Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 May 2021:
Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) issued a statement yesterday, saying that it has “commenced forensic and comprehensive investigations” into allegations of grand corruption involved in the renovation and, or re-construction of the Sierra Leone Chancery Building in Manhattan, New York City, United States of America for which the government of Sierra Leone had allocated Four Million Dollars (USD $4,000,000.00) in 2011 to 2019, and the work was never carried out.
According to the ACC statement, the Head of Chancery and other persons of interest involved in the management of the finances of the Chancery have been recalled from their posts “to assist with the speedy investigation and conclusion of the investigations; statements are being taken from them and they have been kept in custody since Friday, 28th May, 2021. We have also recovered documents and records relevant to the investigation and they are being analysed by our forensic analysts”.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph understands that at least four people have been arrested and are being investigated, after report was published in the US media saying that the UN Mission of Sierra Leone in the US is being sued for “posing an immediate danger” to the public caused by mould and vermin infestation in the dilapidated chancery building in New York.
According to the media report, neighbours are suing the government of Sierra Leone in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that Sierra Leonean diplomats have “failed to follow basic fire-prevention protocols… creating an opportunity for flying debris, fire and other dangers.”
Although the allegation of corruption dates back to 2011 under the former president Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC government, it is alleged that over $3 million was transferred by the current Bio-led government for work to be carried out to the building which disappeared into a black whole, leaving the building in a horrible state of disrepair.
Three days ago, Sierra Leone’s ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement saying that its “attention has been drawn to media reports relating to the on-going renovation and refurbishment of the Chancery Building of the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York. Those reports are substantially incorrect and misleading. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation makes the following clarifications:
- The building in question, otherwise known as the Chancery Building, is a townhouse sharing party walls with adjacent buildings.
- Over the past decade, it had been left to significantly deteriorate to be point of being inhabitable, and the Mission was forced to evacuate to another building. A plan to completely reconstruct the entire building befitting our Permanent Mission in New York was initiated in December 2016.
- The reconstruction effort, however, stalled in September 2017 due in large part to the unavailability of funds.
- When the New Direction Government of His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio assumed office in 2018, the reconstruction effort was revived with the release of funds. The plan was to complete and handover for the use of the Sierra Leone Mission in New York within a short period. The structural integrity of the building when completed will create additional office space for future growth befitting a Chancery Building in New York.
- However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hostile posture of the adjacent neighbours, mindful of the imposing facelift of an adjoining structure, slowed the pace of the project.
- Work was set to recommence when neighbours adjacent to the building initiated legal proceedings against the Sierra Leone Mission in New York on allegations of encroachment, fire safety concerns and interference with their venting system by the Contractor. These allegations will be addressed by the contractor and his sub-contractor, as they carry full responsibility for any problems emanating from their work.
- It is worthy to note that the construction work is fully covered by the construction insurance obtained by the contractor and sub-contractor. The Mission and by extension the Government of Sierra Leone are indemnified in this regard.
- The construction project has a safety engineer who inspects the project at every stage to ensure that all safety requirements are strictly adhered to. In addition, the New York Department of Building monitors every stage of the construction with a view to ensuring all materials used, as well as installations done meet the required standards.
- The Sierra Leone Mission in New York attempted to intervene and open up channels of communication for dialogue with the neighbours, but the neighbours proved to be non-cooperative.
- The Mission further requested the State Department to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the allegations made by the neighbours but that also failed due to the hostility of the neighbours.
- The New York Department of Buildings has made several visits to the construction site without raising any issues of concern. The Department declined to participate in a proposed meeting called by the State Department on the grounds that its officials cannot interfere or participate in meetings that have to do with disputes between neighbours.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will continue to work with the Mission in New York to ensure that the contractor and his sub-contractor resolve the legal, and to also comply with all required regulations and laws of the host Government of the United States and the State of New York.”
But the above statement makes no mention of what has happened to the $4 million allocated for the refurbishment of the building which the ACC is now investigating, with three people arrested and in custody.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted the country’s former Head of UN Mission in New York – Dr Alie Kabba for comment but without response.