Failed US$28m fisheries project:


PSC urges serious action against officials

February 17, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has recommended that officials of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources who were involved in the failed implementation of the US$28 million World Bank funded West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme-Sierra Leone (WARFP-SL) be suspended without pay for gross misconduct, to allow time for a conclusion of investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission for breach of procurement laws, regulations and processes.

Chairman of the commission, Dr. Amadu Max Sesay, said yesterday that President Ernest Bai Koroma had directed that an inquiry be conducted into the failed WARFP project in the Ministry of Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, as the relevant authority had failed to take action on serious allegations of corruption.

He said the US$28 million World Bank funded project was designed to transform the fisheries sector and provide a fishing port and handling facilities for the country. He said an environmental impact assessment contract awarded to Global Group Incorporated (GGI) in May 2013 was terminated by the Fisheries Ministry, ostensibly as a result of poor performance by the contractor.

However, the contractor had alleged that the entire process, from procurement to termination of contract, was riddled with corruption, said Dr. Sesay.

He said the World Bank had carried out its own private investigation, referred the matter to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), suspended the project and requested the Government of Sierra Leone to refund the amount of US$158,100 paid to the contractor.

“It was these developments that necessitated an administrative inquiry with a view to making workplace decisions where civil servants were concerned,” he said. “Through an eclectic approach to evidence gathering and guided by cardinal principles of natural justice, the Public Service Commission as a body entrusted with the constitutional mandate for disciplinary action against holders of public offices, investigated the matter over a period of two months between August and October 2015.”

He said the commission carried out a compressive investigation into the matter and analysed a huge volume of documentary evidence, including listening to a secret recording of a conversation at Dee’s Bazaar, plus speaking to a wide array of personalities including the minister, deputy minister, civil servants in active service at the ministry, retired civil servants who were on contract on the project, project officers not employed as civil servants, officials at the Rokel Commercial Bank and the consultant and his former executive assistant.

“The inquiry unearthed evidence of management and coordination problems with the project; a procurement process that on paper appeared consistent with established rules and regulations but was in actual fact manipulated and orchestrated; contract  award based on a weak due diligence process that rendered the project doomed to failure; of a contract awarded to a firm with hardly a dollar of its own to undertake any form of pre-financing as aspects of the contract required; and of an unwitting confession by a ministry official of seeking rent for manipulating procurement process in favour of the successful contractor and providing underhand services to the contracted firm,” he narrated.

He however noted that there was no real evidence to corroborate the serious allegations of corruption, thus making it difficult for the committee to recommend more severe disciplinary action.

“The allegations of corruption and conspiracy to undermine the work of the contractor for refusing to pay bribes remain largely unsubstantiated. The preponderance of the evidence submitted to the committee instead points in the direction of a weak financial base of the contractor, poor financial management by the contractor, and poor contractor performance and delivery,” he said.

He pointed out that the contractor and his guarantor should take responsibility for the failure of the project, while there was evidence of misconduct by ministry officials, poor project management, and at times a lack of clear guidance from the World Bank.

“We are now recommending that action should be taken by the senior management of the Civil Service to discipline the ministry officials that were involved in the process through indefinite suspension without pay for gross misconduct, take remedial action on the matter of administrative deficiencies in the handling of disciplinary issues across the Civil Service and overhaul the weak manpower state of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,” he noted.

He added that the committee also recommended that the Government of Sierra Leone and donor partners review the current arrangements relating to Project Implementation Units.

He said the World Bank in particular was specifically encouraged to revisit its policy objection to the use of civil servants as project staff and re-align its policy with other donors in the implementation of World Bank funded projects.

He said in view of the serious consequences of the collapse of the project caused by poor contractor performance, the committee further recommended that GGI be added to a list of blacklist of firms unfit to hold a Government of Sierra Leone contract for a minimum period of five years.

He said the committee urged the ACC to accelerate its investigation into the matter to determine the extent of criminal behaviour in the procurement process and bribe giving by the consultant, and to press charges on behalf of the state, if appropriate.