Lawrence Williams: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 March 2021:
The Auditor General of Sierra Leone has come under very serious attack from the Ministry of Finance. Investigation mounted by this author, reveal a consistent pattern in the Finance Ministry to exert “control” over the office of the Auditor General in order to strip away its independence and obliterate transparency and accountability in the public financial management realm of Sierra Leone.
On April 9 2018, President Julius Maada Bio issued Executive Order No.1 on Revenue Mobilization. This Order directed all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that generate revenue for government to transfer all monies into the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The implementation of the TSA was to be done in accordance with the provisions of the Financial Management and Control Act (FMCA).
Following the issuance of this order, the Financial Secretary (FS) in the Ministry of Finance (MoF), Sahr Jusu, wrote a Memorandum to Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) threatening to stop its funding/budgetary allocation should they fail to deposit retained audit fees into the TSA, even though the FS was not oblivious of the fact that the ASSL is not listed among agencies specified in the FMCA as revenue generation entities.
Soon after the receipt of this memo, the ASSL was to seek legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General.
It is important to note that the Audit Service Sierra Leone retains audit fees as mandated by law, for the purpose of enhancing its capacity to effectively carry out its functions.
The Solicitor General (SG) in that office responded, in a letter dated 12 April 2018, that the “objective of the Financial Management and Control Act is to enhance the effective management of government funds and to provide better oversight of revenue collecting agencies of Government.” The SG asserted that the ASSL was not affected by the fiscal control measures of Executive Order No.1 since it was not a revenue collecting agency as stated in the FMCA.
“Our conclusion is that the Audit Service Sierra Leone is not a revenue collecting agency of government and therefore Executive Order No.1 of 9th April 2018 on Revenue Mobilization does not apply to its operations,” the Solicitor General affirmed.
Following this concurrence issued by the Solicitor General, the ASSL further sought clarifications from the Office of the President, since the Executive Order No.1 had been issued under his authority.
A State House source who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that the Secretary to the President (SP) at that time, diligently inquired into the issue raised by the FS and advised him to abort any prepared sanctioned on the ASSL.
The SP’s letter to the FS seen by this press, dated 25th May 2018, deliberately asserts that: “Audit Service Sierra Leone, like any other Supreme Audit Institution is an independent institution as provided for in Section 119, Subsection 6 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone,” adding that: “The Auditor General therefore should have a higher pedestal of Independence than that accorded other agencies of Government and must be jealously guarded to promote and uphold the principles of transparency and accountability, which permits the Office to render impartial and unbiased judgements.”
The Secretary to the President strongly affirms, with the approval of His Excellency, that the ASSL should not be bound by the dictates of Executive Order No.1 due to the unique nature of public sector auditing, and reiterated that the “independence of the institution [ASSL] should be maintained at all times to ensure continued good standing in the Public Financial Management realm of Sierra Leone.”
It is important to also note that the FS was copied in all correspondence relating to this subject matter. So he is fully aware of the extent to which this issue had been exhausted by both the Office of the President and the Attorney General’s office.
Surprisingly, four months to the publication of the 2019 Audit Report and the Covid-19 Audit Report respectively, the FS wrote again to the Secretary to the President making “misleading comments” about the challenges faced by the ASSL and raising the issue of retained audit fees.
The FS strenuously tried to persuade and exert influence on the Government to consider stripping the ASSL of the lawful authority to retain audit fees which will eventually constrain its effectiveness in the discharge of its functions.
The FS also wrote back to the Attorney General seeking a legal opinion antithetical to the previous one issued by the same office on 12 April 2018.
The current Solicitor General, Mr. Lamin Tarawalley, is quoted to have said that: “Audit Service Sierra Leone is mandated by law to pay into the Consolidated Fund all revenues and monies generated and/or collected by them, effective immediately into the Consolidated Fund and the said fund can be audited by the Accountant General who controls the Consolidated Fund.”
Questions abound as to whether the Accountant General who is the controller of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) should audit the institution [ASSL] that audits its very use of the consolidated fund.
Right-thinking individuals in society have also raised pertinent concerns about the ulterior motive behind the Financial Secretary’s persistence on this issue, and whether the goal is to engineer the exit of the Auditor General or render the ASSL incapable of independently executing its constitutional mandate and to prevent an independent scrutiny of the CRF for the Financial Year ended 31st December 2020.
A close source at ASSL who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted or witch-hunted says “the about-turn by the Office of the Solicitor General illustrates a calculated effort to compromise the independence of ASSL through intimidation and attempts to control the mandate of the institution in all respect.”
In subsequent editions, this press will show how the Financial Secretary has embarrassed the Government to donor partners, by copying them into several correspondence on issues pertaining to the ASSL independence.
We will also provide details of audits carried out by independent firms appointed by Parliament to audit the ASSL.
About the author
Lawrence Williams is the editor of the Fritong Post Newspaper in Sierra Leone.