Sierra Leone Commission of Inquiry to start sitting next Tuesday

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 January 2019:

The long-awaited Commission of Inquiry into the governance activities of the former government led by president Koroma is finally here. Dubbed the people’s commission, the judge led commission will be opened at the Special Court Buildings in Freetown, on Tuesday 29th January 2019.

The commission is expected to sit for about six months, but provision has been made for an extension if necessary.

The Judge-led commission will be chaired by the Nigerian Justice Biobele Georgewill. (Photo).  

But as preparations are being made for the start of the inquiries, the Sierra Leone Bar Association has filed a petition at the Supreme Court for interpretation of the country’s Constitution, with respect to the rules governing commissions of inquiry.

This is a statement published by the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) yesterday:

“TAKE NOTICE that solicitors of the Law Officers’ Department have filed a NOTICE OF MOTION, dated 24th day of January 2019, in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone seeking the below listed  relief among many others:

“1. A dismissal of the action/Originating Notice of Motion, Dated 3rd Day of January 2019 by the Sierra Leone Bar Association, more specifically against the 4th and 5th Defendants, Hon Justice Bankole Thompson and Hon Justice William Annan Atuguba, respectively, Commissioners of the Commission of Inquiry.

“It is hoped that with the Association having complied fully by filing a statement of case(summary of our legal arguments) and the subsequent filing of the said Notice of Motion by the Law Officers’ Department against same, the Honourable Chief Justice Will assign the matter to a panel for determination,  so soon in contemplation of the Slated date for the commencement of the Commission of Inquiry.

“The SLBA wishes to  RE-EMPHASIZE that our action is motivated and guided by respect for the rule of law; an important component of which is fair due process and the protection of the law.

“The SLBA is appreciative of the support it has received from the membership and the general public in its quest to ensure respect for the rule of law. The membership is assured that we shall remain steadfast in the pursuit of the values of democratic good governance and adherence to the rule of law. FIAT JUSTICIA RUAT CAELUM!!!

“Meanwhile, the General membership is hereby informed that His Excellency the President, Julius Maada Bio,has sworn into office the Honourable Chief Justice, Mr. Desmond Babatunde Edwards, the president of the Bar Association, Basita Michael MS. and other members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, yesterday, Thursday 24th day of January 2019, at State House, Freetown.

Dated: 25th day of January 2019 – Signed: Ishmael Philip Mammie esq ; General Secretary.”

Serious questions are being raised as to whether the rules of evidence governing High Court proceedings should also be applied to the commissions of inquiry. But the most contentious and controversial issue facing the commission, is whether senior civil servants should also stand before the inquiry to account for their role in the management of state finances.

Proponents of this argument say there is a clear case for calling civil servants to the commission. One of the strongest arguments put forward is that successive Reports of the country’s Auditor General have questioned the financial propriety or otherwise, of senior civil servants.

This is their argument:

The 2017 Audit report on public institutions in Sierra Leone has exposed dubious deals undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) for the period under review.

According to the report, overpayment of college fees subsidy, non-compliance on withholding taxes, overpayments to consultants and a certain contractor, bank withdrawals without supporting documents, and inadequate control over personnel management, among others, were observed during the course of the audit.

The report revealed that in October 2016, a Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology for the payments of fees for 1,200 sponsored students was not submitted for audit inspection.

It notes that the ministry received invoice for fees of Le9,877,400,000 dated 27th October 2016, for the 1st cohort of 1,200 government sponsored students (600 students) studying at the university for the first academic year (2016/2017), but that government paid Le10 billion which resulted in an overpayment of Le122,600,000.

“From the review of the ministry’s payment analysis for the balance 50 percent payments done by the former Acting Principal Accountant, it was observed that the ministry paid Le12,180,110,420 to the university resulting in an overpayment of Le2,632,139,660 (Le12,180,110,420 – Le9,547,970,760),” the report states.

The report recommended that the Ministry of Higher and Technical Education informs the Limkokwing University of that overpayment and take necessary steps to get it refunded, and that evidence of steps taken to get it funded by the University should be submitted for audit inspection.

Also, the report indicates that payment vouchers confirmed that withholding taxes amounting to Le84, 004,791 were not deducted and paid over to the National Revenue Authority (NRA), as required by law.

These taxes relate to activities implemented by various staff in different directorates, programmes and units of the ministry, which were primarily funded by government and donor partners. This was due to non-involvement of staff of the Account Unit at the Ministry.

The report says 10.5% tax, which was supposed to be deducted from payments of non-resident contractors was not made, and further observed that the ministry when making payment to SOGEFEL SARL, a non-resident contractor, deducted only 5% withholding tax, hence, withholding tax of Le346, 253,738 was not deducted from payment to that contractor and paid over to NRA.

The report urged the concerned personnel that failed to deduct the tax to immediately recover and pay the said withholding tax to the NRA and submit the evidence.

Similar overpayment was made to consultants and a contractor for rehabilitation and extension works at Fourah Bay College, totalling Le72,588,682, due to be used by the Bank of Sierra Leone’s (BSL) United States Dollars (USD) selling rate rather than the BSL mid-rate.

The report recommended that the acting Principal Accountant in consultation with the Permanent Secretary should inform the contractor and the consultants of the overpayments and obtain refund.

Meanwhile, the report notes that a total amount of Le3,190,815,029 withdrawn from the Ministry’s imprest account held at the BSL were not supported by payment vouchers and relevant supporting documents such as invoices, signed list of recipients, receipts.

It called on the concerned personnel of the respective directorates and programmes to ensure that the relevant supporting documents are submitted for audit inspection; otherwise, the full amount should be refunded into the Consolidate Revenue Fund.

Another thorny issue observed by the audit report in the ministry has to do with ghost workers. The report says nine staff, who were retired and to whom retirement letters were issued, were still on the Ministry’s payroll vouchers for the period under review, with a total salary of Le84, 678,976 paid to them.

In the same vein, the report says 11 staff that have attained the statutory retirement age of 60 years were not served with letters of retirement and that their names continue to appear on the Ministry’s payroll voucher and they receiving salaries amounting to Le193, 003,944 for the period under review.

This overwhelming evidence suggests that senior civil servants in the previous government, must be called before the commission to either give evidence or give account of their stewardship of public finances so that lessons can be learnt, and those found wanting of serious wrongdoing – including misappropriation of funds should be charged to the High Court.

13 Comments

  1. The flames of a quiet revolution have been lit and soon enough they will become an inferno which would be impossible to put out for decades to come – if at all.

    Paradoxically, the inferno will destroy to clean up. Ministers, top civil servants and others, indeed the whole country should be clean by the time the inferno is brought under control, by which time a good many of us will have gone west.

    All Sierra Leoneans must pay close attention to the Commission of Inquiry to learn firsthand the callousness and sadistic nature of those we have entrusted with the responsibility of guiding the nation to prosperity, but who instead ripped it apart. These are people that should be severely dealt with if found guilty.

    There cannot be any reason why permanent secretaries should escape the net of the inquiry. They may just have been the thief who drove the getaway car,but this should not make them less culpable.

    The culpability of permanent secretaries will be emblazoned by ministers called before the Commission, who in an effort to minimise the untold damage they face, will spill the beans all over the place to ensure that they do not go down alone. No permanent secretary who is worth anything, can convince any judge that, as the topmost administrator in a government ministry, they never knew what was taking place.

    Once a minister implicates a permanent secretary, both past and present, the nation will then wait to see the reaction of President Bio to confirm or reject the suspicion that he [President Bio is determined to shield certain permanent secretaries because they are members of his ethnic group. Any hunch of ethnic bias could damage an important foundation of the Inquiry.

    As the Inquiry commences, there is almost an uncanny silence which one only experiences around a graveyard or an operating theatre. It has to do with the lack of any discussion of how to bring back to the country former ministers in the APC government and others who fled overseas in the wake of SLPP taking over. What is the Attorney-General doing about their extradition or is she incapable of starting the process?

    I want to see mother Sierra Leone stop shedding tears. She gave us everything needed to develop ourselves but we always disappoint her.

  2. I only hope and pray that political compromism will not engulf the progress of the commission of inquiry. Because, we the people of Sierra Leone have now rested our hopes on the inquiry for our safety. Any meaningful Sierra Leonean now aware of the rampant spread of Corruption in Sierra Leone which has denied us our citizenship rights and makes us not to feel like being home which is very much painful and disadvantageous more especially on us the poor.

    Having in our midst somebody striving to take us from such a misfortuneous level to a better place, is a very big Blessing one cannot play with. Finally, I would like to humbly ask all Sierra Leoneans to keep on praying so that no evil and other detractors shall overcome or hinder the progress of the commission of inquiry, Ameen.

    God bless the President of the republic of Sierra Leone (H.E President Retired Brg.Julius Maada Bio) and God bless Sierra Leone.

  3. It is just amazing to see how alert Sierra Leoneans have become since the victory of president Bio and the establishment of the commission of inquiry. Just take the comments on this article as an example:
    Some seem to sympathize with the APC, some with the SLPP, some asking for the culprits to be jailed, some still blaming former president Koroma, some asking and praying for our almighty God to intervene etc. Everyone has his or her views which is fair enough. What a lovely and peaceful environment to express our frustrations, emotions and opinions.

    Many thanks to The Sierra Leone Telegraph for giving us this opportunity through God’s guidance. I hope that all participants continue to show respect and civility to one another. We can have different views but at the same time have respect for each other.

    GOD BLESS THE SIERRA LEONE TELEGRAPH. AMEN AND AMEN.

    • Wise words Mr Matturi, for it is only through dialogue that we can understand our differences, solve our collective problems for a better Sierra Leone. Irrespective of our different opinions, political affiliations, our common denominator is for the good of Sierra Leone. Lets keep it going.

  4. These people should pay/refund all the money they stole in the past governance of Ernest Bai Koroma from 2007-2018….period.

  5. As one observer noted above, some of our SBA Lawyers have suddenly woken up under the SLPP Government. The reason is simple; there was politicisation of the SLBA under the APC Government. The lawyers were divided along ethnocentric lines so those favoured by the APC enjoyed the power and spoils of the ill-gotten corruption.

    I do not believe any civil servant implicated by those political heads will escape the wrath of the COI. Sierra Leone wants to join the league of progressive nations. This means drawing a line under corruption. The Bio administration knows the people are watching and their political opponents cannot wait for them to fail.

  6. The Living GOD is Watching. Whosoever tries to muddy the waters by ANY means shall face the Judgement of the Living GOD. In Jesus Name, AMEN.

    So Advocates and law officers beware. Underworld advocates are warned too. This matter is a matter between some people and ALL the PEOPLE of Sierra Leone and even HUMANITY.

  7. Wow so all of a sudden the Sierra Leone Bar Association have now woken up from their slumber? Now they are in full gear to talk about rule of law and human rights.

    What happened to all these intelligent lawyers who are now quoting these Cambridge and Oxford University laws when the legitimately elected Vice President was fired?

    Or is there a motive behind this? I did not go to university to study law, but common sense tells me that you have something up your sleeves and we would like to know what it is please, honourable lawyers.

  8. Indeed and I quote Rachid’s statement “This overwhelming evidence suggests that senior civil servants in the previous government, must be called before the commission to either give evidence or give account of their stewardship of public finances so that lessons can be learnt, and those found wanting of serious wrongdoing – including misappropriation of funds should be charged to the High Court.” will not go away.

    What have politicians or government ministers have to do with statutory retirement or ghost workers to name a few? It is the senior civil servants and vote controllers who are responsible for these departments. This just shows you the level of corruption at the highest civil service hierarchy.

    Senior civil servants, vote controllers must appear before the commission to answer serious questions concerning misappropriation of government funds in their departments. Then and only then will the commission of inquiry be credible and have respect.

    If it is only the politicians or ministers who have to face the commission, then the commission will not be doing a fair job in my opinion. There should be no selective justice. Let the law hold anyone responsible.

    Thank God the Sierra Leone Bar Association is paying a keen eye on the guidelines of the commission. The majority of Sierra Leoneans support the commission, but it should be fair, open, transparent and not selective.

    Moreover, I asked myself why take a judge from Nigeria to head the commission? Is it because of fairness or is it that judges in Sierra Leone are not competent or corrupt? Many Sierra leoneans including myself will be dismayed by this.
    If it is because of fairness, then I agree. If it is because of incompetent or corruption, then judges in Sierra Leone have to work very hard for their reputation. I hope the later is not the reason.

    Finally, the Nigerian-born Biobele Georgewill is a very good, competent and renowned judge. He has led some serious and controversial commissions of inquiry in Nigeria, where he excelled with the highest possible credibility. He will do a better job with this commission. No doubt about that. We wish him all the best.

  9. Why protect other previous governments and all others who administered and/or benefited from such criminal illegalities/improprieties – some of which are already confirmed in various Sierra Leone Auditor-General’s Reports – this tool exists for the Commission to work with or from.

    The fact that the Auditor-General had publicly exposed these illegalities and The Police still had not made any arrests, confirms that this SLPP Government is just as inept, incompetent and corrupt as most of its predecessors!

    • Mr. Seton During,

      I hope you were not hiding under a stone when Ernest Koroma instituted a Commission of Inquiry in 2008 to investigate the stewardship of the SLPP government of Ahmad Tejan Kabba. Why should there be a double jeopardy by investigating people that have already been cleared of any wrong doing?

      Your misinformed allusion to the present SLPP government as being inept and corrupt only exposes your deep-seated bias and hatred for President Bio and the SLPP. But that will not distract the president from the excellent work that he and his men are doing.

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