Sierra Leone’s ACC investigates $4 million corruption involving UN Mission staff in New York

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:

  1. The building in question, otherwise known as the Chancery Building, is a townhouse sharing party walls with adjacent buildings.
  2. 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.
  3. The reconstruction effort, however, stalled in September 2017 due in large part to the unavailability of funds.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

14 Comments

  1. Mr Seneth Brown, I totally agree with you. In any functioning democracy, the Civil servants are the ones that knows where all the skeletons are buried. A government can’t function with out the help of the civil service. We might elect our governments from time to time, but real power lies with the greymen, and women in office suits in government departments. When comes to policy implementation, they can help, or hinder the progress of the government of the day. Civil servants are supposed to work hand in gloves with government ministers, for dilivery of government services to the people. By law civil servants are supposed to be impartial.Not so under president Bio. Although they are paid from the public purse, some of them thinks Bio is their paymaster. That their paypackets are coming from our president with deep pockets. Unfortunately for us, some of our political appointees civil servant, feels they owe their very existence to Bio, hence they see their political appointments as license to hustle.

    Normally under a healthy democracy they carry out their work with out raising an eye brow.Ocassionally when they hitched a ride on the political bandwagon, any pretence of impartiality is toss on the road side, to serve their political masters.That is where we found our country today. Stuck between a rock, and ahard place. And we the citizens of this small nation, with all it natural resources don’t know how to extract ourselves from this corruption quagmire we found ourselves. Sometimes you will find the civil servants, mimic their political masters.We all know the corruption accusations swelling around some of Bio’s ministers. So it shouldn’t come at any suprise that some of our civil servants are engaged in corrupt activities. They can make or break a government, depending on policy agreements, or disagreement or secretly party affiliates. Any civil servant engaged in such activities, is not only breaking his oath to serve our country, but the Laws governing the work of the civil servants.

    Occasionally, some of the civil servants are political appointees. In the event of different political party is voted into power, some of the civil servants will view it as a hostile act, against their interests. So they will stop at nothing to defend their interests. And the loser is us Sierra-leoneans. Yes sometimes,the we have underperforming cabinet ministers, corrupt to the bone marrow, that are not up to speed with their briefs.So the some of the civil servants will play for time, knowing sooner or later he will be replaced. If we are really ready to fight corruption in Sierra Leone, we need to reformed our civil service, so they are more transparent and accountable.

  2. Honourable Abdul Thomas our perspectives on this issue are different; you are looking at it from a Legal point of view and therefore you have decided to tread cautiously in order to avoid getting sued; But according to Webster’s English dictionary there is another carefully defined and more widely acceptable definition of a “Criminal;” Here’s what it says; “A popular term …….” for someone who has committed a crime, whether convicted of the offense or not;” Now, of course he that has been found guilty of a committing a crime in a court of Law is a criminal according to the laws of Justice; Totally agree.

    But truth of the matter is wherever a Crime has been committed by someone,discreetly let’s say by a Murderer, Arsonist, Thief or a Rapist,such a person is a Criminal whether found guilty or not,no two ways about it. Again,I have seen instances where men are caught on video footage in the act of committing a crime and officers on the scene didn’t even hesitate to call them a lousy “Bunch of Street Criminals” even when they have not be found guilty in a court of law. What say you Sir; (lol) I thank you for your attention, Hon. Abdul Thomas – let us agree to disagree.

  3. Dr. Alie Kabba was not the Head of the UN Mission in New York when the funds were transferred to complete this work. It was Dr. Kai Kai, who is now Minister of Economic and Development Planning. Secondly, the Ambassador to the UN has nothing to do with the running and administration of the Chancery. The Chancery is administered by the Head of Chancery and other persons who are generally Civil Servants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They handled the finances and other administrative work of the Mission including the Chanceries. Thirdly and most important, the contractor was hired in 2016 by the erstwhile government to do the renovation but the work stalled in 2017 because of no payment. In 2018, the amount in question was transferred to the Chancery to pay the contractor. At the heart of this malfeasance, the building contractor has not commented as to whether or not he received the three Million dollars transferred to the Chancery in 2018. However, the ACC would not have initiated an investigation if the contractor has been paid the money.

    The question is, why transferred the money to the Chancery when the Ministry of Finance could pay the contractor directly using bank transferred to avoid so many “sticky” hands touching the money. This is one area we have to avoid. Electronic money makes things easy, to track and monitor. It also helps for tax and audit purposes.The annoying thing about this disgrace is that Chancery pays hefty sums as rent every year to other missions for accommodation. At the same time, its property is left unattended despite the transfer of funds to Chancery in 2018 to complete the refurbishment. Why was the work not completed between 2018 and 2019 is the million-dollar question? The neighbours must have become disgruntled with the ugly sight created by unfinished repairs lasting for several years. Who can blame them?

    The lesson to be learned, fighting corruption should not start and stop at the top alone. Civil servants who are the crankshaft to the country’s engine are the moles of all corrupt systems. Cabinets Ministers come and go and sometimes at an incredible speed. Civil Servants stay and they know that the ministers would not last long, and that some ministers are lazy, and some are corrupt. So the Civil Servants use these to their advantages. Civil Servants should bear the most significant responsibility for corrupt practices in their department or ministries. If that is the case, I believe that they would become the genuine whistle-blower. They would resist any attempt to be corrupted by wannabe cabinet ministers whose jobs last at the behest of one man-the president. I posit that for the fight against corruption to be won, the civil servants should be at the front of all investigations.

  4. Here we go – Honorable Abdul Rashid Thomas a person who has committed a crime is called a CRIMINAL and it does not matter at all if you are convicted in a court of law or not; As long as a crime was committed whether in secret or in broad daylight that person can be referred to as a criminal – I respectfully challenge you Sir you prove me wrong. Now, let’s say for the purposes of further clarity a person burns a house and gets away with it; Wasn’t a crime committed? How then will you refer to such a person?

    The word CRIMINAL has nothing at all to do with a conviction in a court of law; Its now in your hands to prove me wrong; Now I understand that you may have your reasons why you are cautious with your use of words and that’s alright its fine but I have my own sources also that have been providing me with evidences of the criminal activities of past and present government in Sierra Leone,the only place I am proud to call my home.(lol)

    Perhaps our illustrious Hon. Abdul Thomas just might to decide to engage me on this issue and It will be an honor for me to exchange ideas with him on this matter – I am ready when you are Sir.(lol)

    • Stargazer – let us not dwell on this. This is simple. If a crime has been committed, it is a matter for the police to investigate, arrest and charge the suspect(s) to court for the alleged crime. Until proven guilty by a court of law, you cannot label that individual(s) as criminal(s). If you do, you can be sued. Are we on the same page now? Thank you.

  5. It seems to us, some Sierra-Leonean public officials that are meant to serve our country, are always involved in corrupt practices that tarnish the image of our country. Back in the eighties when Major General Mohamed Buhari, took over the reins of government between 1983 to 1985, his deputy Major General Babatunde A. Idaigbon, who also doubled as the Chief of Staff of the Supreme military Council, was so alarmed about the bad press Nigeria was getting, from Fraudster, Drug runners, corruption, and all the ills that are associated with a mafia state, he set about to do something about it to improve the image of Nigeria to the eyes of the world. To outsiders Nigeria was corrupt and a failed state. These things don’t happen in the vacuum. Thanks to the activities of it citizens abroad, and corrupt government officials within Nigerian state itself.

    Indeed the the bad press Nigeria was receiving was caught in a famous quote, in which the visting British Prime Minister, Maggie Thacther was asked if she can assist to pressure the IMF to write off Nigeria debt burden? Thatcher the straight talker, told the Nigerian press, she can name Five Nigerian Billionaires, that can write off the country’s debt burden. More like she was telling Nigerians, the problems of Nigeria are created by Nigerians. Stop blaming outside forces. Major General Tunde Idaibong the best head of state Nigeria never had, made sure any Nigerian that commits a crime abroad, and is deported back to Nigeria after serving out their prison sentence, the Nigerian state will throw them in prison for dishonoring the name of the Nigerian state. Today our country, Sierra-leone is in a similar situation.

    Corruption, corruption, corruption. Thats all we hear about our country. Any corrupt diplomat found guilty of misappropriating public funds, should be ask to pay back the money, and send them to Mafanta in Magboruka, Tonkolili district to serve prison term. Pademba Road prison is too luxurious for these enemies of Sierra Leone. We now have people sent to serve our country in diplomatic capacity, bringing with them the cancer of corruption, the only thing it seems our country can boast of exporting. Make no mistake, Americans that like to sue you for anything or everything for compensation, will not stand for it.

  6. The Government of Sierra Leone , with cash in hand (U$4,000,000) would have simply sold that deathtrap at East 49th Street in Mid manhattan ages ago and with the proceed, add four Million dollars – today, Sierra Leone would be boasting of a fine, befitting establishment for a diplomatic mission to call our own with smile, rather than rent office space from the Uganda Mission to the United Nations. Anyway, where is the cash??!

  7. Continue the good work Mr Ben, we the youths of mama salone love you so much and God will guide and protect you Sir. Make the president’s dream come true.

  8. Oh-my-life!!! Ali Kabba and his cabal (ignore the pun) may be able to tell us about the $3m. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement is the most incomprehensible and pathetic anyone could make when unexpectedly cornered and exposed. Read this: “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.” Really? What a load of claptrap!!! Pay the money back then.

  9. Who wants to be a millionaire? Its quite easy folks all you would have to do is join the SLPP and they will teach you how to change figures with the greatest of ease possible without anyone ever getting caught – You see folks, its not rocket science or head scratching mathematics; The number 2 can easily be transformed to 12 and 9 can become 90 in a twinkle of an eye; And 10 also into 100; 100 a 1000, ad infinitum.(lol) Its quite easy that’s what the inept JJ Saffa has been doing since they assumed the reins of Power. Now again, 4 million dollars has gone missing vanished into thin air like a fart in the wind;What the hell is wrong this President?

    Four million dollars missing and they are only finding out now after they are being sued for gross negligence in a US court of law? Who is watching who in the New Direction Government? This is exactly what happens when a system of governance is flimsy, shoddy and without safeguards that ensure transparency; The Finance Minister is a disgrace, a creepy fellow that cannot deny that he knows nothing about this; 4 million dollars gone like a heavy downpour of rain that created floods and mudslides only to quietly disappear like it never happened when the sun appeared again.

    This nation of ours is cursed; They are stealing money to buy fancy cars and building dazzling Victorian mansions while their own brethren are sleeping hungry on the cold streets of Freetown. 4 million dollars? How many school teachers have earned that much in all the countless decades they have spent teaching? My Goodness! We are stuck, knee deep in corruption and rampant thefts.

  10. Shame shall be the promotion of fools; Those entrusted with the responsibility of enhancing the image of our country abroad have failed us miserably once again through their deceptive compulsive attitudes and malfeasant,get rich quick inclinations – Poverty is for the cowardly they say not knowing that utter humiliation will be their reward;It will await them in the end like a mother waiting for her child to return home from school. Goodness gracious! Everyone in Sierra Leone is a thief, scammer or a fraudster.

    Indeed,shame shall be the promotion of fools who went to school for nothing,men who think they can recklessly violate and trample on the rights of diligent people in faraway places like they have always been doing in Sierra Leone and get away without breaking a sweat. Those who filed a lawsuit against Sierra Leone for their attitudes of gross negligence that has exposed neighbours to mould,vermin and fire hazards need to be loudly applauded; Its a step in the right direction against a group of SLPP arrogant knuckleheads living in another imaginary world that believes in trampling on the rights of others just for fun. Disgraceful.

    Shame shall be the promotion of fools when the chickens come home to roost,when the cries of the lame blind beggars reaches the listening ears of God; For surely whenever the Rising Sun Rises Again we shall dressed them from head to toe in earnest with garments of shame. Another opportunity has come for the puppets in the ACC to dance to the tune of the man in State House – Another eerie moment of blame, of pointing of fingers,and feigning annoyance and PRESTO.

    • Stargazer – I have removed your use of the word criminal(s) to refer to those mentioned in your comments. Once again I strongly urge you to stop referring to those mentioned in your comments as criminals if they have not been found guilty of a crime in a court of law, otherwise your comments will not be published.

  11. Corruption. Corruption. Corruption. The Bio administration oozes it from every pore. It lives and breathes it with every fibre of its being. At home and abroad. And what is so unpardonable about this particular stench of corruption is its colossal soiling, battering of our country’s image abroad. It seems that those we have elected into office are not content with running the country into the ground within the confines of its national physical territorial space. No, they are hell bent on taking and have indeed taken their work of national self-demolition to the the acme of international and intergovernmental institutional governance itself – the UN, headquartered in New York, where our permanent representation, given the advanced state of delapidation into which its premises have fallen, must now be the laughing stock of other nations.

    The explanation given by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for this case of abject national self-humiliation is both obfuscatory and downright pathetic. For the Ministry to regain a modicum of credility, it should just tell us precisely when it was that the four million US dollars were released from our state coffers and who it was that had direct responsibility for putting the money to the use for which it was intended. Will Mr Kaifala, our Anti-Corruption Czar, find out where this particular bodies are buried and bring them up for shaming? Will the SLPP Government dare to wash its dirty linens in public by turning on some of its own people? Curiously, this scandal has erupted just a couple of weeks after Mr Alie Kabba’s departure from New York to Cairo. Has our former ambassador to the UN somehow fallen out of his party’s and government’s favour to the point of him being slowly but inexorably killed off politically?

    These are very interesting times indeed. Is Bio trying to remove all obstacles in his way as his next date – 2023 – with destiny draws nearer with every passing week? Assuming that Mr Kabba has had something to do with the alleged disappearance of funds allocated to giving the chancery a facelift, is he for that reason the most corrupt beast of them all? It seems to me that this whole affair is nothing more that the tip of an iceberg of corruption whose true dimensions and ramifications give it a distinct, unalterable shape -;that of a circle. The circle of corruption begins at State House, goes round every area of our national life including our foreign relations and winds its way back to its point of departure. Is Mr Kaifala aware that since assuming office, he has been investigating nothing more than the visible yet very negligible tip of an immeasurable and intimidating iceberg of a profoundly corrupt, collapsed state?

  12. Investigation indeed. Where is that of the first lady? Since it’s inception, nothing has happened and here is the same ACC telling us they have opened an investigation? Do you take us for fools or what?

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