Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 July 2015
Today in parliament, Sierra Leone’s transport minister Balogun Koroma was at pains to explain, justify and convince parliamentarians, that ministers and officials have committed no wrong doing, with respect to procurement of the 100 buses from China at a cost of $12 million borrowed from the Chinese.
But it seems the more the transport minister tries, the less successful he becomes in putting forward a convincing and legally sound reasoning for pursuing the approach they took, in purchasing the buses from China.
In short, minister Balogun Koroma said neither he, nor the finance minister, the National Public Procurement Agency, nor the Attorney General have violated any procurement rules. But he is wrong.
Statement published by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner on Monday, 20th July 2015, is clear: “The use of ‘no objection letters’ to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable.”
As questions are beginning to be asked as to why parliament today granted audience to the transport minister who is now seriously suspected of corruption, critics say that the minister should have been given marching orders by parliament to take his explanation to the Anti-Corruption Commission.
But what this appalling behaviour of parliament, which is dominated by the ruling APC party demonstrates yet again, is the contempt with which the Anti-Corruption Commission is held by senior ruling party operatives in parliament, such as the majority leader – Mr. Bundu (Photo).
Early this year, majority parliamentary leader Bundu with the acquiescence of president Koroma, took the rug from underneath the feet of the ACC Commissioner Joseph Kamara, by transferring full control and responsibility for investigating the stealing of Ebola funds amounting to over $14 million to parliament.
It seems president Koroma is quite happy to pursue small fries for corruption, whilst the big fish are free to roam the murky waters of State House, especially with the arbitrary use of emergency and executive powers from above – all too reminiscent of the dictatorial APC of old.
Where is Sierra Leone heading?
Twenty years ago, Sierra Leone was in the thick of a brutal civil war that was precipitated by corruption, poor governance and impunity. Today, we see yet again, all the signs and making of a failed state, which could dangerously degenerate into anarchy and political instability.
So what did minister Balogun Koroma tell parliament today to save his skin? This is his speech (unedited). We hope readers can make up their own minds:
“In late 2013, His Excellency the President raised concern over the long lines of people waiting to board transport to and from work on a daily basis and instructed me to address the problem within the shortest possible time.
Following this instruction, I held discussions with the Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development requesting for provisions of funds for procurement of 100 buses to help solve the acute transportation problem in the country. Unfortunately there were no provisions in the 2014 budget to accommodate the procurement of 100 buses; in short we did not have the money.
SEARCH FOR EXTERNAL FUNDING
It was therefore agreed that we look for alternative sources of funding. This involved a lot of time and painstaking engagements. During the search for funds we received an offer from Poly Technology Group in China through their Local Representative, Mr. Mamoud Khadi for the provision of a loan of 12 Million Dollars to purchase 100 buses that would include the following:
(a) Cost of the 100 Buses
(b) Shipping freight and Insurance
(c) International credit insurance to guarantee re-payment of Loan with an Internal Insurance Company
(d) Interest for a 2 year period at Commercial SINOSURE lending rates
(e) Two Mobile workshops
(f) 3 Service 4WD vehicles
(g) 3 years worth of spare parts
(h) Various machinery and equipments to replace the old and out dated colonial machinery at the SLRTC
(i) Training and technical support to SLRTC
(j) Overseas and domestic travel expenses for delegation from Sierra Leone to China and back
(k) Chinese Technical team attachment to SLRTC
(l) Local Agency Fees and charges
Package and Technical Specifications
All of the above represented a package and the proposal was submitted to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which accepted it as a loan package to be negotiated by the Public Debt Division of that Ministry which by statute negotiates all loan agreements and terms and conditions of behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone.
For the vehicle specifications, my ministry utilized the technical expertise of the engineers of the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) and Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority who provided detailed specifications.
On the basis of these specifications, the prices were determined. In other words, it was based on specifications that the cost was arrived at.
It was advised that the buses were to be designed and manufactured according to specifications to befit the terrain and weather conditions of Sierra Leone, including other considerations provided by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation(MTA) and the Sierra Leone Rod Transport Corporation (SLRTC). The buses were not to be picked up from the shelf of already manufactured assembly of buses.
For this purpose, a delegation led by the Ministry of Finance, including the Minister of Transport and Aviation, (both Political heads) the Director of Public Debt, Ministry of Finance, The General Manager, SLRTC, (the 2 technical experts) and the then Permanent Secretary, travelled to Beijing, China.
As I said earlier, since all loans to the government of Sierra Leone are by statute negotiated by the Ministry of Finance, through its Public Debt Directorate, and the General Manager, Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) negotiated the interest rates and the repayment terms based on the customized specifications provided by the SLRTC and SLRSA Transport Engineer.
Concurrence from MOFED and Attorney General’s Office
On 7th May, 2014 after receiving concurrence from the Ministry of Finance (which I now read) and subsequent discussions with Poly Technology in China, a Loan agreement was drafted between the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (SLRTC being the recipient of the buses) and Poly Technology, China.
The draft loan agreement was then submitted to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who gave his approval for the signing of the agreement by letter dated 17th April, 2014 which I now read.
In the same vein and as a result of the urgency of the situation and the conditionalities of the providers of the loan that the buses must be supplied by their preferred supplier, Zongtong Bus Company, China the Ministry of Transport and Aviation sought approval from the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) for sole sourcing which the NPPA granted based on conditions that were followed by the SLRTC, by letter dated 26th March 2014.
In addition to the above, the Ministry of Finance in giving it’s approval also gave conditions that the loan must be repaid by the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation and that a Steering Committee including representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transport and Aviation, the National Commission for Privatization (NCP), the Accountant General Department and the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation must be set up to supervise the operations of the buses and pay all monies to an Escrow Account which must be utilized to repay the loan.
SECURING GOVERNMENT INTEREST/INVESTMENT
In the agreement, the Ministry of Transport and Aviation ensured the inclusion of guarantees and protections in the form of certain provisions that secured the interest of government and ensure fiscal discipline. These include, but are not limited to provision of advance payment guarantee and a one year warranty period covering all repairs.
SERVICE TO THE NATION
In all the above, we did our best as a government to serve our people, our nation:
(i) His Excellency the President provided the Political leadership by instructing that the problem of public transport be addressed; he demanded that the long queues of Sierra Leoneans waiting for public transport should be a thing of the past;
(ii) Following the acquisition of the buses, the Street queues have disappeared;
(iii) The Ministry of Transport and Aviation followed all procurement rules and procedures to the letter including No Objection from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, the Attorney General’s and Minister of Justice Office, National Public Procurement Authority and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation Procurement Committee of which the Minister is not a member;
(iv) The Special order(customized details) of the buses were supplied by the technical experts; Engineers of SLRSA and SLRTC on the basis of which the buses were priced;
(v) In the agreement, we included certain provisions that secured the interest of government and ensure fiscal discipline and value for money;
(vi) For the first time in the history of Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC), all monies collected from ticket sales will be paid into an Escrow account designated and controlled by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, certain persons have circulated bus prices on pieces of paper without letterheads for buses that were not ordered by Sierra Leone Transport Corporation. The SLRTC did not order any of the buses on the sheet of paper which are 28, 44 and 31 seaters with prices attached to them.
The buses purchased by SLRTC are 20, 47 and 30 seaters and were made based on SLRTC specifications as shown in the Zhong Tong Manufacturers certificates,
Mr. Speaker, Hon Members, in all of the above I think that we at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation did our best and followed the law and to serve our beloved country Sierra Leone. And I am heartened by the public acclamation irrespective of the few challenges.
Our people are aware, they are asking questions and we are ready to provide answers to those construction inquiries.
I thank you for your attention.”
End of statement.
Tomorrow the Sierra Leone Telegraph will take a closer look at the Public Procurement Act of 2004, to analyse and discuss the ‘serial breaches’ committed by transport minister Balogun, finance minister Marah, attorney general Frank Kargbo, and the head of the national public procurement agency.