January 9, 2020
By Jariatu S. Bangura
Auditors at the Audit Service Sierra Leone have stated that lapses leading to the misappropriation of public funds at the Ministry of Agriculture were due to negligence on the part of the Accountant, who created the leeway for such mishaps.
According to the 2018 Auditor General’s report, the sum of Le2, 297,000, 000.00 was withdrawn for the National Tree Planting Campaign and that supporting documents were only submitted for Le1, 740, 455, 000, leaving an outstanding amount of Le556, 545, 000.00 without any supporting documents.
“There was however no evidence that it was paid back into the Consolidated Fund as stipulated in Section 124(2) of the Public Financial Management Regulations of 2017.”
The report which was tabled in Parliament last December stated that a review of the documents submitted for the Le1,740,455,000.00 further revealed that procurement activities, such as printing, purchase of rain gears, stationery, etc. worth Le320,000,000.00 were undertaken for which the required procurement procedures were not followed.
“Also, withholding tax of Le32, 142, 550.00 was not withheld and paid over to the NRA from payments made to suppliers, in contravention of section 117 and Part II of the second schedule of the Income Tax Act of 2000. A total of Le114, 000, 000.00 was spent on rain gears and uniforms for which a distribution list was not submitted for inspection. A total of Le23, 250, 000.00 was spent on oversight and supervision for 10 districts for which the names of the supervisors, as indicated on the payment voucher, were names of labourers within the Ministry,” the report states.
The report further states that an amount of Le25, 000, 000.00 was spent on the procurement of newspapers for which copies of the said newspapers were not submitted for inspection.
In addition to the specific findings, the audit team observed that on the implementation of the Agro-Tourism, Consultative conference and the National Tree Planting Campaign, funds were withdrawn in the name of consultants who were at the forefront of implementation.
“There was unnecessary segregation of exercises to increase labour cost such as hole digging and filing, and planting were done separately and on diverse dates. Retirement documents like payment vouchers were duplicated and receipts were having conflicting and incomplete information.”
They also observed that the same staff was making payments for two different districts that are quite geographically apart (Kerena and Moyamba districts) on the same date. The lapses were due to negligence on the part of the Accountant, and this could provide a leeway for the misappropriation of funds.
However, auditor recommended that the PS should take the necessary steps to ensure that officers who were in charge of these activities adequately address the issues raised, otherwise, the matter will be reported to the appropriate authorities for necessary action.
“In future, the PS should ensure that adequate controls are in place for the use of public resources. Additionally, a review of documents relating to the procurement of the services of four individual consultants for a contract worth US$ 46,200 (equivalent to Le387, 127, 818.00) per consultant for the period under review was carried out.”
The review revealed that contrary to the provision on price quotation in the Executive Order No. 2 of 25th April 2018, the ministry signed a contract with four individual consultants and quoted payment terms in US$ instead of Leones.
“According to the contract, payments to the consultants were to be based on signed timesheets that were to be received by the Permanent Secretary on monthly basis. Timesheets were prepared for six months. However, there was no indication of the preparer, verifier or an approval from the Permanent Secretary. The contract terms required all four contractors to be paid through their different bank accounts, but evidence of bank payments was not available for inspection.”
The report continue that monthly reports were to be presented to the minister through the Chief Agriculture Officer, but evidence of such reports was not submitted for auditing, nor was there any confirmation for the preparation of monthly reports from the Chief Agriculture Officer.
“Also a review of procurement documents for rain gears revealed that Procurement worth Le193,400, 000.00 in respect of rain coats and boots were not in the approved 2018 Procurement Plan which contravenes section 28(a) of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2006.”
The report reveals that the procurement was split into smaller tranches in a bid to evade the national competitive bidding (NCB) procurement method.
“As a result of the splitting, the ministry in June and July 2018 used request for quotations (RFQ) instead of the NCB method of procurement to procure rain coats and boots at a total contract price of Le193,400,000.00, which is contrary to the provisions of the First Schedule of the Public Procurement Act of 2016.There were no supporting documents to ascertain that the Ministry was in compliant with the procurement laws and regulations relating to the procurement of consultancy services and rain gears. Therefore, these issues remain unresolved.”