Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 November 2021:
As legal and constitutional arguments continue over president Bio’s decision to suspend the country’s Auditor General – Mrs Lara Taylor-Pearce, questions are still being asked as to why the president took such a controversial decision just weeks before the Auditor General is due to present her audit report on the government’s financial stewardship in 2020.
Critics of the government say that the Auditor General’s 2021 Report contains damning account of the government’s mismanagement of and unaccountability for public funds, running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
But writing in his Global Times newspaper, SLPP Patron – Sorie Fofana, said that “a special tribunal is to be set up by the Attorney General to investigate allegations of procurement irregularities, conflict of interest and professional misconduct on the part of the suspended Auditor General and her right-hand man, Tamba Momoh.
“The Auditor General is accused of violating the Financial Management Act of 2016, the Fiscal Management and Responsibility Act of 2017 and the National Public Procurement Act, 2016. The recruitment of private audit firms by the Supreme Audit Authority did not follow procurement rules, according to reports.
“The Auditor General’s initial refusal to comply with the legal opinion of the Solicitor General to set up a Single Treasury Account for the payment of audit fees was strongly opposed by the Ministry of Finance which led to the intervention of the Speaker of Parliament.
“Mr. Tamba Momoh is believed to be a member of several Boards of Directors of Government or Government Assisted Secondary Schools which fall under the audit mandate of Audit Service Sierra Leone. This is seen as a conflict of interest.”
On the 8th of November 2021, the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice wrote a letter to the Chief Justice and Chairman of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, quoting Section 137(5) of the country’s 1991 Constitution which they said makes provision for the suspension of Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce and her Deputy – Tamba Momoh.
The letter is calling for the setting up of a tribunal by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission to investigate the affairs of the Audit Service Sierra Leone and in particular the performance of the Auditor General.
See Attorney General Office’s letter to the Chief Justice below which ironically is signed by the Deputy Attorney General rather than the Attorney General himself, prompting critics including the former Attorney General – Joseph F Kamara saying that the letter is of no effect as it is not signed by the Attorney General.
So what does the Auditor General make of her suspension?
This is what she said in a statement published after receiving a letter from the Office of the President, informing her of her suspension: “I can confirm that I was handed a letter signed by the Secretary to the President to the Chairman of the ASSL Advisory Board, stating that the Attorney General has been asked to set up a tribunal to look into the ASSL for professional performance or the lack thereof. Further that myself and Mr Tamba Momoh, my deputy should be sent on suspension with immediate effect.
“I have not been told what the remit of this tribunal is or what wrongdoing we are supposed to have committed, neither have we been told who the members of the Tribunal are or will be. I should state that ASSL has always maintained the highest standards at all times and we deny any wrong doing in the exercise of our mandate. At all times we have upheld international best standards. I remain ready to cooperate with any tribunal guided by my legal representative, and to defend my reputation anywhere, anytime.”
Reactions from civil society and opposition politicians have been swift
This is what the 50/50 Group Sierra Leone said yesterday: “The 50/50 Group Sierra Leone notes with grave concern and utter dismay the sudden and indefinite suspension of the Auditor-General, Mrs Lara Taylor-Pearce, and her deputy, Mr Tamba Momoh, pending an “investigation”.
“Whilst we await the outcome of such an investigation, the 50/50 Group would like to remind the government of the constitutional provisions that established the Office of the Auditor General and enshrined its independence, which safeguards the integrity and impartiality of that office which Mrs Lara Taylor-Pearce and her team have exhibited over the years. However, it has not gone unnoticed that Mrs Taylor-Pearce has been subjected to continuous harassment and intimidation.
“We wish to remind the government that the current Auditor General has an unblemished record both nationally and internationally. Therefore, we condemn any attempt to sully her reputation and integrity. Furthermore, we remind the government of its commitment to empower women and girls. We fear that this action negates the positive steps taken by the government with the recent formulation of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy (GEWE, 2020) and the Gender Empowerment Bill (2021).
“We hope that this suspension is not part of a concerted campaign against high profile women in Sierra Leone, which further discourages women from taking such posts. Finally, we urge the government to fully disclose the reasons for her suspension to the general public, to take steps to resolve this impasse and reassure the people of Sierra Leone of their continued support towards gender parity, equality and the independence of state institutions.”
Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) is calling on president Bio to reconsider his decision, saying: “We the undersigned members of BAN are concerned about the indefinite suspension of the Auditor- General Mrs. Lara Taylor Pearce and Deputy Tamba Momoh of the Audit Service Sierra Leone. This decision came as a shock to the public especially that there is limited information for this action.
“We are particularly worried that this action undermines public accountability which is fundamental for good governance and development. It further hampers efforts in maintaining fiscal discipline and accountable use of public resources. His Excellency, the President, should be reminded that Sierra Leone is committed to the African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance, which under Chapter (9) Article (33) indicate that: “State parties shall institutionalise good economic and corporate governance through effective and efficient Public Services; and through promoting transparency in Public Finance management”.
“We want to state that the Audit Service Sierra Leone has over the years demonstrated high levels of financial probity and provided oversight on the use of public resources as evidence in the Open Budget Survey were its score for 2020 was 72%1 and as mandated by the 1991 constitution, with high levels of professionalism and acceptance of its work by citizens.
“Therefore, in the area of auditing, ensuring effective financial management, performance and professionalism, the Audit Sierra Service Leone and the Auditor General are rated highly in the world. This action is more disturbing when the country is looking forward to the release of the annual audit report by the Audit Service Sierra Leone.
“We want to draw the attention of His Excellency to his government commitment towards protecting the independence of the Audit Service Sierra Leone. While we respect the authority of the president, citizens have the right to be informed of the reasons for the indefinite suspension of the Auditor General and deputy to avoid misconceptions and misinformation amongst the Sierra Leonean population.
“Since there are no clear information on this decision, we kindly ask His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone to reconsider this suspension of the Auditor General and her deputy because it is not in line with what was he promised to Sierra Leoneans in the New Direction Manifesto. It is also not a good and popular action, especially when the country is doing well in the Control of corruption indicator. We therefore kindly ask His Excellency to rescind this decision in the spirit of national interest.”
The Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) said: “The Consortium of Progressive Political Parties in Sierra Leone has received information that Government through the Attorney General’s office has ordered the indefinite suspension of the Auditor General from office and announced that a tribunal will be set up to investigate some complaints they may have received.
“Given the critical position that the office of the Auditor General occupies within the infrastructure of our democratic institutions and their role in protecting accountability, COPPP is taking this matter very seriously especially at this time when the annual Auditor General’s report is about to be published.
“It is no secret anymore that most of the key State institutions that should be at the heart of our democracy including the Judiciary, the Police, the National Electoral Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission have been brought under the domination of the Executive and can no longer function independently in the interest of the people.
“Sadly, the Auditor General’s office which has demonstrated credibility, independence and impeccable professionalism through successive regimes now seems to be under attack by the SLPP Government. This is the institution on which the entire nation relies to provide authentic and official account of how public funds are being used or misused in this country.
“The Auditor General’s office is indeed the last pillar of resistance to institutional capture and decline into authoritarian rule. Mrs. Lara Taylor Pearce has been under persistent threats for some time now because of her impartiality and consistency in serially revealing the enormous irregularities in the way Government has been handling the funds of the State. We therefore feel morally bound to ensure that she is not bullied for being upright.
“As a first step, we have written to His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio requesting that his Government gives to the general public very clear explanations on the following:
- Whether the Judicial and Legal Service Commission instructed the setting up of the tribunal as required by the Constitution;
- Why it was necessary to interrupt the service of the Auditor General and her deputy even before a tribunal is set up;
- What are the reasons responsible for their suspension and the establishment of a tribunal; and
- Whether this action has anything to do with the 2020 Audit Report that is due for publication shortly.
“As opposition parties, we have done our utmost best in the last three years to use democratic and peaceful means to challenge several actions by this Government that were intended to close the democratic space, intimidate and harass the opposition and bring all the key democratic institutions under control of the central government. Unfortunately, this seems to have emboldened the regime to the extent that they have been systematically tarnishing the image and attempting to destroy the few women in top leadership positions who will not negotiate their honesty, integrity and adherence to mandate. We cannot let this continue.
“We therefore look forward to Government’s swift response to our questions. This country will regret it if this Government is allowed to take Lara Taylor Pearce away like a lamb to be slaughtered. Enough is enough.”
The Renaissance Movement Sierra Leone (RMSL) said it “is seriously concerned about the suspension of the Auditor General of Sierra Leone, particularly at a time the Annual Report on the Account of Sierra Leone is to be published. RMSL expresses its unease about the timeliness of the suspension by President Julius Maada Bio.
“While the Movement is yet to receive details of the reasons behind the suspension, it calls on the government of Sierra Leone to immediately inform Sierra Leoneans about the reasons for this drastic action that has sent a shock wave across the country.
“RMSL notes that the Audit Service Sierra Leone is a critical institution to not only the public finance management architecture, but also in the fight against corruption and reduction of waste in public expenditure.
“The Movement calls on the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Attorney General’s Office, to fully abide by the processes and procedures enshrined in the 1991 Constitution touching on the security of tenure of the Auditor General by immediately setting up the required tribunal to carry out the stated investigation. The said tribunal should also have a limited timeframe within which to report their findings in order to avoid an undue delay. Signed: Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq. Chairman.”
You can read the 2020 Auditor General Report on the government’s performance below: