Why has president Bio suspended Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce?

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:

  1. Whether the Judicial and Legal Service Commission instructed the setting up of the tribunal as required by the Constitution;
  2. Why it was necessary to interrupt the service of the Auditor General and her deputy even before a tribunal is set up;
  3. What are the reasons responsible for their suspension and the establishment of a tribunal; and
  4. 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: 

https://www.auditservice.gov.sl/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Annual-Report-on-the-Account-of-Sierra-Leone-2019.pdf

 

12 Comments

  1. Here is a scenario, where a supposedly top investigator of a country, with known history of not holding back or doing favors in terms of watering down corruption evidence or facts, being suspended and subjected to be investigated on the eve of her releasing her own investigation involving the president, first lady, and all the political elites in charge.

    Yeah madam Auditor, i have just been informed that you about to release another damning reports against my government and family members, exposing all our dubious corrupt acts. Now you have 2 options, you either water down your report, removing any bad aspect regarding me, or i will make a case against you. This is Maada Bio and his cohorts using coercive criminal tricks to hide their illicit actions. If the AG has been guilty of crimes all along, why wait until she is about to spill the beans once more before you set the alarm? Makes no logical sense of whatsoever.

    Now, we all know in Sierra Leone, your access to free trial, investigation, justice, and other civil liberties are tied down to your political connections, wealth status, and other personal connections. It’s rarely on the strict application of the rule of law. So if anyone come to this glorious intellectual platform, claiming otherwise, that individual is either lost, detach from the actual happenings in Sierra Leone, or worst, being self deceptive.

  2. Mr. Sahr Morie, as i have indicated in my first commentary, are you really being true to yourself or just being self deceptive? Your initial commentary largely castigated Sierra Leoneans for what you indicted them as being too sensational on issues. However, here you are again digging yourself into a hole, perhaps shaped by your political inclination, clearly expressing your innermost sentiment and suspicion towards a civil servant who by all indications have proven to be outstanding. You asked if i am sure she has been consistence and professional. Hell yes, i am sure brother. For over a decade, this fine civil servant have served under the regimes of our 2 major political parties, APC, SLPP, releasing the same damning corruption reports consistently. Can you corroborate on your suspicions that she might have been unprofessional and inconsistence, instead of beating around the bush?

    Again, as i have stated in my initial response, no logical individual will assert that the AG’s office is beyond reproach. You seem to be confuse bro. Here is what i stated “ Sure the AG’s office is not beyond reproach, however……”. So please try to digest things before you response. Moving ahead, let’s discuss the justification or merits of the AG’s suspension. Legal experts and constitutional prescriptions demands that for a civil servant to be suspended and investigated, there has to be substantial evidence to the fact. The claim of a mere suspicious in this case, does not pass the smell test for an outright suspension without due process by all indications. Now, you keep on reverberating on the notion that no one is above the law and everyone deserves a free, fair, and transparent investigation/due process, as if that is the case in our own country. Common bro, stop deceiving yourself.

    Are we talking about the same Sierra Leone here? Now tell me exactly who have been investigated, persecuted and brought to justice, other than the political witch hunt one sided just concluded COI, for the billions of dollars that AG’s reports successively indicated missing during the past and current regime? Are you aware of the missing chinese rice, Nacorvec partial audit that the regime fight back against, chief minister 1.5million saga etc. what about the numerous killings and elections incidents that the regime promise to investigate and make submission to public. Have you heard about anything? Common Mr. Sorie, get real bro, stop misleading yourself.

    • Really Mr. Young4na, all that exertion for me? I confess I can’t even read it all but I’m truly flattered to get that kind of attention from no less an erudite person as you – the most erudite person in the room in fact. Once again, I ask – can you not make your point without insulting people? Is that like a strategy to win an argument? Aren’t you the one broadcasting that this is an intellectual forum? Young man this is not a rap battle, at least not for me. I don’t have the time or energy for that. “Ar jus tok me yone tok. Nor vex”. Again, I won’t react in the spirit of warfare that you’re so emotionally intent on. I respect every Sierra Leonean’s views including (still) yours irrespective of differences. That’s why I never attack personalities. I’ll just reiterate my honest posture:

      Your views on the AG, though your rightful entitlement, are simply just opinions. Investigations neither consider your opinions nor mine- they’ll pursue facts, period. That renders like 95% of your energetic typing irrelevant. And, that’s precisely one reason I don’t react to most of what you say. You’re smitten and, thus, emotional. I told you before that your views are as different from mine as mine are from yours.

      What you haven’t understood from that point yet is that essentially we are the same, which further means that every view you have of me is well and truly yourself. Think about it a little ok? That’s why I never “battle” you. This is not about you or I; its about Salone which we all call home. But feel free to author a novel of insults responding to everyone whose views differ from yours. Good luck with that.

  3. I always believe that the perception which most sierra Leoneans have about members and supporters of the SLPP party with regard to” Lek Court case or Wahala” is real. Even if the procedures have initial challenges as stated by the former Attorney General J.F Kamara, they will patiently take their time to cross the T’s and dot the I’s just to nail down the accused.

    The irony is, when President Bio suspended one of his female official in advance of an investigation because she confessed to a church delegation in Nigeria, and the president also suspended his most trusted former Education Minister Alpha Timbo. who launched his Free Quality Education flagship program, the opposition never cried foul. They even suggested that the president should suspend his former Chief Minister Professor David Francis when a rogue journalist tried to blackmail him about a bogus corruption allegation. Some opposition parties have to get used to the reality that President Bio has scored high marks in the MCC score card with regards to corruption and there will be no sacred cow.
    Finally, can you imagine what should have been said about President Bio if he has made this decision after the release of the expected Audit Report?. The law should. always be timely implemented. For example, it doesn’t mean that .a police officer can’t stop you from breaking the traffic law because you’re very close to your destination.

  4. Hey Sahr Morie, are you really being true to yourself or just being self deceptive here bro? Remember, you are treading on an intellectual platform, not the typical propagandist playing fields. Sure the AG’s office is not beyond reproach, however, like you insinuated, there are procedural and methodologies that need to be followed if at all there is suspected infringements emanating from her office.

    If you are schooled and have been following politics in Salone, you must admit that the AG has been consistent in doing her job devoid of political consideration. She has maintained a professional stance in many of the issues, reporting purely what her team has discovered during their work. In a lay man term, her job is simply to verify what the MDAs claimed to have spent money on. Whatever evidential proof or lack of, she will submit to parliament for redress. That remains her job, nothing more or less. So i am not really sure how exactly she could go wrong or be corrupt, knowing fully well that she remain consistent for over a decade now.

    Of course, no criminal or thief will like to be exposed. There lies the issue of the AG. While even the past regime was at loggerheads with her, this PAOPA regime turns out be the worst. Bio and his gang of thieves simply cannot be exposed. It’s either you are doing their bidding like Ben Kaifala has been doing or you are an enemy. So Mr. Sahr Morie, don’t come here wasting people’s time to defend the indefensible. For all intents and purposes, your political sentiment is all the reason you decided to write such commentary, hence being an hypocrite.

    • Brother Young4na, I’m not in the least bit offended by anything you have said and will not really attempt to “pick pick” through all of your logic. Its simple- your views are as different from mine as mine are different from yours but you don’t hear me calling you a propagandist or announce that your are unschooled for that etc. etc. Mutual exclusivity all over again here. I’m not subscribing to it. I’ll just briefly objectively respond to your quote below:

      “the AG has been consistent in doing her job devoid of political consideration. She has maintained a professional stance in many of the issues, reporting purely what her team has discovered during their work”

      Really? How do you know all that? How do you know anyone is being consistent or beyond reproach? You sound to me like someone who is smitten, hence very emotional. I’m not suggesting that she’s guilty of what’s levied against her but I’m definitely also not going out on a limb to say that she’s not. “Insai Salone tiday”? I’m not carried away like that. But I absolutely agree, she should have a fair chance to defend her integrity and record. The only way for us to know the truth (“whether na government now o; whether na AG now o”) is through an unbiased, straightforward and transparent investigative process. Mind you she herself IS AN INVESTIGATOR, IN FACT THE BIGGEST INVESTIGATOR THERE IS. She has done this for a while now. Was she wrong doing that? Investigations in themselves are not indictments. For persons who have clean records they’re in fact an opportunity to prove and showcase their credentials. But like every other employee of the state bar none, including our Presidents, she is subject to oversight and investigation. To say that she is above being investigated is juvenile logic.

      The rest of us S/Leoneans outside the direct space of those relevant to the investigative process have a responsibility to ensure that this process is straightforward and transparent. Simple. But I’m open to your schooling my brother after all I’m unschooled.

  5. Edwin John says “ Is this the auditor general that claimed there was 1.5 Billion Dollars misappropriated in the timber industry?; and later went on to apologize on national radio that it was an error? Please spare us the garbage of defending her office.”

    Hey bro, which planet do you happen to live to be concocting such a falsify narrative? Ignoring your misplace figure of 1.5 billion dollar claim, when and which national radio station did the Auditor General ever went to apologize to the nation about error in her report?

    It’s really sad how politics has degenerated some of you folks moral compass and even your thinking faculty. It’s a disgrace for folks to claim being educated, yet they are unable to think for themselves. Whatever political garbage they hear from their political demi-gods, they go about spewing those same garbage around. Shame! Shame! Shame!

  6. Two core problems in SL- politics and sensationalism. The fact that the AG (Auditor General) is an employee implies that there are procedural circumstances in his/her contract whereby he/she can be suspended or worse. Agreed- these criteria have to be clearly met before that can be effected. Agree however that surely the AG is also subject to oversight and investigation as an employee. THE AG IS NOT ABOVE THE LAW. NO ONE IS. NOT EVEN OUR PRESIDENTS. EVEN THEY MUST ACCOUNT WHEN/WHERE NECESSARY. Circumstances where they SHOULD be investigated do arise from time to time. The AG’s office is not structurally beyond irregularities simply because its the most powerful government investigative structure. In fact no designation is.

    For S/Leoneans to imply that just because an AG is investigated it automatically implies power arm-twisting WITHOUT TRYING TO LOOK AT MERITS IS SIMPLY POILITICS AND SENSATIONALISM. This more than anything else is what portrays SL’s relatively low developmental state, and precisely one powerful source that feeds and empowers corrupt and ill-motivated leaders- public and civil servants in SL- an unending vicious cycle that is actually a bigger challenge in SL today.

    Too much sentimental submissions. Focus should be on ensuring smooth and transparent legal procedures around such matters. It’s the only way to diagnose what the true problem is that needs redress- whether Government intimidation or AG’s irregularities. Either of these (or any other) outcomes would be great reveal when reported to be acted upon by S/Leoneans. “Le d process happen ya. Le we know wetin de really happen na Salone so we go know wetin for do”.

  7. Is this the auditor general that claimed there was 1.5 Billion Dollars misappropriated in the timber industry?; and later went on to apologize on national radio that it was an error? Please spare us the garbage of defending her office. Shouldn’t there be an objective view of her performance before rushing to castigate the government? They’ve accorded her the utmost platform to go and explain her side of the story. Isn’t that fair enough? But oh no like everything else in Sierra Leone politics is our problem. Does the president have the constitutional mandate to do this?

    Please let’s be patient and wait to hear from both sides. Let’s learn to listen before we start screaming. If we really want our country to progress. Unfortunately our so called leaders don’t listen they prefer screaming and making all forms of statements without the facts on their side just so they could be heard just to cover their political bases. Lord have mercy!

  8. If the allegations here are anything to go by they are lame, lazy and without merit. Some people have worked hard to maintain their reputation unlike others who are scammers and wheeler dealers with fake titles and degrees and don’t have a clue about what hard work and reputation means.

    The majority of Sierra Leoneans have the utmost respect for the AG who has acted professionally in the discharge of her duties and will support her and her deputy all the way. The new direction seems to have lost direction and now heading in the wrong direction taking our people for granted. Leh we dey go normoh.

  9. Sierra Leone is sleep walking to a dangerous path. This one directionless path is clearly not the path the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans want us to take. We don’t want to go back to those ugly days of the civil war. Bio and his cronies need to be reminded of that . Peace building is a slow process. And this action of Bio fly in the face of that. We have to remind ourselves what brought us the RUF civil war. The 1990s civil war didn’t starts out of thin air. Foday Sankoh didn’t wake up one morning and told his followers, that he wants to start a war in the country. Corruption, undermining of state institutions, a political classes that is completely cut of from the reality of every day peoples struggle for survival, and a president that appears to over step his constitutional rights, and not only admitting to being tribalistic, and practice nepotism but quite frankly practice ethnic cleansing in the purest form in our public institutions, there by creating unnecessarily tensions in a country that have not fully recovered from the previous war and all the other disasters that have hit our country.

    Ebola, Mudslides, and more recently the tanker disaster in Wellington. Bio seems to be flaming the fires of division in our country. Since coming to power, he have dig his heels and is determined to pursue a divisive agenda to create a state of anarchy in our country. Here is a man that fought in the civil war, but still failed to learne an iota of what brought us the civil war in the first places. This action of his, over Mrs Taylor is one of the building blocks of resentment that undermine the integrity of the state as we know it. He really needs to come out of his protected world, and starts to demonstrate to the people of Sierra Leone he is on their. He wants to right the wrongs of decades of government detachment from the real issues that affects every day Sierra Leone. Building bridges not dismantling Bridges is what he should be doing. Despite all the so called development he is talking about on the international arena, Susan Bay, the large scale proverty, and everything eles that is going on what has the suspension of Mrs Taylor going to do to alleviate the suffering of the “DREG MAN NA PZ”. Which side does Bio support.

    Is he with the people of Sierra Leone or his mates.? Bio is so incompetent, the very word incompetent doesn’t do justice to discribe his incompetency. Which brings you to the chronic psychological effects it has on leadership. So because they are inherently incompetent, anyone that display any traits that are oppsite of their biological make up that doesn’t meet the threshold of a competent leader , seems to be regarded as enemy number one. And this is where Bio found himself. To make up for his chronic personality disorder, Mrs Taylor and Mayor Akin, both can be classified as competent administrator and knows their jobs inside out, has to be checked and put back in their boxes, otherwise the Sierra Leonean public will see how ridiculous we buy into some of this this false prophets that appears on the political horizon claiming to cure our corruption illness our country suffers from. At the end the leave it in the worst of both worlds.

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