Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 March 2016
Since gaining independence in 1961, successive governments of Sierra Leone have either failed to effectively manage the country’s vast fishing resources, or have allowed a corrupt network of individuals in the fisheries ministry and the private sector to control and plunder the sector for their own personal gain.
Although the industry is expected to be generating over $200 million in revenue annually to the government purse, yet sadly less than ten percent of this is paid to the government.
And this can be said of most of the country’s revenue generating ministries such as mining and agriculture, which potentially could raise over $1 billion to help pay for education, health and social services.
Last week’s report by the Public Service Commission (PSC) into allegations of serious corruption in the fisheries industry is not the first and will not be the last either.
The ministry has become the gravy train for those running the ministry and their political masters who appointed them.
So why has the PSC carried out its own investigation into these serious crimes, rather than leaving it to the Anti Corruption Commission?
The PSC says it has carried its investigation in pursuant to its constitutional mandate “to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in [public] offices”, and has presented to the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, an Administrative Inquiry report with wide-ranging implications for transparency and accountability in the Civil Service.
It says the report is in response to the call by the president on the 16th July 2015 that an inquiry be conducted into the failed West Africa Regional Fisheries Project which is funded by the World Bank and managed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource.
Ironically, the US$28 million project is aimed at improving governance at the fisheries sector; limit illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and add value to the fishing produce for export to western markets, so as to generate much desperately needed revenue for the country.
The PSC inquiry had focused on the causes of the termination of the Environmental Impact Assessment contract awarded to Global Group Incorporated, a US-registered company, and the World Bank’s subsequent decision to suspend the project.
The Inquiry Committee, which included an independent adjudicator, analysed volumes of documentary evidence, listened to a secret recording of a conversation that took place at Dee’s Bazaar, and spoke to several people.
The PSC says that it uncovered what it described as “often disturbing evidence of management and coordination problems with the project; a procurement process that on paper appeared consistent with established rules and regulations but was in actual fact manipulated and orchestrated; contract award based on a weak due diligence process that rendered the Project doomed to failure; a contract awarded to a firm (GGI) with hardly a dollar of its own to undertake any form of pre-financing as required by the terms of the contract; and of an unwitting confession by a Ministry official of rent-seeking for manipulating the procurement process in favour of the successful Contractor and for providing underhand services to the firm.”
In response to these findings, the PSU says it has “made drastic recommendations that certainly signal the beginning of the end of impunity by Civil Servants, administrative inertia in the handling of disciplinary matters in the Service, and contractor escapism from responsibility for Government of Sierra Leone contracts.”
So what recommendations have the PSC made to president Koroma?
This is what the PSC says:
“One Civil Servant in the Ministry, to be prosecuted for breaching the procurement law, will be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the trial; another will be reprimanded severely for poor judgement; and the Contractor, who bears most of the responsibility for the failed project, will refund the money to the Government and be blacklisted for a minimum of five (5) years.”
But will these recommendations be implemented, or will this latest PSC report be added to the growing volume of corruption reports that have in the past eight years landed on the desk of president Koroma, waiting for his executive action?