Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 July 2015
After last week’s public furore over the $12 million Busgate scandal and allegations of corruption, involving the purchasing of 100 buses from China by the Koroma government without following the country’s procurement rules, fears have been growing of a major cover up. (Photo: President Koroma hosted by the Chinese government in Beijing).
But yesterday, the Anti-Corruption Commissioner issued a strongly worded statement, giving his initial thoughts on this matter, and it does not make for pleasant reading for those suspected of seriously violating procurement rules.
“The use of ‘no objection letters’ to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable,” says the ACC Chief – Joseph Kamara.
In our report last week, the Sierra Leone Telegraph called for an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) into the violation of the country’s procurement laws by the minister of transport, the finance minister, and other officials.
This blatant violation of the public procurement regulations, comes just months after the publication of the Auditor General’s report into the missing $14 million Ebola funds, which showed that contracts were arbitrarily awarded to contractors without due process, valued at millions of dollars.
The response of the Koroma government to the massive breakdown of law and order in the management of the Ebola funds, was that most of the $14 million had to be hurriedly spent without keeping proper records and setting aside procurement laws because of the urgent need to respond to the unfolding Ebola crisis.
Whilst this lame excuse is seen by many as woefully unconscionable and unacceptable, there are serious concerns now as to what the government’s excuse is going to be this time, with regards the spending of $12 million on 100 buses, without going out to competitive tendering as required by Law.
But as we have now learnt from the minister of transport – Balogun Koroma, the $12 million used for purchasing the buses is a loan provided by the Chinese government, at an interest rate of 50% per annum.
According to the minister, China had insisted that in return for the $12 million loan, the Koroma government must ditch its competitive tendering procurement regulations, and instead award the contract to a preferred named Chinese manufacturer.
The following are just some of the most preposterous statements made by government officials who ought to know better, including the transport minister Balogun Koroma, as published in Cokorioko last week:
An official in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) said; “The buses were purchased with funds from China whose lending practice ensures that its selected state – owned companies get the contracts arising from their financing. You cannot use Chinese money to give contracts to European/western companies for instance.”
Minister of Transport and Aviation – Balogun Koroma shamelessly said; ‘’Under this circumstance, we followed every step set out in the National Public Procurement framework.’’
The Procurement Officer in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) – Unisa Dumbuya said; “The contract was drafted and sent to the Law Officers, who vetted it and made recommendations. One of which was that, given the conditions of the financing that the Chinese State Own Company – Poly Group – should be the contractor, the approval of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) should be sought for sole sourcing.”
And continuing their deplorable un-nationalistic thinking, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) – Brima Bangura said; ‘’Under normal circumstances, such a procurement would have attracted international competitive bidding; the bids would have been evaluated and a winner announced. Then a window would be given to allow for any appeals should a bidder feels aggrieved. When all of these steps would have been covered, the contract would then be awarded. However, under the circumstance, we had to give our acquiescence and it is within the law that we do so’’
‘’The draft contract was then resent to the Law Officers who now gave the go – ahead having satisfied that NPPA had been consulted and their queries had been fully answered,’’ explained the Ministry of Transport Procurement Officer.
“A Certificate of Approval was now sought from MoFED for the award of the contract which was granted on 8th May 2014.”
“Following the NPPA’s approval, the Law Officers and the contract negotiations by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, an inspection team travelled to China.”
“Led by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (Dr. Kailfala Marrah), the Minister of Transport and Aviation (Leonard Balagun Koroma), Director of Debts – MoFED (Sahr Jusu), the Permanent Secretary – MTA, (Sahr Kpulum), the General Manager – SLRTC (Bockarie Lewis Kamara), these officials travelled to China to ascertain the products were being manufactured as per specification.” (Photo Below: One of the buses in a road accident in one of the congested and very narrow roads in Freetown last weekend).
Without any remorse, standing by their dodgy and flawed decision making process, the Procurement Officer of the Ministry of Transport said; ”I am satisfied with the process, because we worked within the procurement framework.’’
But as the ACC makes it abundantly clear yesterday: “The use of ‘no objection letters’ to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable,” says the ACC Chief – Joseph Kamara.
So, why was the procurement regulation not followed? Whose decision was it to set aside the procurement regulation?
Was the president informed, when and by whom? Did president Koroma approve the decision not to go out to competitive tender?
The Sierra Leone Telegraph continues to call upon the Anti-Corruption Commissioner to remain steadfast in conducting his investigation into the procurement of the 100 buses; in particular to hold those responsible for violating the country’s procurement regulations accountable in court.
The ACC must bring criminal charges against those suspected of abuse of office, misappropriation of public funds relating to the purchasing of the 100 buses, including bribery and corruption.
Photo Below: Document showing inflated cost of the buses.
This is the statement published by the ACC Chief yesterday – 20th July 2015:
“The Anti-Corruption Commission acknowledges with gratitude, government’s acquisition of 100 buses for the use of the general public.
“However, the public is hereby informed that prior to the arrival of the buses, the ACC had commenced an investigation into the procurement process.
“Though the purchase of the buses ushered in a breath of relief upon the weight of the transportation burden on the people, the procurement process cannot be said to be beyond censure.
“The ACC welcomes the heightened public response and vigilance, consequent upon the “citizens audit”, advocated and promoted by the Commission. Officials of state are now subject to public scrutiny for the discharge of their functions.
“Without prejudice to the ongoing investigation, our experience reveals that mis-procurement continues to be the bane of corruption. The use of “no objection letters” to waive procurement rules and regulations, under the guise of emergency is reproachable.
“The ACC urges the Houses of parliament to pay close heed to the gaps which encourage the circumvention of procurement rules and regulations whilst considering the ongoing amendments of the National Procurement Act of 2004.
“In a related development, the ACC also wishes to confirm to the general public that the procurement for Sierra Leone passports is also under investigation.
“Meanwhile, officials of the ministry of transport and aviation, ministry of finance and economic development, Sierra Leone road transport corporation, ministry of internal affairs and the immigration department, are cooperating and assisting the Commission with the investigations.
“The general public is assured that the fight against corruption is key to good governance and the ACC remains unrelenting in that endeavour.”
Transport minister Balogun Koroma lied to the people of Sierra Leone and the international community, when he told local reporter that the cost of purchasing the 100 buses was fully funded by the government from consolidated funds.
The minister said: “This intervention, 100% funded by government, would help to address these problems and make the public transport system more convenient and safer.’’
But now we are told that the $12 million is a loan from the Chinese government, payable at 50% interest a year – over 4 years, when the Koroma government may no longer be in power.
In the meantime, the people of Sierra Leone are patiently waiting to see the investigation report of the ACC, into the $12 million Busgate corruption scandal.