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‘Contempt of Parliament’…

Steven Gaojia detained at CID

March 3, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura

NERC Coordinator Steven Gaojia

NERC Coordinator Steven Gaojia

National Coordinator of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), Steven Gaojia, was yesterday ordered by members of the parliamentary Public Account Committee (PAC) to be detained at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for referring to the auditors working for Audit Service Sierra Leone as “so called auditors”.

Mr. Gaojia’s arrest came as PAC continues to look into a damning real time audit report on the management of Ebola funds between May and October 2014, which indicates massive misappropriation of funds by individuals in government, civil society and private businesses.

He served as head of the Emergency Operations Centre briefly during that period before it was transformed to NERC by President Ernest Bai Koroma, where he is now the second-in-command, with Retired Major Alfred Palo Conteh serving as Chief Executive Officer.

During the hearing in parliament yesterday, Deputy Auditor General, Tamba Momoh, questioned the Director of Finance Festus Kuyembeh on payment of ‘hazard pay’ to healthcare workers and volunteers nationwide amounting to Le25,500,900,000 between the period May to 31 October without supporting documents as claim sheets and paid-up vouchers were not submitted for inspection.

Momoh said monies might have been used for purposes unrelated to combating the Ebola epidemic, thus leading to a delay in eradicating the virus and stemming loss of thousands of lives.

He also disclosed that Le4,618,000,000 has been recovered from hospitals across the country, leaving a balance of Le20,882,000,000 that is still unaccounted for.

But Kuyembeh stated that no fewer than 95% of the outstanding payment had been made, noting that at the time auditors went for inspection the account was under the supervision of the Emergency Operations Centre.

However, the deputy auditor general argued that the Ebola response account was under the Ministry of Health and not the Emergency Operations Centre.

Gaojia then seemed to have suggested that in order to do a proper audit, “the so-called auditors should not have done the auditing in this real time as the country is now under emergency situation”, adding that they should contact KPMG and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development if they want ‘real’ evidence.

Momoh angrily challenged the NERC coordinator as to his statement, stating that he had worked in England and Sierra Leone and was over-qualified to do his work, and that the same applies to his colleagues.

Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Chernoh M. Bah, then cautioned Gaojia as to his statement and requested that he withdrew his comment but the latter refused to do so.

His refusal prompted Hon. Bah to order police officers deployed at parliament to take Mr. Gaojia into detention at the CID headquarters.

His Administrative Officer, Mohamed L.J. Kamara, was also detained at the police post in parliament for attempting to obstruct the police as he protested the way and manner they arrested his boss, whom he contended was ‘a man of integrity’.

In addition, Momoh told PAC members that serial numbering of names of healthcare workers provided by the Makeni government hospital was distorted with gaps in the numbering of entitled beneficiaries on a claim sheet for an amount of Le571,200,000. He said an anomaly was spotted in the list submitted for payments to 271 names, amounting to Le216,800,000.

However, Kuyembeh explained that at the time of auditing, health ministry officials were unable to contact hospital management staff, as according to him, they were all busy in the emergency.

Meanwhile, Concord Times was reliably informed last night that Mr. Gaojia was released from detention late in the evening after the intervention of a senior lawmaker.

  • Raymond W Scott

    My dear People,

    We have contacted the IG’s office on the arrest of Mr.
    Steven Ngaojia today. One AIG called me back to explain that it looks like the MP violated the law since they have no arresting powers.

    MP Chenor Bah violated the law but since he was doing work in Parliament he is protected by law for his illegal action. These are
    the kind of people that are undermining this government with their lawless actions.

    Now the IG’s office is worried that if the AG does not
    educate the MPs and set a clear procedure how MPs can act, any other MP can repeat this. Only the President through
    his AG has the power to order arrest of government officials for giving a
    speech in parliament. The house can find anybody for contempt of the house but they do not have arresting powers. .

    If these self made laywers want, they can sensor anybody
    but must refer them to the Justice Minister Hon Franklyn Kargo, who will determine if any actionable law was broken not any MP. They are not qualified or hve the legal authority to order any arrest of a government employee or citizens.

    If we allow this to happen again, any MP (without the benefit
    of good and legal education- which is the case here) would feel they have the power because they are MPs. These people need to get some serious education about the laws of the nation from Hon. Franklyn Kargbo the AG about laws on arrest and detentions. MP Chenor
    Bar violated Mr. Steven Ngaojia civil rights as a citizen as well as disrespect for an executive staff member of the President.That means Chenor Bah disrespected the President of Sierra Leone.

    He is just some MP from either Lumley or somewhere who is
    just one of many committee chairs and not part of the executive branch of government.

    His action is an international stain on the country because
    news of Mr. Steven Ngaojia’s detention was a shock to his Penn State University class mates (some of who works for the US State Department diplomatic staff) who started sending many emails to find out “what the heck was going on in Sierra Leone when we should be fighting Ebola”. This puts Sierra Leone
    in a very bad light and could harm the country as a nation of “lawless law makers who don’t even know the laws of the country they are to make laws for”. That is just one comment from a college mate of Mr. Ngaojia who works for the State Government.

    Senior police executive in Freetown were not happy about the
    arrest and they returned calls to explain what happened to some of us and concerned people in the USA who feel the rule of law is being violated by Parliament. WE ARE BRANDING SIERRA LEONE AS A COUNTRY OF “RULE OF LAWS”. This questions that .

    SO AG Franklyn Kargbo will have to lecture all MPs on the
    rule of law.

    Challenging the Auditors, the process and methods used,
    their qualification for auditing in a time of Ebola emergency are all valid
    issues he raised. Only people with lack of self esteem with no confidence would feel offended of disrespected about the words used. If the Auditor or any other person feels disrespected
    and feeling hurt? Get the hell out of public service and politics. If Mr. Momoh was a certified auditor from UK as he claims, he should have know that doing audit in UK or USA is usually subjects to serious questioning of the processes and qualifications of the auditors involved. So he should not be offended by Mr. Ngaojia’s word because he should know. Unless Mr. Momoh qualification is questionable ( which should be looked into). I use to question the qualification of US Air force DCAA auditors for the Boeing Aerospace Corporation (in Washington State) without getting arrested or shot for questioning them (a lowly Sierra Leonean immigrant at that level in the USA).

    Every day, news papers print all kinds of invectives abut the President other members of the executive branch civil servants and even the same MPs.

    If they all get arrested and detained by CID, criminals will roam free in Sierra Leone because the police will not have time to deter violators of the law. Hon Bundu should have stepped in to stop this nonsense of Chenor Bar”s violation of the law. That is not acceptable.

    I know a lot of these MPs some of who are good friends of mine – like Hon Buyah of Port Loko, Hon Sesay of Tonkollille, 2 Hon Rogers from Pujehun, Hon Prince Boima of Bo, Hon. Rado Yokee etc, etc some of chairmen of committees. So these people are not strangers.

    Mr. Steven Ngaojia was appointed by the President to do a job and he is being derailed by these kinds of nonsense.

    Way forward:

    MP Chenor Bah must apologize to the President, The AG, the
    people of Sierra Leone and Mr. Steven Ngaojia. He made a mistake and violated the law not Mr. Steven Ngaojia.

    The senior police staff let us know the arrest and detention
    was not legal and it put the police is very difficult position. They now are
    asking the IG to request the proper procedure from the AG as proper procedures were not followed in the arrest and detention of Mr. Steven Ngaojia. It should not happen to any citizen of
    Sierra Leone.

    Mr. Chenor Bah, please apologize immediately to remove this
    unpleasant issue. You gave the government a bad image.
    Sincerely
    Raymond W Scott