Auditor General engages media on 2019 Audit Report

January 11, 2021

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma 

Audit Service Sierra Leone; last Thursday 7th January, engaged the media on the 2019 Audit Report where they explained the processes used in auditing the export of timber, the missing 47 laptops at NaCOVERC, the 30 vehicles bought by NaCOVERC, among a host of other issues. 

Addressing journalists at the Sierra Association of Journalists Conference Hall on Campbell Street, Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce said during their recent consultation on their strategic plan there were suggestions made regarding the Audit Service Sierra Leone public engagement and as it starts a new year.

She said Audit service Sierra Leone like many other superior audit services around the world carry out three types of audit-financial statement audit, compliance audit and performance audit. 

She said during the year 2020, they carried out financial statement audit on the Financial Statement prepared by the Accountant General on all revenue and expenditure for the year 2019.

She said in their professional opinion, based on the various audit test they carried out, there were no material statement on those financial statements presented to them by the Accountant General, adding that there were highlights of issues that were not material enough to affect the audit opinion.

She said financial statement audits were also carried out in public enterprises, commissions, projects and local councils. 

She said they also performed various compliance audits of ministries, departments and agencies, local councils, commissions and public enterprises, adding that those compliant audit reports results in management letters which found their way into the annual Audit report.

She said compliance auditing is the independent assessment of whether a given subject matter is in compliance with the applicable authorities which includes internal and external laws and policies identified as criteria, thus stating that compliance audit are carried out by assessing whether activities, financial transactions and information comply in all material respect with the authority or laws that govern the audited entity. 

“compliance auditing focuses on obtaining sufficient and appropriate evidence regarding compliance with those criteria and it is the responsibility of the public sector bodies and their appointed officials to be transparent about their actions and accountable to the citizens for the funds which they are entrusted and exercise good governance in the use of those funds,” she said.

She said in public sector internal auditing, the burden of proof rest with the auditee and it is the responsibility of the auditee to give evidence and proof on how public funds have been spent.

She stated that, the time it was spent during the initial engagement, field work, exit engagement and verification stage of the audit process gives the auditee sufficient opportunities to not only understand the process but to present to the auditors sufficient evidence that will explain situation that needs clarification. 

“We are dealing with public funds here and it has to be accounted for. When during the cause of our job we are not in our professional judgment satisfied with the evidences presented during the required timeframe or where no evidences are presented within that time frame the matters are brought to the attention of the auditee through the verification process,” she said. 

She said performance audit were carried out on the use of funds for fighting COVID-19, stating that they have scope of audit-the annual and specific time frame audit which are special audit activities carried out during a specific period of time.

She said in supreme audit institutions where the required resources and cooperation are placed like many other countries across the world, audit are done in full for the year in question and in such situations there are enough staff and funds to do all the auditing.

Speaking on the timber auditing issue, Deputy Audit General Selvin Bell, said in the financial statement, one hundred and fifty nine billion Leone was recorded as revenue collected for the expor of timber but that the cash book recorded twenty five million United States Dollars, thus noting that it is part of their job to ascertain whether the figures reported were correct. 

He said they examined the laws that lay the basis for the collection of timber revenue including the Forestry Act of 1988 which deals with timber revenue collection.

He explained that the said Act was amended in 2018 and it states that two thousand five hundred United States Dollars should be paid for export levied for every cubic meter exported.

He said during the cause of the audit they visited the customs department for the data on all timber exported during the year under review.

He said the record shows that 2.2 million cubic meter of timber was exported and when calculated by $2,500 as the law states they had $5.4 billion United States Dollars that should have been collected as revenue. 

He said they brought the discrepancy to the notice of the customs and  the organisation responsible for the exporting of timber, thus noting that they were given the opportunity to provide explanation as to why there was variance, but they were not given any response during the auditing.

He said they did a management letter which they sent to the Accountant General and later they received a response which stated that taxes to value timber is based on 20ft container and not by cubic meter as stated in the law.

He said they further asked them to explain why it is valued by container contrary to what is in the law, but they later received a letter from the Financial Secretary that there was an error in the drafting of the Act and as management they looked at the law and concluded that indeed there is possibility that there was an error in the drafting of the law, hence could not include the said amount in the cash losses.

The Deputy Auditor General Tamba Momoh who spoke on the NaCOVERC auditing said they audited the Ministry of Health and Sanitation that started receiving money for COVID-19  in March 2020 and also NaCSA which also received money for onward distribution during the lockdown.

He said on the 6th May, 2020, they informed the National Interim Coordinator of NaCOVERC that they were going to commence an audit, and that they have an open conference with NaCOVERC on 9th May, 2020 and all the key stakeholders were present. 

He further stated that on 15th May, they issued a query letter that the capacity of staff running that office is not competent, but NaCOVERC did not respond to their query and on the same date they also raised a query that NaCOVERC lacks financial management system.

He also spoke on the issue of the missing 47 laptop computers, noting that NaCOVERC had made a request to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for 47 laptops computer and Ministry sent it to the Integrated Health Project Department to handle the procurement. 

He said Integrated Health Project Department agreed the contract with an already established supplier and the specification was 15 inches touch screen laptops, noting that when they have that information, they decided to verify the laptops, but none of the laptops presented matched the specification. 

He further that they also verified the 30 vehicles that were brought and they observed that three of those vehicles were not brand new.

He said the issue of the missing 50KVA generator donated to the government by the Chinese Embassy, they were told that the said generator was taken to Zimmi, but when they went there they saw a 65KVA generator instead of 50kva and to their conclusion, the generator is still missing.