Sierra Leone’s ACC will investigate the Office of First Lady – past and present for corruption

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 February 2021:

After growing calls for Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate serious allegations of corruption involving the wife of the President of Sierra Leone – Mrs Fatima Bio, running into millions of dollars, today the ACC has issued a statement saying it has commenced an investigation.

But there is consternation in many quarters over the ACC’s decision to widen its terms of reference to include all former First Ladies, including the wife of former President Koroma.

There are also concerns the investigation may not personally include the holders of the Office of the First Lady but its administrative organ.

Some of the allegations against Mrs Bio, include claims that she received nearly Le30 billion Leones (almost US$3 million) of government funds in less than three years after the inauguration of her husband, Julius Maada Bio as president of Sierra Leone in May 2018.

“We revealed, in particular, that a total of Le7,890,755,000 (over US$789,000) that was disbursed from the country’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to the organization Hands Off Our Girls during the first six months of the Bio administration were instead all spent between June and December 2018, allegedly on office furniture, electronic equipment, fuel, travel tickets, and hotel accommodation costs for the First Lady’s foreign guests,” says the Africanist Press, who have collected and published a litany of documentary evidence to support their claims.

In a video broadcast issued on Monday January 18, 2021, First Lady Fatima Bio admitted to receiving state funds. However, she argued that the funds allocated to her organization Hands Off Our Girls, a program she says is intended to end child rape and gender-based violence in Sierra Leone, were used for “the intended purpose.”

This is what she said:

But despite her self-defence of allegations of impropriety, “evidence examined by the Africanist Press suggests that the First Lady is trading off young girls’ health and sexual vulnerability for her own profits,” the Africanist Press said.

“In a BBC interview on Thursday February 4, 2021, Madam Bio denied that she received direct public funds, stating that the Office of the President is responsible for the fiscal operations of her organization. But on January 18, 2021, the Africanist Press released bank statements from the Office of the First Lady that show direct disbursements of government funds to the First Lady. The Africanist Press reported that those funds – over US$800,000 – were allegedly used on furniture, event planning, hotel accommodation, and travel-related costs for foreign guests, and not the Hands off our Girls campaign.”

Listen to the BBC Report here:

These are some of the issues being raised by critics of the First Lady – Mrs Bio, which the ACC will also need to investigate and report on:

That the Office of the First Lady is not a properly constituted government agency.  And therefore, should not have received direct transfers from the national treasury.

That the First Lady’s Office wilfully circumvented the laws governing the procurement process by making multiple purchases to specific businesses like AA Enterprises for furniture repeatedly.  And as the Africanist Press has alleged, the office does the same in three consecutive years.

That while the office of the First Lady receives illegal monies to the tune that their closing balance was almost three-quarters of a million dollars ($740,000+), other Ministries like that of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs are left in the red without adequate funds.

This is the statement issued today by the ACC:

“The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wishes to inform the general public that its attention had been drawn to reports in the Auditor-General’s Report 2019 and various releases on traditional and social media on issues of budgetary allocations and expenditures of funds relating to the Office of the First Lady of Sierra Leone.

“The Commission wishes it to be known that it had commenced full and comprehensive probe into the Office of the First Lady, past and present, dealing with matters of budgetary justifications for allocations and expenditures of State funds to that entity and the legal and regulatory framework, if any, for them.

“Preliminary findings show that the entity known as “Office of First Lady” had been receiving Billions of Leones of State funds yearly, spanning 14 years to date – and most of the payments were either directly made to the holders of that office or channelled, through the Presidency, as normal presidential official expenditure signed-off on by respective Secretaries to the President.

“We are similarly reviewing Section 39 of the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 which gives the State, authority to expend State funds to unallocated Head(s) of expenditure to a certain threshold, to “necessary” public cause(s), and whether such threshold was used and/or breached in making payments such as the ones under review, over the years.

“We are therefore at the stage of collecting and analyzing records of accounts, official approval documents and any legal or regulatory framework around such payments; and the conclusions reached will assist in determining progress on the issue. We will also interview persons of interest in that regard, where necessary. We shall keep the public fully informed on our findings, conclusions and next steps.”

Reactions to the ACC announcement have been quite wide ranging. Many are of the opinion that the ACC is right to commence investigations on all present and former First Ladies of Sierra Leone. But others disagree.

“I have read the ACC Press release which to me is like another defence strategy to exonerate the First Lady. ACC in it’s press release stated that they have gathered evidence spanning 14 years about the office of the First Lady. ACC is only coming up with this at a time when the current First Lady has been brought to public scrutiny. So ACC is now trying to tell us that the Office of First Lady had been receiving monies from the CRF for the past 14 years.

“Why is the ACC shifting the goal post? If the ACC had got wind of this before, why didn’t they do an investigation before this time? Could this be a strategy to build defence on behalf of the current First Lady or what? I thought issues of corruption concerning the previous government had been dealt with by this current government.

“Why open another issue just because this current government is under scrutiny? What about the issue of the Stolen Chinese rice which the ACC discontinued on flimsy excuse? Does the ACC Boss want us to believe that his release only came out because of the statement made by the US Ambassador? Is this not the same thing the US Ambassador said during her interview with 98.1 that the ACC is only targeting members of the previous government? ACC needs to go back to the drawing board.

“And the ACC is talking of 14 years investigation. Why not do an investigation for the past 30 years about the said office, if they want to be seen doing an independent job?”

Nigerian media have responded to claims by Mrs Bio that the wife of the Nigerian President is receiving tens of millions of dollars from the public purse every year. This is what one of Nigeria’s satirical presenter said:

13 Comments

  1. I suggest that God be kept out of these allegations! The British Government handed over “STANDING ORDERS” to recipient SL Government. Sustained compliances with these would have saved us from these other disgraceful quagmires – historical and continuing – these should be reinstated and practised. If Sierra Leone Police had not been politicised to the extent of a former IG being murdered allegedly on the whims and caprices of the then Head of State, current allegations of misappropriation should be investigated by its in-house CID (Criminal Investigations Department) – not a politicised ACC with its current puerile, obtuse and naïve diversionary “cover-up” tactics.

    The current SL ACC lacks credibility because it had not been responding to all adverse SL National Audit Reports as well – lots of financial misappropriation “meat” during the NPRC 1 and NPRC 2 periods. I request THE ACC to please respond. Seton During, London, UK.

  2. Peter Dauda, some of us are not sentinental when it comes to our country of birth. I for one, have every reason to support both Ernest Bai Koroma and Maada Bio but I never wanted to be caught up in a vicious cycle. All Sierra Leone Governments since Sir Milton Margai, have been accused of being corrupt in one way or the other, hence our perennial economic malaise and bottom-ten ranking in the annual Human Development Index, even propping up neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. “That Holier than thou” does not cut it. The present president should be careful not to have the dubious distinction of having illegally taken our national cookies from two different jars- the NPRC and SLPP.

    My greatest worry with all these corruption accusations is that, the present cohort of state actors could be more adept and nimble than their predecessors at stashing and laundering their loot and ill-gotten wealth in opaque offshore accounts and in foreign Real Estate that will not be accessible to any future pro-active ACC Commissioner. The present Commissioner seems to have passed his peak and is now indulging in whataboutism in shielding the SLPP Government from the tsunami of graft sweeping them away in choppy waters. “First Lady Fatima Bio is corrupt? What about former First Lady Sia Koroma?”

    May I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Chernor Bah and the Editor of this Newspaper for their principled approach to Sierra Leonean issues. I have followed them all these years and I am yet to see any nuancing, flinching or shifting in their stances or positions on National Issues; values I share and cherish in any patriotic Sierra Leonean. Chernor Bah was the darling of the SLPP and nemesis of the APC when the political parties were in opposition and Government respectively. How things have changed. Things have gone full circle.

    • Yeah. On the defending angle and responding with firmity and guts. The former First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone was not corrupt in any shape or form whatsoever. I expect everyone to understand the word corruption. To even mention her name on the reckless mismanagement and bogus financial scandal concerning the present First Lady Fatima Bio is unacceptable and liable to debate on this glorious platform. The former First lady Sia Koroma is living in Sierra Leone after she left as a respected First Lady. Another First Lady is preparing her runaway exit after we kick the Bio SLPP kakistocracy’s butts out of power in 2023. A word for a wise is quite sufficient or bring it on. God bless one of Sierra Leone’s best and most respected First Lady ever, Sia Koroma. “Waiting dem mean”?.

  3. Gentlemen – on this 11th day of February 2021 I have come to the conclusion after a long night immersed in deliberate and careful thought that it will be the patriotic,and appropriate thing to do to now call on the African Union to use the far-reaching superior authorities vested on them by millions of our people languishing in abject poverty to rescind their ill-advised decision to elect Mr Ben Kaifala to the highly influential African Union Advisory board on Corruption. Such a man of questionable character doesn’t deserve such honor.

    Is the African Union aware that their new appointee is a man that flip flops on critical issues regarding the well being of our struggling people?Are they informed that he is nothing but a puppet dangling on a string that promotes mistrust and suspicions in Sierra Leone,my only home?And strangely as if this man has not wrecked enough havoc already here in Sierra Leone now you out of touch people are anxiously trying to spread his wrongdoings,grievous failures and misdeeds like an infectious plague across our beautiful African continent? Somethings really wrong with the AU,you better check yourself before you wreck our beautiful continent,and transform it recklessly into a vast barren desert consisting only of huge piles of worthless sand dunes that is of not use to anyone through your eerie poor sense of judgment.How long must we endure the notorious ACC’s indiscretions and incompetence?

    Folks,we have a very serious problem in our hands to deal with – The criminal SLPP cabal has now become a complete, miserable failure.How sad,a heart that knows not the true meaning of diligence,love of country,empathy,equity and equanimity. Sierra Leone we have a huge daunting challenge in our hands to deal with.Someone do something! How long must our struggling millions continue to wait in vain,in perpetual pain for the green foliage that sparkles after a night of overwhelming,unending rainfall to appear? The ACC has no amount of credibility whatsoever – its is a flimsy, superficial organization that dangles and supports itself imprudently on structures resembling the thinnest strands of hairs your gentle eyes will ever see. Fraudsters that’s who they are,that keep on bending the rules of the game – throw the truth in their faces,and they will throw their criminal play book back at you.(lmao)

  4. In the midst of the overwhelming physical evidence provided by the Africanist press which includes: funds transfer from the consolidated account directly to the first lady’s bank account, cash retrieval statements, foreign entities payment vouchers, and a host of other expenditures undertaken by the office of the first lady, all running into millions of dollars in record time, every patriotic Sierra Leonean, who have the country at heart, should be celebrating the exemplary journalistic job the folks at the Africanist press, specifically the lead editor Mr. Bah, for his heroic actions. With the undisputed physical evidence right in the open, being circulated across the social media, brainwashed, delusional PAOPA supporters, who have long been screaming and demanding for the heads of former corrupt officials, have now been caught pants down, doing everything to hide their hypocrisy, while deceptively downplaying the heinous corrupt acts by their political masters.

    In regards to the ACC coming out with a statement vowing to investigate former first lady if they are to investigate the overwhelming corruption practices of the current first lady, this goes to cement the already known operational mantra of the current leadership at ACC — to serve as a law firm to defend any current regime official caught stealing from our impoverished nation, while persecuting opposition figures and citizens with no connections or affiliations with the current regime. Like the chief minister’s 1.5 million dollars saga, the 2018 audit report, the 50,000 stolen Chinese rice, the 2019 audit report, and now the colossal amount of monies the first lady is accused of siphoning in record time, don’t expect any regime official being held accountable.

    Mr. Ben Kaifala will never go that route to persecute those who have ascended him to his now opulent lifestyle. Has anyone forgotten the recent announcement of Mr. Ben Kaifala attaining a second job at the African Union, after president Bio nominated him and successfully lobbied for his selection? So if you think Mr. Ben Kaifala will shoot himself on the foot, you are mistaken. The current crop of PAOPA officials are nothing but a MAFIA organization, serving each other’s interest at the detriment of the suffering masses.

  5. Donald Trump lost the electorate when he embarked on destructive social media fight with everyone and anyone. Despite several things he did to put the USA economy in better shape, it took one pandemic, to throw those successes to the Dustin. Fatima Bio has been warned several times to back off from engaging critics of her husband in social media. In the end she has made more enemies than friends through her combatant use of social media. aNow a single report about her office receiving less than a million dollar for the”Launch of her project – Hands of our girls”. Although the findings did not say that she pocketed a penny of the money for her personal use, but the many enemies she has made are going for her jugular.

    The findings said that the money was used to buy office furniture, equipment, computers, event organising, flight fees and hotel accommodation for her fellow first ladies. Had she been a likeable first lady, many would have come to her defence, because she did not personally convert the money to her own use and benefit. Taking a nonpartisan view on this drama, one would be tempted to say that the it is the Minister of Finance that should be grilled for breaching financial rules to allocate funds directly to an office that is not stipulated for in the constitution. The office of the first lady is under the office of the president. Funds for projects run by the first lady’s office she come from the funds allocated to the office of the president.

    Sia Koroma received funds for projects she ran but it came from the president office. Further one would like to ask as to whether or not there was a specific list for which the money they allocated for the hands of our girls was to be used? Was it to launch the program, was it to build offices or what. If there was none, the first lady is said to have used the money to plan the event, invite high powered women who came with their aides, pay for their flight, accomodation and feedings. There is no dispute that these did not happened. As we go for the jugular of this loose cannon in a naïve first lady, I hope that the ACC investigation would shed light on what the intended purpose was for the almost eight Hundred thousands dollars that has become an abbatoire around the neck for the previously combatant first lady.

    • Oh my God!! Aminata conteh, I wish Sierra Leone does not have two of your type but sadly you guys are out there in thousands. No wonder the country is going through this mess. Imagine if you’re put in charge of a public office, how your lack of knowledge to comprehend simple sentence outlined in any of your company or office documents can sink that said office. You will no doubt do worst (than the current first lady). It is one thing to write opinion these days but also another thing to show the world how precious would it be for one to save his or her integrity. Your lack of knowledge to the current issue at hand is preposterous!!! Just by looking at the enormous evidence at hand no sane individual would defend Mrs Fatima Bio on this one.

    • Mr. Sulaiman S. Jalloh surely we are out there in thousands! By the way Ms. Aminata Conteh is only trying to say that the first Lady could have had many sympathiasers by now, had it not been that… It however seems that you are so biased that you cannot comprehend her thoughts.

  6. Personally after watching video clip # 3, I have concluded that “Behind every SUCCESSFUL MAN, there is a STRONG WOMAN”. I personally believe that, currently our country is finally RESPECTED around the world (as compared to the past 11 years of APC party misrule) because of the moral and social programs of the Fight against corruption, Free quality education and “Hands of our girls”. First Lady Fatima Bio always remind me of former First Ladies Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama based on the fact that the opposition party hated them with passion because they were the strength behind their successful husbands. They were passionate about using their dreams to transform the lives of their citizens through the platform of the Office Of the First Lady, which is formally located in the East wing of the White House opposite of office of the president.

    Allegations about corruption against our First Lady is ludicrous based on the fact that even in the USA, the programs of the First Lady (FLOTUS) is funded by the federal government, but because Sierra Leone economy is mostly cash based, money transactions are different especially in the towns and villages that are involved in her program. As a layman of the constitution of Sierra Leone which was written under the one party dictatorship of the destructive APC party, the power of the office of the president is a combination of the power of the President of the USA, the Queen of Great Britain and the Lifetime Chairman of China communist party. That was the reason why Comrade Ernest Koroma rejected the constitutional review of the late justice Cowan based on the fact that the president enjoys executive privilege.

    I personally believe that the destructive APC party has failed to make our country ungovernable and they are using propaganda to avoid paying back the looted monies recommended by the COI and White Paper. If they have credible whistle blower within the institutions, they need to inform the Members of parliament to address the issue instead of using social media to sway public opinion in a country where most people can’t even read or write. I hope and pray that the ACC commissioner will thoroughly investigate the past and present Office of the First Lady based on video clip # 3.
    The links below will help demonstrate the similarities of former First Lady Michelle Obama and our Beautiful First “Iron” Lady Fatima Bio and how opposition is doing whatever it takes to destroy them due to the hatred and jealousy:
    https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2017/01/02/review-top-10-flotus-let%25E2%2580%2599s-move-moments
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/17/us/politics/michelle-obama-school-nutrition-trump.html

  7. When Bio was campaigning for the presidency, he promised he will fight corruption. Not long ago on this forum, I cautioned our first Lady Mrs Fatima Bio, from getting into the nitty-gritty of our politics. It is not for the fainthearted; that she should just continue with her charitable work and leave the running of the affairs of the state to Bio, the elected leader. No one hates Bio, as you seem to suggest in your video, we just want him to do the right thing for our country. We want him to succeed. At the moment he is implementing the wrong misguided policies that has only exacerbated poverty in the country. Throughout the history of the African continent and other places around the world, first ladies who hijack their husbands’ presidency, have always ended in tears. Mrs Simone E. Gbagbo, Ivory Coast, Nancy Doe Liberia, Suzanne Mubarak Egypt, Grace Mugabe and Imelda Marcus of the Philippines. Just to name few.

    Throughout the Stevens, Momoh, Strasser, Kabbah and EBK, the idea of the first ladies drawing attention to themselves by going to slanging matches with the press was unthinkable. Their presence in State House as the first lady, was like their absence. The way you come across, is like you are running the country. The question then becomes which is which? We cannot have two Presidents running the country. Taking a back seat and leaving Bio to be president for all Sierra Leoneans, is the best support you can give to our president. He was the SLPP candidate and flag bearer, not Mrs Fatima Bio. If you continue on this path of making your case against these corruption allegations in the court of public, will not only damage you, but Bio himself.

    First ladies who exhibit this sort of behaviour will do more harm to the presidency. Now you are creating more enemies in the West African region by naming Aisha Buhari and other first ladies in our rough and tumble local politics of Sierra Leone. President Buhari is from the ruling All Progressive Congress not the All People’s Congress in case you are confusing the two. Your actions might be seen as a desperate attempt to divert the attention of the ACC and tbose alleged misuse of public funds. Now the first lady of Nigeria or any first lady do not want to be dragged into the investigation of corruption in Sierra Leone. If I were you, I will be asking for legal advice, because any of the first ladies you named might sue you for libel and defamation. Also, picking a fight with investigative journalists is the wrong move.

  8. The ACC has got itself in to a quagmire with their press release which was meant to focus on the audit report and the allegations made by the Africanist press. Whether or not former first ladies have been receiving funds from the CRF it is important that clear procedures are in place going forward and the ACC should be careful otherwise it will lose its credibility if partisan interests are allowed to supersede financial probity.

    I have no sympathy for the first lady who has chosen a path of self destruct and defending herself in the manner she does makes mockery of the Presidency. Spending this sort of money for a publicity stunt when the actual victims remain vulnerable due to poverty is mind blowing. The people of Sierra Leone have elected a leader who is yet to show leadership is not in control failed to deliver on the change that was promised.

  9. It seems like the APC likes cutting their noses to spite their faces. No surprises there then when we all expect corruption to fight back when under attack.

  10. It will be wise for the embattled ACC boss and his advisers to start investigating all former First Ladies since the NPRC I and II Junta years. Why should the former respected First Lady of Sierra Leone be investigated, because the present First Lady Fatima Bio failed to account for huge sums of money stolen from the consolidated funds? That’s the behavior of corrupt broke individuals. Why now Mr ACC boss? This tells me that the ACC has become one of the most corrupt departments in Sierra Leone. The mentality of the present ACC organization is the most ridiculous in terms of corruption investigations in the entire world in my view.

    First Lady Fatima Bio was involved in a squandering scandal. She must be investigated and if convicted be sent to jail. She must be treated like any other corrupt public office holder. Why try to cover up the corruption scandal and mess of the present First Lady Fatima Bio by dragging the former respected First lady into the excellent mess? If you want to drag one of our most respected First Ladies in history into a kangaroo investigation, because the present First Lady Fatima Bio has been cornered in a fraudulent financial mess, you will be making a SAD judgement. God bless all our former First Ladies, because of their love for country and never thought of running away to a second country if their husbands lose re-election. Amen and Amen. TBC.

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