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Search for Common Ground, CSO partners probed for 51.5m euros project

The Partnership Coordinator, Search for Common Grounds, Paul K. Conteh has denied being a signatory to his organization’s European Union (EU) funded projects implemented in 2012.

Mr. Conteh was answering questions last Thursday at the Parliament Committee Room 1 at Tower Hill, Freetown, when he appeared before members of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee set-up to investigate non-governmental organizations operating in the country.

Search for Common Grounds and some local civil society organizations had secured a European Union grant to implement a project titled: “Open political space at chiefdom and ward levels for marginalized voiceless women and youth.”

The project is now the subject of a parliamentary probe following the setting up a Parliamentary Committee to scrutinize Search for Common Ground and implementing partners, in respect of their management of the said project, reportedly worth 51.5 million Euros, and awarded by the European Union as part of its support to civil society engagement in the electioneering process in 2012, when the country for the first time grappled with four elections – presidential, parliamentary, mayoral and councilor.

The implementing partners were Centre for the Coordination of Youth Activities, Campaign for Good Governance, National Elections Watch, and Society for Democratic Initiative, among others.

However, Mr. Conteh said he couldn’t answer all the questions relating to the management of the funds because the organization currently has no National Coordinator, while the Country Director is on an official assignment abroad.

Chairman of the Committee and Majority Leader, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu reminded Mr. Conteh that the Committee has powers akin to the High Court of Sierra Leone, pursuant to section 93 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, to probe the activities of public and private organizations who secure grants on behalf of Sierra Leoneans, and that that oversight responsibility was not only limited to government ministries, departments and agencies..

He urged Mr. Conteh and Mr. Solomon Scott, NGO Coordinator at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, to ensure that vote controllers of the respective implementing partners are present during subsequent Committee hearings or face dire consequences. He said Committee members are keen to be apprised about how the projects were implemented in country, backed by authentic evidences.

Hon. Bernadette Lahai demanded that the Partnership Coordinator should ensure that competent individuals who were responsible for disbursement of the funds are brought before the Committee at the next hearing, as they intend to make good progress in their investigating non-governmental organizations.

Meanwhile, Clerk of Parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Sesay requested that Search for Common Ground produce their certificate of operations during the next hearing.