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WHO IS EMBELLISHING TRUTH AT THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION?

By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

“The Human Rights Commission was focused on the promotion and protection of people’s rights in the country; and also focusing on the state to maintain its grade ‘A’ status in the Human Rights Council,” so states Ishmael Bayoh, acting Public Information Officer at the Commission in a syndicated newspaper report titled: “No misuse of donor funds at Human Rights Commission”.

Mr. Bayoh will think he is doing his job, but the point he misses is that it is not for him to make a declarative statement that no donor funds have been misused at the Commission. That is within the mandate of an independent audit firm to determine, as recommended by one of the Commissioners in a memo to the Chairperson last year, while raising grave concerns about administrative lapses and financial management in that institution.

But alas! The Commission is also expected to speak the truth and not embellish same, especially that which has to do with integrity issues, for the simple fact that graft and protecting rights are diametrically opposed to each other, while a body set up to protect and promote human rights should strive to maintain a clean bill of health in its administration and financial management. That is absolutely not the case at the Human Rights Commission at present, and it is something some Commissioners have expressed grave dissatisfaction about, despite feeble denial by the Information Officer that there are no misuse of funds at the Commission. Besides, there are corroborating evidences to prove our assertion, including authentic minutes of the Commission and official memos.

One such is “Minutes of Meetings with Commissioners held on 4, 9 and 13 July, 2013, chaired by Rev. Moses Khanu (Chair), and in attendance was Commissioner Jamesina King (Vice Chair); Commissioner Daphne Olu-Williams; Commissioner Bryma Kebbie; Commissioner Abdulai Brima Sheriff (who attended only day one of the meetings); and Raymond Katta, Deputy Executive Secretary. A number of issues were raised in those meetings, all bordering on administration and financial management at the Commission.

Accordingly, the issue of the use of the UNFPA vehicle was raised, and that the Women and Children’s Officer (WCO) was not compliant with laid down procedures in respect of the use of the said vehicle. Thus, a decision was reached that the “DFA (Director of Finance and Administration) to ensure that the vehicle is no longer personalized by the WCO and made accessible for Commission use”, while approval has to be sought for “any non-Commission use”.

Another issue discussed was “staff accountability”. Under this header, the meeting said “Gloria to be accountable on the implementation of the UNFPA and other projects, especially the retainership with LAWYERS”.

Also, questions were raised about the contractual relation between a lawyer (name withheld for now) and the Commission, and the Commissioners took the decision that the Executive Secretary should “review the Commission’s relationship (with the lawyer)…in view of the cost implication”. The reason for such direction is simple: Commissioners were concerned about the cost-benefit implication of contracting a private legal practitioner when in fact there was a substantive Director of Complaints, Investigations and Legal Services (CILS) and an oversight commissioner providing legal backstopping.

Furthermore, an issue was raised about “unspent funds not disbursed” during a study visit to Ghana by the Commissioners and the Executive Secretary, totaling US$2,000, although the same minutes noted that the “Chair submitted receipts to colleagues on Monday 15th July, 2013 on behalf of the ES (Executive Secretary) dated the same day”.

Under “Matters Arising”, the meeting discussed the “Preservation and Digitization of TRC Archives” and that a certain legal practitioner should institute legal action against the archivist Mr. Moor. Apparently, the contract awarded to the said Mr. Moor, the amount of which was not disclosed, for the preservation and digitization of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, had terribly gone wrong, prompting the Commissioners to order that legal action be taken against the contracting party – Mr. Moor. However, it remains unclear whether that line of action was in fact followed, and if not, why?

The meeting also discussed “Policy Decision” and the Chair was not remiss when he stated that “regarding program implementation and the modus operandi moving forward now that we have full complement of directors, anything that comes to the Commission should have first been submitted to a director for his review and approval, forward to ES after which it comes before the Commission. The Commission will no longer condone any shortcuts”. The question is: who was circumventing standard operating procedures and for what reasons?

It is interesting to note that the Information Officer, in his desperate attempt to save the face of certain people in the Commission, insinuated that the issues we raised in two previous editions are not true. But he failed to present a convincing answer, beyond simply denying the facts and defending the indefensible.

He says the Commission was focused on doing its job, which is what Parliament intended it to do when it was established, and the reason donors, including the United Nations Peace Building Fund, doles out millions of Leones for the Commission to carry out its job, in a transparent manner.

Sadly, the Commission has failed to clear its name under the weight of numerous issues raised by this medium, all bordering on serious transparency and accountability issues. Let me again challenge the Commission that we stand by our assertion that the Commissioners were concerned that contrary to a representation that the financial obligations for attending the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights meeting would be undertaken by the Commission, for which Le16,000,000 (sixteen million Leones) was disbursed, the organizers in fact gave a scholarship for the Executive Secretary to attend the meeting.

The above claim is informed by a document titled: ‘Appendix 4 Exclusively Finance and Administration HRCSL.COMM/Meeting/July 2013 B’, in which the issue about the Le16,000,000 (sixteen million Leones) was again raised by the Commissioners: “Has the ES reimbursed the Commission for the funds the Commission used to pre-finance her trip to Banjul?” in an apparent reference to the ACHPR meeting in Banjul which was attended by Commissioner Kebbie and Executive Secretary, Ms. Francess Alghali.

With regards the above, Ms. Alghali invited me to a meeting yesterday in which she denied that the Commission had instructed her to refund the said money, as she was sponsored by the latter. She presented memos which she claims exonerate her, although she refused to avail to me copies because they are “confidential”. She also bizarrely claimed the minutes of the Commission which we are privy to are “not authentic” although she insisted that I present same to her for verification.

What she could not dispute though is whether the meeting discussed the issue of her getting additional sponsorship from ISPHR while at the same time being supported by the Commission, thus preventing other Commissioners from attending the meeting. Instead, she retorted that there were mistakes in the said minutes which were later corrected, albeit she was not at the said meeting.

Meanwhile, it is salutary to note that a memo by one of the Commissioners, dated 8th April, 2013, actually raised the red flag, and called on the Commission to “practice what it preaches” including recommending “an immediate audit of our books, both for government of Sierra Leone and donors funds in particular the PBF 2 funds by a reputable and credible accounting firm.”

In conclusion, the reading public and we hope the Anti-Corruption Commission are keeping tabs on development at the Human Rights Commission, as we seek to unearth the truth and ascertain who is embellishing that sacred moral virtue – truth – and for what reasons.

See you next edition.