Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 February 2015
According to reports, Sierra Leone’s reckless and infamous minister of information – Alpha Kanu, has now turned his poisonous fangs on to the credibility and hard earned, no nonsense image of the country’s astute Auditor General – Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce (Photo).
The Auditor General’s report into millions of dollars stolen from the Ebola fund, has irreparably ruptured trust in the government’s ability to manage public funds, as the number of new Ebola cases rises once again.
And serious questions are now being asked as to whether the Koroma government should, and can ever be trusted with managing foreign aid, which accounts for over 60% of the country’s revenue stream.
Corruption is now seriously hampering efforts in bringing the Ebola crisis to an end, whiles in neighbouring Liberia today, the government of president Helen Johnson Sirleaf is cautiously declaring Liberia – Ebola free.
Critics are asking: If the government of Sierra Leone cannot be trusted to properly manage and account for $18 million dollars meant for the sick and dying, how can they be trusted with the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been lined up by the World Bank and others, for tackling post-Ebola economic recovery?
But it is clear that with ministers like Kanu, who is not a public finance expert or a lawyer, attacking the Auditor General with such venom, for merely doing her job – which has once again exposed the culture of corruption and hubris that pervades the Koroma government, the future of Sierra Leone is bleak indeed.
And for a minister, who many would seriously advice to keep quiet, because of several allegations made against him for financial impropriety as a businessman, involving government contracts and the transportation of pilgrims to Mecca that went horribly wrong, the least he says about corruption the better.
One of the ironies of the Koroma government is that on the one hand, it preaches about being tough on corruption, and yet when the veneer is removed, very little evidence of substance can be seen, as State House itself remains neck deep in corruption.
Speaking at his weekly press ‘circus’ at the information ministry’s conference Hall in Freetown, minister Kanu who last year regularly took to his soap box to strongly condemn those who were trying to inform the public about the Ebola virus, referred to the Audit report into the missing Ebola funds, “as baseless, fallacious and a distraction to Government’s efforts to defeat Ebola.”
This bunkum, comes after president Koroma and the secretary general of the ruling APC, both applauded the Auditor General – Lara Taylor-Pearce for a job well done.
Prior to the audit, president Koroma had himself added to the voices of millions of Sierra Leoneans who had long believed that Ebola funds were being stolen by those responsible for managing the funds, which was why the president authorised the Auditor General to carry out an investigation.
And now that the damning audit report is out making waves, fifth columnists of the government, who live in closets full of skeletons, are now shaking in their boots and throwing insults at the Auditor General.
Both the Anti-Corruption Commissioner – Joseph Kamara (Photo) and the Auditor General – Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, are national champions of justice, civil liberty and standards in public life; values which the likes of information minister Kanu may not appreciate as the cornerstone of civilised and democratic societies.
Few in Sierra Leone really care about whether minister Kanu is disappointed over the report or not, as sierra Leoneans across the country welcome the findings of the Auditor General as a good start towards justice.
What minister Kanu’s ugly condemnation of the Auditor General clearly demonstrates is the natural instinct of several government ministers, which is to shield their political cronies and friends involved in the misappropriation of public funds, rather than bringing them to justice.
Minister Kanu (Photo) describes the audit report as “a distraction to the government’s efforts in the fight against Ebola”. But what he truly meant to say is that the audit report has seriously distracted corrupt and thieving officials, whose daily preoccupation is the stealing of public funds.
Of course, the audit report has temporarily frustrated the efforts of corrupt officials in Sierra Leone, as the spotlight turns once again on the mismanagement of public funds.
Minister Kanu is failing to appreciate the fact that the fight against Ebola and the fight against corruption are not mutually exclusive.
Corruption in Sierra Leone is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people annually.
The Minister is believed to have said that “the audit report has many shortfalls in documentation procedure, and it’s a disservice to those indicted by the Anti Corruption Commission. He argued further that it was not only a case of human rights violation; he also accused the auditor general’s office and its counterpart in the recent EBOLA-gate – the Anti -Corruption Commission, of trampling on the fundamental human and constitutional rights of the people they have exposed and indicted, including government too, which he said, is also a victim of circumstances.”
Well, the least said about this level of ignorance displayed by the information minister, the better. Indictment? Human rights violation? Victims of circumstances of the audit report?
Please minister Kanu, save the people of Sierra Leone your shameless crocodile tears. You should be out there helping the Anti-Corruption Commissioner and the police catch the thieves, not mollycoddle them in cotton wool.
Minister Kanu is either confused or is in denial of the truth. So perhaps, he should go back and read his ruling APC party’s official statement regarding the audit report, published by its secretary general – Ambassador Alhaji Osman Foday Yansaneh. This is what he said:
“…the Auditor-General’s report does not come as a surprise as it underlines the government’s consistent anti-corruption drive. Even as we applaud government’s efforts, the All Peoples Congress wishes to urge further that a travel ban be slammed on all those named in the audit report, either as individuals or civil society or MDAs, until a logical conclusion is reached into the matter. Specifically, finance officials at the Ministry of Finance, the National Ebola Response Centre, and the Ministry of Health should be affected by this moratorium.
“Furthermore, all signatories to Ebola accounts must not be allowed to travel. The All Peoples Congress believes that such an action will prevent any future embarrassment to the government in case any defaulter would want to sneak out of the country before the investigations are concluded.”
If not, president Koroma must publish an immediate statement, distancing himself and his entire cabinet, from such incendiary and poisonous views, which are likely to compromise the efforts and safety of the Auditor General and the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Fighting corruption in Sierra Leone is a battle that may take generations to win, but what is certain is that politicians like minister Kanu will soon become relics of Sierra Leone’s political history, as a younger generation of astute, forward thinking and morally sound politicians emerge.
But in the meantime, as the debate into the highly respected Auditor General’s report into the missing Ebola funds continues, the international community must now ask itself whether president Koroma and his ministers should and can be trusted with the hard earned cash of their tax payers; and whether they must now channel all foreign aid, meant to tackle health, education, poverty, water and sanitation, directly to the delivery organisations – such as WHO, MSF, Red Cross, and suitably qualified indigenous NGOs.
Because, after eight years in power, the Koroma government has once again demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to manage and account for public funds, as minister Kanu now evidently demonstrates, and the government itself persistently fails to do.
The $47 million corruption case involving president Koroma’s State House Chief of Staff – Richard Konteh is in limbo, as the accused is alleged to have falsified the signature of president Koroma, and is now believed to be threatening to blow the whistle on the president himself, if the trial continues any further.
And as the country ponders what else needs to be done to tackle the resurgence in new Ebola cases, the end of Ebola and the start of the long road to economic recovery is not yet in sight.
Yet, hundreds of millions of dollars lined up by the World Bank and others to aid the post-Ebola recovery are potentially at risk.
A new approach to the management of donor and domestically generated public funds is therefore urgently needed, and fast.