Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 November 2021:
If there is one single political objective president Julius Maada Bio has been nursing since coming to power in 2018, it is the sacking of Sierra Leone’s most trusted public servant – the country’s Auditor General Mrs Lara Taylor Pearce whose annual audit reports have exposed massive corruption and embezzlement of public funds by successive governments.
Last year’s audit report exposed hundreds of millions of dollars that was either stolen or misused by ministers and officials in the Bio-led SLPP government.
Also, the Auditor General’s report into the use of funds by the Bio government meant for those dying from Covid19, made for very grim reading, with tens of millions of dollars reported missing or unaccounted for by the government.
Today, President Bio has suspended the Auditor General Just two weeks before she could submit her latest annual Audit Report to Parliament, which according to sources once again shows massive corruption by the government.
According to reports, Lara Taylor-Pearce (Photo) has been suspended indefinitely. The highly-respected career auditor who has headed the institution for 10 years, this evening told BBC Umaru Fofanah that she has “received a letter from the office of the president which among other things states that the Attorney General is to set up a tribunal to look into Audit Service Sierra Leone “for professional performance or the lack thereof”.
“Mrs Taylor-Pearce told me that she had not been told what the remit of the tribunal was or what wrongdoing she and one of her deputies (also suspended) had committed. She has been consistent in releasing hard-hitting audit reports about the handling of state resources by the former and present government,” Umaru Fofanah reported.
Most Sierra Leoneans commenting on this developing story believe that president Bio has acted unconstitutionally in suspending Lara Taylor-Pearce indefinitely.
This unconstitutional decision comes on the heels of Monday’s MCC Performance Scorecard for Sierra Leone which was personally handed to president Bio by the US ambassador to Sierra Leone, misguidedly heaping praise at president Bio’s government for respecting the rule of law.
According to Section 119 (9) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the procedure for the removal of the Auditor-General must be same as that required for removal of a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature, other than the Chief Justice, from office. This is what Section 137(4) says:
(4) Subject to the provisions of this section, a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature may be removed from office only for inability to perform the functions of his office, whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or for statement misconduct, and shall not be so removed save in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(5) If the Judicial and Legal Service Commission represents to the President that the question of removing a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature, other than the Chief Justice, under subsection (4) ought to be investigated then—
- the President, acting in consultation with the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, shall appoint a tribunal which shall consist of a Chairman and two other members, all of whom shall be persons qualified to hold or have held office as a Justice of the Supreme Court; and
- the tribunal appointed under paragraph (a) shall enquire into the matter and report on the facts thereof and the findings thereon to the President and recommend to the President whether the Judge ought to be removed from office under subsection (7).
(6) Where the question of removing a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature from office has been referred to a tribunal under subsection (5), the President may suspend the Judge from performing the functions of his office, and any such suspension may at any time be revoked by the President, and shall in any case cease to have effect if the tribunal recommends to the President that the Judge shall not be removed from office.
(7) A Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature shall be removed from office by the President—
- if the question of his removal from office has been referred to a tribunal appointed under subsection (5) and the tribunal has recommended to the President that he ought to be removed from office; and
- if his removal has been approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.” (END)
It is clear from the above constitutional provisions that president Bio’s decision to send the Auditor General on indefinite suspension is unconstitutional and must be rescinded, as confidence by the international community in his government reaches all-time low.
Reactions to this crass decision have been swift. This is what the country’s journalists organisation – SLAJ said in their press statement: “The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is concerned about the sudden indefinite suspension of the Auditor General of the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, and one of her deputies Mr. Tamba Momoh without any clear reason/s as to their suspension.
“While we respect the authority of His Excellency the President of the Republic to hire, suspend, and fire we are concerned that due process as laid out in the Constitution has not been followed. In addition, the public has a right to know the reason/s for this action by His Excellency to avoid widespread speculation and misinformation on the issue.
“SLAJ is also concerned about the issues of transparency and accountability in the use of public funds by the Government and its agencies, which the ASSL is charged under the national Constitution, and other legal instruments, to monitor and ensure proper financial and procurement procedures are followed.
“We are concerned that the action by His Excellency to suspend the Auditor General and her deputy may be regarded as a deliberate attempt to undermine the fight against corruption in public office, especially coming at a time when the Auditor General’s Report 2020 is about to be released.
“In the estimation of SLAJ, the ASSL has an unblemished track record of professionalism and integrity in the discharge of its duties, and we therefore urge the Government to treat the leadership of the institution with utmost respect.”
Parliamentary Leader of the National Grand Coalition Party (NGC) Dr Kandeh Yumkella said this on his tweeter feed:
Andrew Lavalie of Institute of Governance Reform said:
In 2015 President Bio praised Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Audit Service Sierra Leone in a letter he wrote to the former president Koroma about the Report written by the Auditor General exposing the former government’s mismanagement of Ebola funds.
This is the letter published in the Sierra Leone Telegraph on 23 February 2015, showing president Bio’s dangerous double standards, and why he can no longer be trusted as president:
Dear Mr. President,
For the past week, I have been following with dismay the events at home, surrounding the publication of the Report of the Auditor-General on the Audit of the Management of the Ebola Funds, covering the period from May to October 2014.
Like many Sierra Leoneans, I am utterly disappointed that at a time when we should all be focussing on eradicating the terrible Ebola virus from our country and redirecting our resources to rebuilding the broken lives of our people, the international spotlight is once again on Sierra Leone and all for the wrong reason – the alleged mismanagement of the Ebola Funds.
Even more disheartening is the fact that amongst the countries worst hit by the disease, Sierra Leone is so far the only country where an audit report has emerged revealing such large-scale misappropriation and mismanagement of Ebola Funds.
Apart from this being a most serious indictment about the handling of the Ebola outbreak, the media both at home and abroad have generated so much adverse publicity that it is likely to undermine the country’s international reputation and development effort for a considerable time in the future.
According to the Audit Report, for the period from May to October 2014 alone, Government has expended in excess of Le 84 Billion from funds donated by various individuals, institutions as well as from tax revenues.
On 30 July 2014, in a public broadcast, you informed the nation of your decision to establish a Presidential Task Force on Ebola with you as Chairman, and that your Government was setting up a Special Account into which all donations would be deposited from all and sundry, including corporate entities, individuals and organisations, for the fight against the Ebola Disease
You gave the nation the complete assurance that this Special Account would be judiciously managed and applied under your direct authority. Following this assurance, huge donations from various sources went into that Account and some passed through your hands in the full glare of media publicity.
Mr. President, the Audit Report of this Special Account now alleges, inter alia, that the management and supervision of the Special Account by the Presidential Task Force has been either wholly insufficient or has fallen considerably below public expectation.
As a matter of fact, there appears to have been, as with similar Audit Reports associated with the ordinary Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) in recent years, a systemic problem relating to the non-adherence of established procurement rules and procedures and inadequate control of disbursements of public funds.
Worse still, there is abundant evidence that points to the recommendations contained in previous Audit Reports of the CRF not being implemented at all or are completely ignored under the administration of your Government.
All of these, and more, palpably point to a failure of political leadership to the detriment of the good governance that our country so desperately needs.
Mr. President, your recent pronouncement that international organisations which also receive funds for the Ebola Virus Disease should be equally accountable, while commendable in principle, is unfortunately mis-timed, coming as it does when a damning Audit Report has unearthed a seemingly colossal mismanagement of Ebola funds donated to your Government.
Many might even construe this as nothing more than a puerile attempt to divert public attention from the serious allegations raised in the Audit Report of the Auditor-General presently under review.
It is my considered opinion that whilst we remain preoccupied with the serious task of ridding our country of the devastating Ebola virus, this principal commitment should remain undiluted in any way, and our gratitude should be unflinching to both countries and international organisations that have come to our aid.
In this regard, I would like to mention especially the Governments of the United Kingdom, United States, China, Cuba, Australia, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, Netherlands, Nigeria and the other member states of the African Union.
Mr. President, many of our citizens have also been shocked by the recent unfortunate utterances by the Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business in Parliament regarding his avowed exclusion of public discussion of the Auditor-General’s Report on the Ebola Funds.
His utterances, which are tantamount to a denial of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in our National Constitution and should therefore be frowned upon by all, they simply have no place in our modern democracy.
Accordingly, I share fully the views expressed by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the Sierra Leone Bar Association on the matter.
In light of the foregoing, may I respectfully implore you, Mr. President, to give urgent consideration to the recommendations of my Party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), on the Audit Report aforesaid contained in its Press Release of 14 February 2015.
Furthermore, I would request that you consider the following:
- That the matter of the Auditor-General’s Audit Report on the Management of the Ebola Fund be made the subject of a thorough examination and scrutiny by a Special Judicial Commission headed by a Chairman, preferably a Senior Judge from the United Kingdom appointed by the British Government. This is vital for restoring both our national and international credibility especially in light of the adverse international publicity that the current Audit Report has engendered since its publication.
- That further remedial action by either Parliament or the ACC await the findings of the proposed Special Judicial Commission.
- That clear guidelines be set out for the management of the Ebola Funds to prevent any further mismanagement and misuse of these funds.
- That a further audit be carried out on the management of the Ebola Funds from November 2014 until Sierra Leone is declared by the WHO as free of the Ebola Virus.
- That, as recommended by the SLPP, all Audit Reports on the Ebola Funds be debated by the Whole House of Parliament before being sent to any Select Committee, where necessary.
- That all persons found culpable in regard to the misuse and misapplication of the Ebola Funds be held accountable
Mr. President, you are on record as having stated that the “Ebola money is Blood Money” and I totally agree with you on that.
This is why it is absolutely important that you take all measures necessary to bring all culprits to account, no matter who they may be.
With abiding respect,
Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio
SLPP Presidential Candidate 2012; Currently Senior Research Fellow at the John & Elnoral Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS), University of Bradford.
Responding to the suspension of the Auditor General this is what the main opposition APC leader in parliament – Chernor Ramadan Bah said:
Whiles the Sierra Leone Bar Association is yet to comment on this issue, the former President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association – Basita Michael said: