Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 August 2017
(Photo: Poorly constructed roads in Sierra Leone – costing hundreds of millions of dollars). Pressure is mounting on the World Bank, IMF and DFID to cease funding of the Koroma government, following reports that, more than twenty-five state institutions have failed to account for hundreds of millions of dollars, despite demands by the country’s audit office.
Sierra Leone is classed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and many in the country now believe that the Koroma ruling APC is one of the most corrupt ever to govern this poor nation, since it gained independence in 1961.
A diamond valued at more than $50 million found early this year, is strongly believed to have gone missing, though the government says that it has handed it over to a Belgium based diamond dealer for sale in the global open market.
Consecutive annual reports, published by the country’s national audit office, finds millions of dollars unaccounted for every year by the government.
In 2015, a damning report by the auditor general found more than $17 million missing from a national Fund set up to care for those dying from the deadly Ebola virus, whilst at the same time the government was taking out a $12 million loan to purchase 50 buses it said were needed for public use. But so far, there is very little evidence as to how that $12 million have been spent.
With the government’s prioritisation of infrastructure development – roads construction, costing over $400 million, what has become clear is that roads are being poorly constructed by Chinese companies to cut costs, which means that tens of millions of dollars are being paid into the pockets of state officials by way of contract kickbacks.
Despite massive levels of corruption in high places, international donors and financiers – especially the World Bank, IMF and DFID, are continuing to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the government’s black hole, with little or no accountability.
As the people of Sierra Leone prepare to go to the polls in about seven months, there are fears that hundreds of millions will remain unaccounted for by the ruling APC, whom critics say have rigged the electoral system and redrawn the electoral boundaries, so as to win those elections in March 2018.
There is plenty of evidence of vote buying taking place across the country ahead of the 2018 polls, with ruling party presidential aspirants campaigning fiercely and spending their ill-gotten wealth.
Many in Sierra Leone are now calling for the international community to halt their funding, until the Koroma government can at least be held to account for the hundreds of millions of dollars that remain unaccounted for.
According to BBC reporter – Umaru Fofana: “A damning public notice has been issued today by the institution set up to audit the public accounts of Sierra Leone. It says dozens of state institutions have failed to submit their financial statements for auditing – some for years and others since they were established.
“The auditors say they cannot estimate the exact amount because they’re not privy to the financial documents, but a source says tens – “possibly hundreds” – of millions of dollars have not been accounted for.
“The defaulting institutions include some of the biggest revenue earners and recipients of state funds. Among them are:
The National Telecommunications Commissions (NATCOM)
The Road Safety Authority
The Drugs Control Agency
The Pharmaceutical Procurement Unit
The State’s Assets Commission
The Civil Aviation Authority
The Maritime Administration
The Petroleum Regulatory Agency
The main water and electricity companies (Guma and EGTC)
The main public universities (USL and NU)
The Office of National Security
The Stock Exchange Company, and;
The main hospital board for the capital Freetown and environs.
“Consistent reports by the highly respected Audit Service Commission have pointed to widespread financial mismanagement in the public sector – a euphemism for corruption – with their findings and recommendations largely ignored,” Umaru Fofana reports.
Several of these state institutions and the government controlled commercial bank have become the piggy banks of state officials, whose combined wealth is now estimated at more than £500 million.
Sierra Leone is classed as one of the poorest nations in the world. Over 30% of pregnant women die every year due to poor health; 30% of children born today will not survive to celebrate their fifth birthday; more than 50% of the adult population will die before they get to their 50th birthday, because of poverty and poor health care.
Will the international community act to stop the massive pilfering of public funds with impunity, as the country prepares for general and presidential elections?