By: David Yusuf Kabia, Public Relations Assistant, ACC
The annual publication of the Audit General’s Report by the Audit Service Sierra Leone detailing damning allegations of financial mismanagement of public resources could be suggestive of either gross negligence or incompetence or both on the part of residents in public service. In the exercise of its functions as espoused by Section 17 of the 2014 Audit Service Act, it could amount to a criminal offense, to fail to submit requested information or where such submitted information is forged as provided for in Section 36 of the Audit Service Act. Year in and out, the annual Auditor General’s Reports on the utilization of public resources in Sierra Leone continually flagged the same or very similar reoccurring accountability issue. This provides primary evidence leaving citizens to wonder whether people appointed into public service are servants whose masters are the populace of Sierra Leone or masters and whether the loss of public resources under their stewardship is due to what I referred to as “willful negligence” or brazen display of incompetence.
When the Report was published by Audit Service in December 2022 for the year ended 2021, its contents no doubt since then remains a topical national issue. The Report which was tabled before Parliament on Thursday 8th December 2022 as provided for by Section 119 (4) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No.6 of 1991 viz; “…draw attention to any irregularities in the accounts audited and to any other matter which in his opinion ought to be brought to the notice of Parliament”. Such irregularities bordering public resources while they have been reported would require alleged defaulters to defend their persons before the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is charged with the sole responsibility of investigating, prosecuting and or recovering all alleged misappropriated public funds and or instances of corruption as provided for by Section 7(1) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 (as amended in 2019).
On 4th January 2023, the ACC held a Press Conference at its 3 Gloucester Street office assuring the public of its unwavering commitment to fight corruption and its posture on the issues contained in the 2021 Auditor General’s Report. During the Press Conference, Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala gave an analysis of the Report while assuring the public that the Commission will surely recover every single penny of the amounts deemed to have been misappropriated, where recovery is necessary and investigate with the view to prosecute other issues, where it is the best option. He categorized many of the issues raised in the report as “quick fixes” in that these are issues for which resources were allocated for specific purposes but those purposes were not executed and in his words, there are persons who were charged with these responsibilities and they are going to be held accountable.
The content of the 2021 financial year audit Report has since its publication been a subject of shameful debate considering that the allegations of the many cash loss therein are reported every year regardless of measures by the ACC and Parliament to ensure public resources entrusted into the stewardship of public officers, are protected and utilized in conformity with the established procedures and processes. It is reported that there is a total cash loss ofLe: 5,610,439,736 (Five Billion Six Hundred and Ten Million Four Hundred and Thirty-Nine Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-Six Leones) in respect of the 14 Local Councils; an estimated cash loss of Le: 560,204,104,073 (Five Hundred and Sixty Billion Two Hundred and Four Million One Hundred and Four Thousand and Seventy-Three Leones) as tax liability. Under the Revenue Generation category, there is an estimated cash loss of Le: 65,181,048,963 (Sixty Five Billion One Hundred and Eighty-One Million and Forty-Eight Thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty-Three Leones) and $: 132,000 (One Hundred and Thirty-Two Thousand United States Dollars). More shocking in the Report is the finding that some of our Diplomatic Missions could not account for; S: 3,523,588 (Three Million Five Hundred and Twenty-Three Thousand Five Hundred and Eighty-Eight United States Dollars); €: 183,949 (One Hundred and Eighty-Three Thousand Nine Hundred and Forty-Nine Euros) and £: 752, 859 (Seven Hundred and Fifty-Two Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty-Nine Pounds). The Report also stated under its General Category which included MDAs, a total cash loss of Le:116,238,191,455 (One Hundred and Sixteen Billion Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight Million One Hundred and Ninety-One Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-Five Leones) and $: 338,424 (Three Hundred and Thirty-Eight Four Hundred and Twenty-Four Leones) was reported.Certainly, these are no small amounts and the issues deemed to be responsible for these alleged misappropriations are glaringly repetitive.
What further actions can Sierra Leone Institute for these alleged repetitive shabby acts?
When corruption allegations every year hover over the same public officials and public institutions, and yet they are allowed to keep their jobs, it can break the trust and confidence between the state and its people, when serious actions are not taken to assure the public of stout national commitment in holding public officers and institutions accountable. With ongoing investigations by the ACC on the fiscal mismanagement already reported, the public is patiently waiting on the outcome to see what punishment will be meted out on those already alleged to have been responsible for the said allegations.
Holding public officers accountable for their acts will serve as a deterrent to others from indulging in corruption. To this end, the ACC has been doing its part and is required to keep doing just that. But on the flip side, when repetitive audit issues abound against public officers and they are still maintaining their positions, without any stringent administrative actions, they can become complacent.
Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala Esq during the Press Conference noted that those who are appointed to public service and are not delivering on their duties must be sacked. Where the actions of public servants do not match their duties, it begs to ask the question of whether they are negligent or incompetent. Negligence costing Sierra Leone such huge cash losses every year in the same offices is itself evidence of incompetence. Let the competent remain and let the opposite leave if we must protect our resources.