The 2020 Audit Report: Travelgate, embassygate, fiscal indiscipline and the known unknowns

Hon. Kandeh K. Yumkella, Ph.D.: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 December 2021:

They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…I have fought the good fight, I have finished my race, I have kept the faith”. (2 Timothy 4:7).

On 14 December 2021, Parliament received the Auditor-General’s report on the accounts of Sierra Leone 2020 and a report titled “Auditor-General’s Report on the Audit of the Sierra Leone Embassies and High Commissions in Africa for the period 2011-2020.”

The next day, Hon Hassan Sesay (Constituency 050) and I gave notice of motion for a debate of the report and hopefully all the other reports that have never been debated in Parliament. As happened with the 2018 and 2019 audits, we may never be allowed to debate the 2020 audit in clear breach of the provisions of subsection 5 of section 119 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, which states that “Parliament shall debate the report of the Auditor-General and appoint where necessary in the public interest a committee to deal with any matters arising therefrom.” There are many reasons why we must debate the 2020 audit report.

Which Audit Report?

The findings in the current 2020 reports are appalling and demonstrate systematic, crude and flagrant thievery. It also shows poor compliance with established laws, rules and practices, as well as a lack of accountability and transparency and questionable use of taxpayer monies.

A few days later, we read in the Africanist Press (AP) that critical information in the report received in Parliament was missing. This raises some immediate concerns.

First, who prepared the report we received? The best practice in auditing is that the auditor(s) who prepared a report should sign it so that they are accountable for the veracity and integrity of the information presented.

Second, if alterations were made, who made the alterations and why? Our current Fifth Parliament must investigate any allegation of modifications to the document and take appropriate action if this is the case.

Last week, instead of shinning the light on the latter, some in Parliament called for the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate the Audit Service Sierra Leone. Let me be clear – such a request is an insult to the collective intelligence of all Sierra Leoneans. We deserve to know the truth about the stewardship of our resources. We need to know the truth to get to the bottom of the decadence, charade, and blatant irresponsibility that is pervasive.

The Fox and Chickens

Most pundits have missed the point that some of the most blatant abuses of the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act 2016 were committed by the Ministry of Finance. A close examination of pages 262 to 271 of the 2020 audit report provides a litany of evidence on the lack of fiscal transparency, prudence, and the total absence of a sense of responsibility. This includes spending billions above what Parliament approved, non-substantiated procurement processes, lack of receipts, ghost workers, among others. This is like asking the fox to watch over the chickens, or do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do. One colleague said to me, “unless the President acts fast, this government will be remembered as “Talk and Chop.”

Here are some examples from only the Ministry of Finance:

• The Ministry of Finance spent almost double the amount approved/appropriated by Parliament for its operations. The amount budgeted for the recurrent and capital expenditure for the Ministry for FY2020 was Le 164 billion and the amount spent was Le 271 billion. Is it not against the provisions of section 112-114 of the Constitution? Is it legal for anyone/institution to spend funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund without Parliament’s approval? If any institution can spend double its approved allocation, then what is the use of a parliamentary appropriations process.

• Paragraphs 3.1.1 to 3.1.4 lists several withdrawals from the Ministry’s imprest Account without internal payment vouchers and supporting documents of almost Le 10 billion.

• Paragraph 3.1.6 limitless petty cash where an aggregate of Le 4.1 billion was spent from a petty cash account that is supposed to have a limit of Le100 million. The Ministry insists that there is no limit to their use of petty cash.

• Payment splitting of cheques paid to the same institution on the same day for the same services.

• Paragraph 3.1.8 sole-sourcing of hundreds of millions without minutes of negotiations or report of the procurement committee.

• Paragraph 3.1.10 Budget overrun of Le106 billion in the Ministry of Finance.

Travelgate

A review of the report on Travelgate will leave you in disbelief. Hundreds of thousands of US dollars were physically airlifted to ostensibly pay bills (which were allegedly never paid). Then there is what I call an innovation – falsification of hotel receipts by the Office of the President for the President’s hotel stay. Take a minute to wrap your head or mind around what you have just read. We know the President does not book tickets or pay hotels bills.

To demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy on corruption on these specific issues related to Travelgate, the President should immediately suspend the officers concerned while ACC investigates. In fact, it has been alleged that several other hotel bills were falsified. Mr. President must immediately clean house; heads should roll. People should resign now.

Responsibility of Parliament

It is already bad enough that for four years, we have not debated the Auditor General’s reports in contravention of section 119(5) of the 1991 constitution. It is terrible that the Auditor General is unceremoniously suspended ultra vires and we did not ask questions.

Concerning the latter, we expect Parliament will conduct an independent investigation because ultimately, only Parliament can remove the Auditor General by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

On the broader issue of holding the government accountable and supporting the fight against corruption, the ball is now in our court. Through its oversight responsibilities, Parliament can help stop these continuous malpractices and abuses by organized syndicates in MDAs and subvented agencies.

The report has been laid in Parliament, so what? Will we examine it? Will we openly and adequately debate the report and subpoena witnesses and documents with the powers and authority of a high court bestowed on us by subsection 6 of section 93? There are known facts in the report.

The Known Unknowns

But there are many things we know we do not know yet. Some critical known-unknowns people have sent me include the following:

1. Who manages the President’s travel, the Chief Minister, or the Secretary to President? Who knows what and when did they know it?

2. Who cleared the fake receipts for submission to an official audit?

3. How long has this been going on? How many of the 60-80 trip receipts were falsified?

4. How much money may have disappeared in the past four years? If the average falsification is $150-200 thousand per trip (based on this case study of the Lebanon trip), then for 60-80 trips, the range is $6 million to $16 million may have been embezzled.

5. Who directly managed this egregious corruption Travelgate account for the four years between 2018-2020?

6. When will the President make a statement to the public given that this is his flagship fight against corruption or suspend the offenders until investigations are done as he has done with the Auditors?

7. Will the tribunal set up to investigate the Auditor-General and one of her deputies be a Kangaroo Court? Who ascertains their neutrality, impartiality, and credibility to deliver justice?

8. What did the President know and when did he know it?

We, the political leaders, must not renege on our responsibilities to hold the government accountable. If we do, the citizens will not forget or forgive how we aided and abetted corruption by deliberate negligence. May the Almighty save us from their wrath.

As the Quran exalts us in (4:135) Believers! Be upholders of justice, (164) and bearers of witness to truth for the sake of Allah, (165) even though it may either be against yourselves or against your parents and kinsmen, or the rich or the poor: for Allah is more concerned with their well-being than you are. Do not, then, follow your own desires lest you keep away from justice. If you twist or turn away from (the truth), know that Allah is well aware of all that you do.

5 Comments

  1. Dr Yumukella knows what he is talking about. The best president Sierra Leone never had. When it comes to choosing our political leaders, Sierra-leoneans are not looking for a saviours, that will change the direction of travel for our country, but rather a saver that is competent of misappropriating public funds for their own private use. Seems to me running for the office of the president, is the only box you need to tick to qualify for being the flag bearer of your political party . Dr Yumukella is a different breed. He spent the best part of his life working for international organisations. So his experience in running large international organisation, and his connections to this bodies, should have made him the flag bearer of any political party in Sierra Leone that wants to cater for our peoples needs and finally lay the foundation stone for national development.

    This international organisations, are no different from how countries are govern. Whether is the UN or IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank, other development partners, the same structures and rules of which they operate. Compliance, transparency and accountability is the yard stick used by this organisations, to deliver goods to the intended targets and work out where the short falls are, and plan for feature unseen disasters like when Mudslides, Ebola and now covid19 hits our country. The job of the auditors is to keep this organisations and public bodies work hand in glove, and ensure governments are meeting their development targets for the people. Asking the difficult questions from both public and private organisations. The job of the auditors is to audit. Unless of course you happens to be a Sierra Leonean auditor.

    Because of the high level of corruption in the Bio government and the political polarisation stalking the country, even the auditors like independent minded Mrs Taylor, can’t escape the political name calling or tagging that goes with the job, even if one tried to be independent of all political affiliations. Unlike most politicians, the reason why Dr Yumukella can speak his mind freely without worrying about Bio’s vendettas politics, is because he is highly respected both in side and outside of Sierra Leone. His record speaks for itself. Working with international organisations have given him the free pass, to high light the misdemeanours of Bio and his one directionless government. Why on earth is Dr Yumukella not the president of Sierra Leone, is beyond all right thinking people. The only explanation might be we don’t want our country to develop. Period. I wish all readers and contributors on this Sierra Leone telegraph forum a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  2. Bob Massalay, I am with you to the hilt. “Indeed “MCC my foot “. Whatever credibility they had has been lost. The premise on which they stood is in shambles, the raw , irrefutable evidence has ensured this; their blue eye boy (Bio) has starkly revealed the inefficiency inherent in their judgment. They took the people of Sierra Leone for fools contrary to reality. The Auditor-General, Lara Taylor- Pearce (she’s still the Auditor-General, she has not been sacked) should be one person to emphatically tell the true story of who we are, although we tend to behave as if we are mentally retarded by not kicking both SLPP and APC out.

    In Dr Yomkella Sierra Leone still has a life line and hope for a new lease on life. This article by him shows a man who has grasped the enormity of the problems which the country faces. The entire Bio government stinks of corruption that’s unconscionable, which is why they are fighting for the true story not to hit the public domain; they see Dr Yomkella as a stumbling block that’s immovable. This stumbling block is synonymous with the booster rocket which the nation needs to push it away from the murderous and stifling orbit of SLPP and APC. Unless this happens we will have switched off the only life support left.

    Earnest Koroma arrived with the idea of “running the country like a business”. What he failed to tell us was that much of the proceeds would end up in his and his gang’s pockets. Bio burst on the scene with his “new direction” slogan. He awfully failed to tell us that everything would be steered into his and his outlaws’ pockets. More than ever before Kandeh Yomkella is the man we should send to State House, or we might as well dig our own graves.

  3. It is becoming increasingly clear why President Bio has moved against Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Deputy. It is a calculated move, aimed at burying what can only be an unflattering account of the President’s stewardship of our country’s wherewithal. Indeed, that stewardship from what we can glean from Honourable Yumkella’s reading of what in all likelihood is a redacted version of the Auditor General’s report, has been an utterly scandalous one. And the stewardship has a name: SQUANDERGATE WRIT LARGE.

    Incomplete though the report may be, the egregious levels of fraudulent transactions mentioned in it and perpetrated by an office occupied by someone who of all people is considered to be the fountain of honour and justice, warrant without doubt an immediate declaration of a state of emergency. This is because the scale of the malfeasance described in the report is akin to our country being at war – internecine or external – or to its being the ill-fated victim of a disaster, natural or man-made, be it an epidemic, a pandemic, a mudslide, a flood or an inferno. Bio’s administration is a real threat to our country and, somehow, a way must be found to steer us through the financial and economic disaster it has created. The ACC which has been weaponised, targeting mainly the President and his party.’s political opponents, cannot be trusted to conduct an independent investigation into the government’s (including the presidency’s) colossal misuse of our poor and struggling nation’s resources.

    Does Parliament as it is currently constituted have the ability, courage and willingness to hold Bio and his administration to account? And in all honesty, is large-scale corruption in the highest reaches of governance not a treasonable act? If so, do perpetrators of the act not deserve life or long-term imprisonments at the very least, now that the death penalty has been abolished? If the presidency were prosecuted and found guilty, would our Constitution allow the occupant of that office to be impeached? Legal luminaries we have in this forum please step in and shed light on the possibility of banishing Bio to the political doldrums on grounds of his transforming himself and the office he holds into a den of malfeasance – a fountain of dishonour and injustice.
    .

  4. No wonder that country is toast. Sierra Leone is ever stuck or hovering around last seven and even propping up her next door neighbours, Guinea and Liberia– in the yearly Human Development Index. We are stuffed with outright hypocrites. What a vicious cycle. What a merciless race to the bottom of the pile with the pot and kettle name-calling each other black ad finitum.

    The question is: who has got what it takes to squeaky-clean the stable or rescue us from the perennial wretched cleaners?

    Are tire sef! MCC my foot!

  5. I thought the Audit Report which has been laid in parliament should first be debated and if there are any corruption allegations forwarded to the ACC for investigation. It seems like Kandeh Yumkella who supposed to be part of the process has already made a conclusion before the start of the process. It’s now pretty obvious why the Auditor General and her deputy are now facing a Tribunal for professional misconducts. Harassing President Bio on his sick bed is also unethical. Now it is now understandable why the United States MCC program has been rating our country highly in recent years, based on the fact that during the 11 years of the APC misrule, former ACC Commissioners never had the willpower to hold an open press conference about Audit Reports let alone question the office of the president.

    The constitution of our country and even USA gives the President to travel for vacations without questions from either the Auditor General or the Congress. Kandeh Yumkella who renounced his American citizenship to contest against President Bio should know that the taxpayers should pay for also the secret service and the presidential entourage of the President.

    Below are the links for the condition of President Bio during his Lebanon trip and also the perks that the Presidents of the United States are entitled to based on the constitution: https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/president-bio-is-recovering-in-lebanon-after-serious-medical-treatment/
    https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/which-president-takes-more-vacation-days-barack-obama-or-donald-trump.html/

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