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Auditing the Auditor

November 17, 2021

By: Gabriel Benjamin

On November 11, President Julius Maada Bio suspended the Auditor General of Audit Sierra Leone (ASSL), Lara Taylor-Pearce. Abdul Aziz one of her deputies was immediately appointed the Auditor General in an acting capacity.

Lara, who was appointed on November 11, 2011 by former President Ernest Koroma after her predecessor, Anna Caesar retired from ASSL in May 2011, was confirmed by Parliament on November 22, and was later sworn in as the new Auditor General on November 24, 2011, a position she held until she was suspended.

During her swearing-in ceremony, President Koroma said: “…as Auditor General you will help to enhance transparency and accountability in this nation [Sierra Leone]. Your office should be the watchdog of the nation’s economy.”

Lara’s appointment was widely hailed by rights activists, pro-democracy and transparency campaigners. Based on her antecedents, they saw her as a good fit for the job.

She began her career in the private sector as an Auditor in 1991, and joined the public sector where she held senior management positions in various public sector-related organisations in 2000. In 2007, she joined ASSL as Deputy Auditor General.

Although many had thought she would be axed immediately after the 2018 general elections as there were strong indications the government was keeping an eye on her to take away the rug from under her feet and replace her with somebody they are more comfortable with going into the 2023 general elections.

Concord Times reported that Lara’s trouble started after the service released its 2019 audit report which apparently indicted the government. Sources say she has been approached to doctor the 2020 audit report that is to be released next week.

A letter by the Secretary to the President Dr. Julius Fofanah Sandi to the Chairman of ASSL Advisory Board stating that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Justice Anthony Brewah has been requested to set up a tribunal to look into the activities of the service was delivered to her.

Lara has denied any wrongdoings, and maintained that she has upheld international best standards in the discharge of her duties.

 “I have not been told what the remit of this tribunal is or what wrongdoing we [I and Mr. Tamba Momoh, my deputy] are supposed to have committed, neither have we been told who the members of the tribunal are nor will be.” adding: “I am ready to defend my reputation anywhere, anytime.”

It is not immediately clear if she would be asked to return to her position at the end of the tribunal or be prosecuted and compulsorily retired.

State House is yet to issue an official statement justifying or clarifying why she was indefinitely suspended.

President Bio’s action has drawn criticisms from opposition political leaders, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), among others. They condemned his action saying he was too quick to act.

Hon. Kandeh Yumkella, the National Grand Coalition Leader and Member of Parliament, described Mrs. Lara’s indefinite suspension as an unprecedented action by the government.

“This unprecedented and unfortunate decision is tantamount to an attempt to silence her and interfere with her independence a few days before the release of the 2020 audit report. It is another nail in the coffin of accountability and democracy,” he tweeted.

The Majority Leader of the opposition All Peoples Congress in Parliament, Hon. Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah, while calling the attention of the European Union Delegation; the UK and U.S government to the shocking incident, questioned the action of the government.

“Suspending the Sierra Leone Auditor General and Deputy just a few weeks before the release of the 2020 Audit Report? This is shocking. The people of Sierra Leone have many questions and deserve swift answers.”

In a statement on behalf of SLAJ, its Secretary General Alhaji Manika Kamara described the suspension of Lara and one of her deputies as worrying.

Kamara said Lara’s unblemished record and integrity in the discharge of her duties has never being called to question, and called on the government to make public the composition of the tribunal along with its Terms of Reference.

“We await the outcome of the tribunal which we expect in the shortest possible time,” he said.

Andrew Lavalie, the Executive Director of Institute of Governance Reforms, described Lara as a beacon of integrity and called the president’s move to suspend her a regrettable setback.

Supporters of the government have continued to justify the president’s action.

Publisher of Global Times Newspaper, Sorie Fofana, hinted in his column recently that Lara will be investigated for allegations of procurement irregularities, conflict of interest and professional misconduct.

“Lara is being accused of violating the Financial Management Act of 2016, the Fiscal Management and Responsibility Act of 2017 and the National Public Procurement Act, 2016. The recruitment of private audit firms by the Supreme Audit Authority did not follow procurement rules,” he asserted.

The CEO of A-Z Multimedia firm Dr. Ibrahim Seibure welcomed Lara’s suspension, and questioned, “Who audits the Auditor?”

 “The Auditor General has deliberately refused to comply with the Single Treasury Account for the payment of audit fees… she audits every receipts and expenditures of ministries, departments and agencies. It is time to audit her, and it’s only wise that she be asked to step aside,” he maintained.

In the meantime, it is believed that the last is yet to be heard on Lara’s suspension.

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