having promised that he will take discipline and accountability very seriously in his government, took the decision to sack his secretary – Dennis Vandy (Photo) over a leaked memo which Vandy ‘dishonestly’ said came from the president – ordering the finance ministry and government agencies to set aside various Finance Acts of Parliament, thus causing chaos.
The leaked memo fiasco sparked a political row which prompted the opposition APC’s call for the sacking of Dennis Vandy for his dishonest gaff.
Dennis Vandy’s spell outside of the Bio-led government in the cold was however short-lived.
As a mark of what critics described as “misplaced confidence” President Bio had in Vandy, he appointed Vandy as Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, despite alarm bells ringing.
But the Commission of Inquiry established by president Bio himself to investigate corruption and the mismanagement of public resources by ministers and officials of the former APC government, did not share the same level of confidence and trust in Dennis Vandy as the president.
On 5th October 2020, president Bio suspended all civil servants and public officials accused “of acting improperly with respect to the use of public funds” by the Commission of Inquiry.
One of those officials suspended by president Bio was his minister of agriculture – Dennis Vandi, who had served as permanent secretary (vote controller) in the ministry of education, under the Koroma-led APC government that is being accused of corruption on a grand scale.
In such a scenario, how can Vandy be innocent when he, afterall, was vote controller responsible for approving departmental spending? The commission of inquiry was right on point.
According to president Bio’s own government White Paper Report on the COI recommendations: “The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology was the most recklessly managed Ministry within the period under review and was run as a cartel and criminal enterprise by Dr. Minkailu Bah and his collaborators, the Permanent Secretaries (including Vandy), except Prince Emmanuel Oldman Cole, resulting into massive misappropriation and or loss of humongous sums of monies, both in Leones and in United States Dollars…..”
“Dr. Minkailu Bah, the former Minister from 2008 – 2018 together with Mr. Mani Koroma, Dennis Vandy and Umaru Conteh, former Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology were involved in gross abuse of their offices in the reckless manner in which they dealt with the finances of the Government under their care and failure to provide leadership and supervision of the Ministry or Department or Agency put under their charge,” the White Paper Report on the COI recommendations said.
In its recommendations, the report stipulates that the minister in charge, Dennis Vandy and his co-conspirators must all pay back tens of millions of dollars – jointly and severally into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Government of Sierra Leone.
But since the publication of the commission of inquiry report and the government’s White Paper, Dennis Vandy had protested his innocence. Speaking to the Global Times, he said he was never given the opportunity to hear the allegations made against him.
“I was in this country throughout the sittings of the Commissions…I was never invited…I was never notified of being a Person of Interest…Above all, I was never interviewed by anyone working for the Commissions”, Mr. Vandi protested.
“I have studied the report carefully and found out with dismay that I was wrongfully indicted for every bit of malfeasance which took place at the Ministry of Education from 2007 to 2018…I served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education from 29th March to 31st August 2016…I was never invited to the Commissions, and I was never declared as a Person of Interest to the Commissions”.
Many other former public officials, especially those believed to be supporters of the opposition APC are also protesting they were never invited for questioning by the COI, as their fundamental defence of their right to natural justice.
Many are yet to be granted the right to fair hearing in a court of law to prove their innocence, despite complying with the three months deadline to appeal the decision of the commission of inquiry, with effect from the date of publication of the COI report.
But what is shocking to many in Sierra Leone is that two days ago, president Bio’s blue-eyed boy – Dennis Vandy, had his Court of Appeal hearing fast-tracked by the justice system, to facilitate the president’s plan for Vandy’s smooth return to the ministerial benches.
Yesterday, 7 May 2021, the Sierra Leone Telegraph reported that the Court of Appeal presided by Justice Fatmata Bintu Alhadi, yesterday dismissed all grounds of appeal by SOGEFEL SARL, against the findings and recommendations of the judge-led Commissions of Inquiry (COI) into corruption in the previous government.
SOGEFEL SARL is a construction company named by the COI alongside Dennis Vandy and others, for their role in misapropriating public funds.
The three Appeals Court Judges – Justices Fatmata Bintu Alhadi, Komba Kamanda, and Mrs. Tonia Barnett unanimously ordered SOGEFEL SARL to pay the sum of Le100,000,000 as cost for the Appeal.
Vandy was not only acquitted but the Judges in a separate Court of Appeal hearing presided by Justice Ivan A. Sesay, Justices Momoh-Jah Stevens and Adrian J. Fisher yesterday, discharged Dennis Vandy who had been accused and found guilty of corruption by the COI.
The Judges also ordered the State to refund every single Cent that Vandy had paid in legal fees to clear his name, a rare opportunity hardly witnessed in Sierra Leone – reserved for the politically connected.
Delivering judgement, Justice Fisher ordered that the former Minister of Agriculture’s appeal is granted, and that all findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry should be set aside as those findings were not supported by evidence, adding that all monies paid by the former Minister of Agriculture – if any, should be refunded accordingly.
Yesterday’s Court ruling in favour of Vandy came just hours before president Bio announced that, it had pleased him to appoint Dennis Vandy as his finance minister. Wonders never cease in Sierra Leone’s lopsided politics.
This is what one critic of the government said yesterday: “President Bio (Photo) promises to fight corruption but he is now condoning and propping it like a wild burning fire. The recently appointed Finance Minister Mr. Dennis Vandy was once appointed as Secretary to President Bio and was sacked because he violated parliamentary procedures, but later appointed as Minister of Agriculture. His name was listed by the Commission of inquiry for corruption, serving as permanent secretary (vote controller) under the APC regime. He was released from his job after he was found wanting and guilty but now compensated as Finance Minister. Is President Bio really serious about fighting corruption if all he is doing is protecting his interests? All I see is political witch hunt against the opposition APC. “
There is one thing certain about this decision by president Bio to appoint Vandy as finance minister. It will be seen as a slap in the face of the international community in Sierra Leone, who have and are investing so much in improving governance in a country that is not far from being ascribed the title once again of a failed State.
The likes of the World Bank and IMF will soon by shutting down their funding flows to Sierra Leone, as the ruling SLPP and other political parties begin to prepare for the 2023 general and presidential elections. But meanwhile, foreign investors will no doubt be questioning whether Sierra Leone is a conducive environment for their cash.