Africanist Press: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 October 2020
Details of an internal audit into financial activities of the Maada Bio administration for the fiscal year 2019, an advance copy of which the Africanist Press has seen, reveal how three government ministries in Sierra Leone collectively spent a total of Le21 billion (US$2,115,870) without verifiable documents to justify their expenditures.
Auditors say the sampled expenditures incurred by the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Water Resources, and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation could not be verified for compliance with the country’s Public Finance Management Act of 2016; the law governing public spending in Sierra Leone.
They say more than Le16 billion (US$1,612,090), for instance, was paid to the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) as government support to its revised budget in November 2018, but relevant documents to justify how the said funds were utilized were not available for verification.
“Payment to the tune of Le16,069,670,000 (US$1,644,510) was made as government support to the EDSA revised budget for November 2018. Even though payment vouchers were submitted, relevant supporting documentation to justify the utilisation of funds were not submitted to the auditors,” they confirmed.
The said payment include a total of Le1,327,910,000 paid to EDSA on January 10, 2019 to reportedly cover supply arrears, the sum of Le1,772,000,000 on June 18, 2019 as reported cost of fuel for the Kono Power Station, the sum of Le4,514,985,000 on January 10, 2019 as a supposed fuel subsidy for Karpower, and Le3,939,790,000 as said payment to Sunbird Bioenergy Limited.
Auditors say documents were also not available to verify that the respective amounts in the following cheques 282234, 284148, 282224, 282223 and 282736 were accurately paid out for justifiable purposes.
In the case of the Transport and Aviation Ministry, they also say a total of Le1,364,241,145 for the deployment of 50 buses by the Ministry were without adequate supporting documents, and that the Ministry itself also utilized fuel totalling Le2,341,435,000 for which no supporting documents were available. Auditors report that fuel chits, fuel registers, or reconciliations weren’t provided to justify the utilisation of the said fuel.
”Payment vouchers amounting to Le227,009,028 were without adequate supporting documents,” they added, while noting that they couldn’t conclude on an “imprest totalling Le1,009,778,490 because there was no documentation such as internal payment vouchers, receipts, invoices, and delivery notes” to justify the payments. Auditors also discovered that the withholding taxes totalling Le35,935,603.77 were not paid over to Sierra Leone’s National Revenue Authority (NRA) by the Ministry of Water Resources and Transport and Aviation Ministry.
“Thus, we couldn’t ascertain whether the sampled expenditures incurred by the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Water Resources, and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation were spent for the intended purposes and in accordance with the Public Financial Management Act, 2016,” they said, adding that there is a high risk that due diligence was not done in the use of the said funds, which according to them, “may have rendered the expenditure ineligible in the General Purpose Financial Statements.”
Authorities have recommended that the Principal Accountants of the various ministries in question collaborate with the Accountant General and forward documentary evidence in support of the total expended amount of Le21 billion to the Audit Service Sierra Leone office within 15 days upon receipt of the report.
“Otherwise, the amount will be classified as ineligible and the responsible parties should be asked to refund appropriately,” they stated.
The report, an advance copy of which the Africanist Press has seen, calls for the implementation of appropriate procedures and financial controls that would enable Sierra Leone’s Accountant General to maintain evidence of expenditure incurred by government ministries with relevant documents.
“In the future, appropriate procedures and financial controls should be implemented to enable the Accountant General’s Department and various ministries to demonstrate that the expenditure incurred is supported by appropriate documentation,” the auditors said, whilst adding that expenditures funded by the Government of Sierra Leone should be done “in accordance with the Public Financial Management Act, 2016.”
Africanist Press could not independently verify whether the recommended actions have been responded to by officials of the relevant ministries. Efforts to reach the officials in the relevant ministries to respond to the issues raised by the internal audits were unsuccessful despite several phone calls and emails to the respective ministries.
Last week, the government of Sierra Leone stopped an ongoing audit into the use of the coronavirus emergency funds by the country’s National Coronavirus Emergency Response Center (NaCOVERC).
Details of official correspondences and minute papers published by the Africanist Press this past weekend point to a seeming administrative standoff between officials of Julius Maada Bio’s government and the leadership of the Audit Service Sierra Leone, the country’s constitutionally mandated auditing agency. Officials in the Bio administration cite state of emergency regulations as the legal basis for their refusal to cooperate with the country’s auditing agency.
A letter dispatched on October 22, 2020 from the country’s law officers’ department, and signed by Sierra Leone’s Justice Minister Anthony Brewah, argues that auditing of the country’s coronavirus emergency funds have to be put on hold until the end of the state of emergency declared in response to the coronavirus pandemic by the president. Audit officials have insisted that the regulations do not preclude them from undertaking their statutory functions.
The recent administrative tension and standoff between the Audit Service and government officials over audit performances casts deep suspicion on the Bio administration’s claim to fiscal discipline and points to an ongoing effort to cover-up existing evidence of graft and frivolous public expenditure already captured in both the draft audit report on coronavirus funds and the 2019 annual audit report.
A senior audit official interviewed by the Africanist Press expressed grave concerns over the recent and ongoing effort to prevent independent auditing of public funds by the Bio administration. “There are already ongoing reports that government is pressurizing the audit service into delaying the release of both the 2019 annual report and the audit report on coronavirus funds,” he told the Africanist Press.
However, details of the annual internal audits into financial activities in Sierra Leone for fiscal year 2019 paint a grim picture in public finance management during the first full year of the Bio administration.
The report, which is yet to be released, contains jaw-dropping evidence of pervasive corruption and graft across government in key ministries, departments, and agencies. In one particular instance, auditors note particularly how revenue arrears submitted by the National Revenue Authority (NRA) in respect of domestic taxes amounted to Le278,894,291,662.29, but they say confirmation letters were equally not received from selected debtors to justify their existence and the accuracy and valuation of the amount stated in the report.
Auditors also underlined evidence of gross discrepancy in the revenue arrears reported in the financial statements for 2019, in the custom’s department, which was stated to be Le21,386,071,017, whereas the updated report of revenue arrears from the debt management unit of customs is in the amount of Le7,448,291,778.23; thereby showing an overstatement of Le13,937,779,238.89 in the financial statements for the fiscal year 2019.
Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman
We have published on the Africanist Press website tables illustrating the details of the evidence upon which this report is based. For more information: https://africanistpress.com/2020/10/27/sierra-leone-le21-billion-missing-in-three-government-ministries/