Sierra Leone’s Auditor General under attack

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.

8 Comments

  1. The present Auditor-General has shown that she is an officer of courage and commitment, determined to execute her constitutional and statutory duties without fear or favour. She works continually to promote high standards of accountability in the nation. These activities are important not only to meet donor and international expectations, but also to protect the interests of all citizens. So it is not surprising that she has been the subject of considerable pressures from those within and at the top of Government in carrying out her functions.

    Sierra Leone should be proud of this world-class professional and the way the audit function has been improved and upgraded under her leadership. She should be able to expect respectful treatment from the Press, and particularly that Press comments should be based on an informed perspective. The Press must do its job well and professionally.

  2. Yei Manga, on the contrary, seemingly you are guilty of sacrificing or trading off your analytical skills for partisan sentiments. Most of the time, you come up with brilliant arguments, however along the way they seem to be clouded in an entrenched regional indoctrination. It is unfortunate that the last paragraph of the article: “We will also provide details of audits carried out by independent firms appointed by Parliament to audit the ASSL” failed to prevent you from falling victim of this partisan, regional or tribal syndrome.

  3. Going through the responses to this article one would be tempted to ask as to why we have mortgaged our analytical skills to politics. The article states that on 09 April 2018, the president issued an executive order for all MDAs. The president was a week old in office. Within the same period the financial secretary wrote to all MDAs including Audit Service Sierra Leone to comply with the executive order.

    On 12 April 2018, the Audit General’s (AG) office sought advise from the solicitor General as to whether they should comply or remain unregulated. The Solicitor General advise that the AG’s office should be exempted. However, it failed to profer who should audit the AG’s office despite the huge sums of money allocated to that office and this is in addition to the fees that they collect when they are contracted by external institutions.

    The question is, why is the AG’s office against being audited by the Accountant General? If the AG’s office does not want to be audited why do they want to continue receiving monies from the consolidated funds? Why are some people (especially on this forum) insinuating that the president’s executive orders and the follow-ups done by the financial secretary in April 2018 (few weeks after the president came to power) has bearings on the audit report of 2019.

  4. Only a fool will fail to see that revelations by the Auditor-General which keep pointing to a systematic disregard for financial discipline in the Bio government have made the former one of worst enemies of the latter. If Auditor-General, Lara Taylor-Pearce, were willing to succumb and cooperate with the Bio’s skillful thieving machine, she would be their darling, their blue-eyed girl. Professionalism is increasingly frowned on by Bio and his team. “The new direction “ means perfecting ways to defraud the nation of millions of dollars and billions of Leones, be it through per diems or physically withdrawing monies from government institutions and making them disappear.

    It’s quite noticeable that since the tangential and unconscious teaming up of the Africanist Press and the office of the Auditor-General , Maada Bio has lost the way to Lungi Airport. His Chief Minister of “Chinagate” fame seems to have been cut to size; he recently tried to make a lame attempt to clear his name as a fraudster by way of our Telegraph. He couldn’t face a press conference in Freetown.

    It’s quite probable that Bio and his gang have come to the jolting realisation that they have many defectors-in-place amongst them whose unmitigated patriotism is forcing them to clandestinely pass on information to the Africanist Press and AG. Quite a conundrum for the SLPP government – isn’t it? wherever they turn these days something damning awaits them.

  5. “What is good for the goose must be good for the gander”. If issues like audit of government funds is raised, why ask a question? Why audit the office of Ambassadors (the Haj case)? If the job to fight corruption should be the same for every individual and institution then I rest my case.

  6. I would like to know whether because of its supposed independence,the audit service in Sierra Leone is allowed to audit itself.

  7. Let us stop the sugar coating of things and call it as it is. This memorandum by the Financial Secretary Sahr Jusu, threatening to cut off funding for Audit Service Sierra leone, and by extension frustrating or derailing the work of the Auditor General Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, goes to the heart of what is at stake in Sierra leone. When you hear Sierra Leoneans grumbling about the lack of development in the country, and there has been little progress since the 60s, look no further. It is not us the simple people that are the problem. It is some of our highly educated and decorated fellow Sierra Leoneans, that have undermined the development of our country.

    That goes to the heart of the matter. What you will find is that, the people who are determined to change the culture of chronic and unchecked corruption, in the institutions that are constitutionally set up for the purposes of delivering for everyone, are vilified publicly, and demonised by government appointed officials, who are answerable to no-one but the President. Under Bio, this is where you will find, the meaning of representative government completely turned on its head. The cost of his derilection of duty as the elected leader, people in the country are left to pick up the pieces, because the president failed to act in their interests.

    Sometimes you will find unelected officials who accidentally found themselves in power or appointed by the president, are constantly trying to undermine those very institutions that is meant to serve the interest of the general population. The president might have good intentions, but those people around him have a different agenda. Their devious ways are out of sync with Bio’s agenda. Even to the extent of going against the laws of the country as written in bold letters to satisfy their corrupt ways.

  8. Interesting revelations. One more reason to doubt this administrations purported fight against corruption, and the need for accountability from government officials. The only institution with independence and a reputable track record dating over a decade, treating all past administrations equally, is now under siege by a few criminal cabal, whose only motive is to enrich themselves, while almost 7 million individuals continue to suffer.

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