Sierra Leone’s Covid-19 response is “ineffective but yet expensive operation” says audit report

Lawrence Williams: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 December 2020:

Sierra Leone’s Covid-19 audit report uncovers “massive” corruption in the management and utilisation of funds by the National Coronavirus Emergency Response Centre (NaCOVERC) and other Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. (Photo above – Head of NaCOVERC, Mr Solomon Jamiru).

The report highlights that the failure by the Strategic Leadership Team at NaCOVERC to develop a cohesive strategy to guide the overall national response to the pandemic, could have contributed to more infections and possible loss of lives.

The auditors established that during the height of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, (i.e. from April to August 2020), there was no well-developed and focused strategy to guide the national response to the pandemic, and as such, decisions relating to threat assessment, resources mobilisation, recruitment and training of skilled personnel, management of quarantined facilities, identification of primary and secondary contacts and caring for infected persons and their families could have been made on ad-hoc and subjective basis; in an uncoordinated and inconsistent manner, giving rise to inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the overall national response to the virus.

“This may have led to an ineffective but yet expensive operations to date. This state of affairs may have negatively impacted the fight against the COVID-19,” the report states.

The auditors blamed this sorry state of affairs on the Strategic Leadership Team who were paid allowances in excess of Le3.1 billion but could not develop a very important document in time.

“It was noted that Sierra Leone took about 126 days, from the date of the announcement of the indexed case on 31st March 2020 to the production of a response plan on 5th August 2020. On the other hand, the small West African state of The Gambia was able to produce a similar strategy within 71 days of announcing its first case,” the report states.

The report reveals how a Le651 million contract awarded to Speedwing Investment (SL) Ltd. for the procurement of thirty motorbikes for the Office of National Security was overpriced by Le276 million. This contract was awarded through Sole Sourcing. The auditors discovered that Speedwing Investment was not in the business of selling motorbikes but they were awarded the contract.

Examining the contract details and delivery note, the specification was for the procurement of KAM-125 motorbikes.

Speedwing Investment set the contract price of one unit (1 motorbike) at Le21.7 million. KAM Enterprises, the primary supplier of KAM-125 motorbikes, sells one KAM-125 motorbike for Le12.5 million. But they were never considered to be awarded such a contract, even though Speedwing Investment was to purchase the thirty motorbikes from KAM Enterprises. The auditors say that the award of this contract to Speedwing Investment is largely questionable and the contract price was “hugely inflated,” leading to the loss of Le276,060,000 to the State.

“The contract price of Le21,702,000 per unit was exceptionally expensive as discovered by the auditors. These same motorbikes could have been purchased for Le12,500,000, from the primary supplier – KAM Enterprises. As a result of such overpricing, the Government and people of Sierra Leone, may have lost the sum of Le276,060,000,” the Auditor General concluded.

The report also unearths massive corruption inherent in a Le20 billion contract signed between the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) and Anagkazo Ventures for the supply of 30 brand new assorted vehicles and 100 motorbikes (TVS-ZT-125 model) for and on behalf of NaCOVERC.

The auditors say that the decision taken by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation to engage Anagkazo Ventures as a middleman in this deal resulted in a total inflated price of Le3.2 billion.

They also discovered that two of the vehicles delivered were not brand new.

The report states: “With regard to the unit price of the motorbikes (TVS ZT-125 Model) of Le19,000,000, it was observed that the price was hugely inflated, as the same could have been purchased for Le 13,225,000 (including GST). This lack of due care by the MTA has led to the waste of Le 577,500,000 of public funds.

“In relation to the contract price of Le 16,261,000,000 for the 30 assorted vehicles, it was observed that the price was hugely inflated, as the same would have been purchased form CICA Motors (the official Toyota dealer in Sierra Leone) for Le13,596,725,516. This lack of due care by the MTA has led to a further loss of Le2,664,274,484 of public funds.”

The auditors also found out that the procurement of sixty motorbikes (KAM-125 model) totalling Le1.3 billion for the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) was overpriced by Le552,120,000. This contract was also awarded to Speedwing Investment using the Sole Sourcing method.

“With regard to the unit price of the motorbikes (KAM-125 model) of Le21,702,000, it was observed that the price was hugely inflated, as the same could have been purchased from the primary supplier (i.e. KAM 125 Enterprise), for Le12,500,000. This lack of due care by the RSLAF has led to the waste of Le 552,120,000 of public funds,” the editors stated.

The auditors noted the response provided by the Ministry of Defence. Though the latter claimed to have fully complied with the procurement rules and regulations, the auditors maintained that the evidence submitted by the Ministry was “inappropriate” and could not justify the overpricing of the contract.

It reads: “The Ministry also attached the price norm for the first quarter of 2020, together with letters between themselves and the supplier Speedwing Investment in relation to the GST payment. Following a review and verification of the above response to the draft audit report, and the supporting documents provided, the auditors concluded as follows: (a) The RSLAF did not provide evidence of a GST invoice and a receipt from NRA as evidence of the payment of GST collected by the supplier. There is a high risk that the government has lost GST revenue of Le169,841,739. The NRA is required to apply Section 110(1) of the Income Tax Act 2000. (b) The extract from the NPPA price norm that was submitted by the RSLAF is for a completely different module of motor bike, so it’s inappropriate evidence. The audit therefore concluded the overpriced amount of Le552,120,000 should be recovered by the MoD officers that approved this transaction.”

With regards the procurement of forty motorbikes valued Le868 million (KAM-125) for the Sierra Leone Police, the auditors had this to say: “The SLP was allocated Le868,080,000 to procure 40 motorbikes for the institution. It was noted that the unit price of the motorbikes as per contract was highly inflated, thereby resulting in the possible loss of public funds of Le368,080,000.”

Forty-seven laptops purchased by NaCOVERC at a cost of Le476 million and reported by the Auditor General as missing, have now turned up at the ACC after their intervention, though the true value of the laptops remains in doubt.

A 50KVA generator valued nearly Le200 million, donated by the Chinese Embassy, could not be traced for verification. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation claimed that this generator was transferred to the Zimmy Makpele Peripheral Health Unit, but the auditors discovered, on their visit to the said PHU, that the 50KVA generator was not there.

Another Timbergate – Government loses $5 billion

The Auditor General’s report (2019) reveals how government lost huge revenue on timber exports totalling five billion dollars. The report uncovers “massive fraud” in the valuation of timber products and lays bare the neglect of the legislative framework to be used in valuating timber products during the period under review. It makes it categorically clear that the wrong method of valuating timber products was applied in complete disregard of the provisions set out in the Finance (Amended) Act of 2018.

The auditors say the law provides for the use of cubic meters to determine the value of timber products and the levy to be charged on same prior to exportation. The auditors found out that this method of valuation, as provided in Section 3 of the Finance (Amended) Act of 2018, was completely ignored, and instead 20-feet shipping containers were now used as unit of measurement to determine the price or value of the products ready for export.

According to the report, the Ministry of Finance says the use of cubic meters, as provided by law, was an “error” in the Finance Act 2018, and that “error” will be corrected in the Finance Act of 2021.

The report states: “The method of valuation for timber products prior to exportation was not in accordance with Section 3 of the Finance (Amended) Act of 2018. Instead of using cubic meters as required by law, 20-feet shipping containers were used as unit of measurement. Based on the ASYCUDA data from the Customs Department, a total of 2,201,024.88 cubic meters valued at US$5.5billion was exported. Revenue of US$25.7 million was recorded in the GPFS, thereby leaving a difference of US$5.48 billion. According to the Ministry of Finance, the discrepancy is due to an error in the drafting of the Finance Act (Amended) of 2018, but the necessary correction will be done in the Finance Act of 2021.”

The ACC says it is investigating.

11 Comments

  1. Hahaha, it appears we have in our midsts individuals who happen to be suffering from a chronic ailment called schizophrenia—a condition characterized by a perpetual state of hallucination and delusional reasoning, coupled with an inconsistent or contradictory processing of events and a detachment from the reality. Contrary to delusional sentiments, the fact remains Ms. Lara Taylor Pearce has been the only auditor general since 2011, and her team have been employing the same parameters and metrics in performing their constitutional auditing task, year in, year out, regardless of the government of the day.

    Notwithstanding, the annual audit reports from this same team, has always served as a form of physical proof that massive corruption was taking place under the former president EBK, hence adding merit to the opposition cries along with those of the suffering masses. When Ebola struck, the same team produced a similar audit result, showing massive corruption as is the case now with the Covid-19. Despite the eventual defeat of the disease, did we ever hear any semblance of giving credit to those who were managing the Ebola funds other than their crucifixion for their corrupt practices?

    You know it is beyond pathetic to come to terms with how politics has decimated any iota of integrity and forthrightness among some of us. We stand on top of roof-tops, screaming as loud as we can in exposing our opponents when found wanting. However, the moment our own people are caught doing the same act, we suddenly take a 180 degree turn, lying and making up excuses for the same criminals. Let’s hope there will indeed be a judgement day from our creator. We will all one day give account!!

  2. I based my opinion about “Putting Down syndrome” because of the unfortunate headline of this article “Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response is ineffective but yet expensive operation”. The CDC which is the institution with the scientists and experts in handling this dreadful disease has raised the esteem of Sierra Leone to one of the highest in the world but the mindset of our average citizen believe that we are still worthless because of low self esteem.

    I personally believe that President Bio is well respected around the world based on the fact that within 2 years 6 months for the first time in history of our nation, he has produced the chairman of Anti Corruption in our region Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala, the first chairman of the bank Governors of ECOWAS who is now serving his 2nd term; Mr. Jacob Jusu Saffa( minister of finance), first Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament Mr. Sidi Yaya Tunis and recently the first judge to the International Criminal Court Judge Miatta Maria Samba for 10 years, and to crown everything we just won $400 million from the MCC.

    The credibility ratings which is paramount for any nation is the highest compared to worst 11 years of the distrustful APC misrule. Let’s continue to pray for our president and country instead of continuing putting ourselves down.

  3. There is an established pattern when it comes to procurement in the form of inflated pricing and sole sourcing which is against best practice with the aim of benefiting a few corrupt government officials and their cronies but robbing the people of Sierra Leone. If this is the change promised by the new direction government then they must be prepared for the consequences.

    I hope the ACC will look into all the discrepancies as soon as possible, and those found wanting brought to book. The reckless manner in which public officials handle government funds is a disgrace and a serious test case for the ACC.

  4. Alusine Fallay,

    Good analysis. Here is the point. Our country is so polarized along tribal and political lines that for the most part it is difficult to have a consensus on what is good or what is bad in our country. Folks cling to their tribe, their region and their party, which they believe are modes or sanctuaries for brutal survival. In the media world, with the exception of the Sierra Leone Telegraph and the Patriotic Vanguard, all news outlets in Sierra Leone toe a party or regional line. So, don’t expect certain folks to ever acknowledge anything good happening in Sierra Leone. Tellingly, the president has been roundly criticized for his frequent travels. But when those travels yield dividends by way of investments coming into the country, the perpetual pessimists scream from the roof tops that the country does not need those investments.

    Construction will soon start on the Lungi bridge, which is expected to create over five thousand jobs and Lungi airport is also going to be expanded into a modern international airport that meets international standards. That initiative is also going to create thousands of jobs. Are these two projects not foreign direct investments emanating from the president;s tireless negotiations with foreign investors? An interesting personal issue related with the expansion of the airport is that a friend of mine once traveled home via Ghana. When he returned to the States, he could not stop talking about the new Kotoka International airport in Accra. But now that his country has decided to do something similar in Lungi, this guy freaks out simply because he is APC.

    Lastly, critics of the government have not waited a minute to see the government’s response to the latest audit report. True, the report is damning. But it also has serious errors that supporters of the government can easily seize upon. For example, there is mention about the disappearance of $5 billion from a timber company. The question is, how can $5 billion be missing in any economy whose Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is only $4 billion?

    • Mr Levi Fofana, I certainly agree with Mr Fallay, that some of us Sierra Leoneans suffers from what he termed “PUTDOWN SYNDROME”. I am a proud Sierra Leonean who suffer from such ailment. My cure is tell Bio or any corrupt politicians to stop the corruption under his watch. Our country is rich on paper, but nothing to show for it. Look at our diabolical roads, our hospitals, our education system, our fire service, no electricity, clean water, our streets – then make your own judgement about what is the definition of development.

      Until we start to see serious changes in terms of commitment on the part of our elected leaders to stop this unchecked corruption under Bio, and the ones before him, our campaign for good governance, and holding those in power to account will continue. And we only have one weapon in our arsenal, and that is the weapon of truth. No tribal, no regional, or party affiliation. Forgive me for my cynicism, but its about time we Sierra Leoneans start to develop this disease of cynicism about what this government and previous governments promise us, but never get delivered. Maybe if we had question more since independence, our country will not be asking for help from international financial institutions just to meet our budgetary needs.

      May be for some of us when you say Sierra Leone you think Freetown. That the land mass of Sierra Leone starts from Lumley beach and ends at waterloo. And all developments taking place in the Freetown area like the new proposal for an airport expansion, and bridge at lungi, we in the North or South or East, should celebrate. Doesn’t make a difference for the life of a farmer in Pujehun or Kono. Notwithstanding, that Bio cancel a road construction that was approaching completion in my area in the North, Falaba to be precise, after he took office, that we should celebrate about this lofty promise that his government makes but never seem to bear fruition. Yes we should celebrate sound investment but not ones announced to bury a bad story like the audit report. May God bless the whole of Sierra-Leone.

  5. This is another Ebola missing funds written all over the audit report . The use of what can be called cover bidding by private suppliers, for government contracts, even though these companies are not in the business of supplying the items that government are seeking to source. More like acting like a middle man to secure the contracts, between the government, and real suppliers is written all over this audit report. To me its not only suspect, but verging on criminality by the companies named in this report. These companies should be investigated and if found guilty pay back every Leone to government coffers. And they should be black listed.

    Surely there most be a law against inflating prices for government tenders. The ACC should really look into this transaction and see if a financial crime against the state has been committed. This damming audit report highlighted how the body entrusted to deliver in the fight against Covid19, NACOVERC officials, have not only failed in their mandate to perform due diligence before they part with funds but the team have mismanaged a number of unexplained transactions, on motor bikes, vehicles, laptops, which include dubious over priced transactions. And one tread that seem to run in straight line, which I call the rule book of corrupt government officials has always remained the same.

    The tactics of stealing from the state, in their corrupt mind, the only thing that matters to them, is the means justify the end. And so it remains the same. A well rehearsed process of fleecing the government. And all this corruption is taking place on Bio’s watch. Corrupt government officials use financial irregularities, on tenders and procurement to over value products and pocket the difference. For example if a vaccine cost x amount, the government officials in charge of procurement will ensure the product is over priced so he will get his own cut. The effects of that, is government will not only over spend on this product twice the price but the budget earmarked for that service will deny other sectors much needed funds because government will not know which areas to prioritise.

  6. Solomon Jamiru and his team are just keeping up with the unconscionable corruption which pervades our nation. The inferno of their bravery and audacity is fanned by the knowledge that both Maada Bio and his ACC are clawless and toothless. On the surface they appear frightening but patriotic Sierra Leoneans have observed how quickly they are able to retreat because most of those caught in debilitating massive corruption are SLPP functionaries, including the Chief Minister who is on record lending support to corruption.

    Quite simply, Jamiru and his team saw their chance to steal from the dead and dying (“kasankay” money) when funds started pouring in to help with COVID -19. The precedents set by the previous APC government were not lost to them when Ebola and mudslide monetary aid disappeared, surfacing in the construction of mansions all over the place.

    To say the very least Sierra Leone is in a very sorry state, it has been for decades, starting from the end of the 1960s. It has been leaderless, providing the fertile environment for foreigners to take over our country, turning us to prostitutes of various description. Let us don’t lose the opportunity for a second time in 2023 to overhaul the system by handling the presidency to Dr Kandeh Yumkella, even if we deny NGC a majority in Parliament .

  7. I despair that we will never defeat corruption when I see a comment such as that given by Alusine Turay. According to him, an audit report done to international standards is “putting down” syndrome. I suppose his partisanship is doing the opposite? What has CDC got to do with proper use of funds? I wonder what he said when the Ebola report, or the transition report or the COI report or any previous audit reports came out. I’m sure he wasn’t praise singing the last president then.

    Before anyone mistake my point, APC partisans are just as bad. I doubt that their highlighting of all this corruption is out of true love of country. Rather their glee is that other people are being found out to be just as corrupt as them. Who loses if not the poor people of Sierra Leone? Not you reading or me writing here. The mere fact that we’re able to do so means we are not part of the people suffering materially from all this corruption. Yet all these politicians and their supporters from both parties all profess love for our land. Meanwhile, corruption continues unabated. As Samuel Johnson said ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” and we see this clearly manifested from both SLPP and APC.

  8. “ Nothing is hidden that won’t be exposed. Nor is anything concealed that won’t be made known and brought to the light—bible book of Luke 18:17”

    The current crop of criminal cabals who call themselves politicians might have reasoned all their dubious schemes and wicked acts will remain hidden under the cover of darkness. While front line health officials were risking their lives to fight against the dreadful convid-19, with many of them going unpaid for several months, the POAPA elitist were busy machinating schemes to syphon allocated resources meant to fight the disease.

    As was the case during the EBK regime with the Ebola funds, the safety of our citizens was no concern to these folks, rather, they lay more premium in making sure their loot is bigger, better, and monumental. Our poor nation is indeed doomed under the tyrannical rule of these savages, with those at the top competing with each other in looting and hauling away our meagre resources for personal gain. These greedy, selfish bunch will surely have their day of reckoning!

  9. The mindset of the average Sierra Leonean is the “Putting Down syndrome” Even when the most powerful nations of the world are suffering from this pandemic which has resulted to over 300,000 deaths in just the USA, Sierra Leone which is the poorest country in the world is on the verge of winning the fight against Covid-19 based on the fact that the CDC has officially declared our blessed nation under the leadership of the new direction government as one of the lowest risk in the world. I listened to radio 98.1 this morning when the Auditor General was interviewed and based on my analysis, there is tension between the NACOVERC who are still engaged in the process of fighting this dreadful disease which is not even a year old and the Auditor General’s office that supposed to conduct their audit next year.

    The ACC which has the mandate to question NACOVERC for any allegation has already received the laptop computers used for contacts, tracing and tabulation and vehicles and motorbikes (instead of boarding poda poda and walking ) through long and difficult terrains. The Auditor General’s impression was that probably, they have more respect for the ACC than her institution. I hope and pray that we continue to support the hard working workers who are still sacrificing their lives to save lives and livelihoods in our country rather than focusing on negativity which will demoralized them. Possibly, the destructive APC party supporters are disappointed that only 75 people have died in our country as compared to the thousands of lives lost during the Ebola disease under their watch, when most of the workers stole monies to built houses during the crisis.

    The APC supporters are still hoping and praying to see dead bodies in the streets of Freetown once again to show that President Bio is incapable of running the country. May the Almighty continue to bless President Bio and the entire NACOVERC team.

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