August 13, 2019
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
Secretary to the Vice President, Barba Brima Fortune, has admitted to the Commission of Inquiry presided over by Justice Biobele Abraham Georgewill that his name was among the beneficiaries of the state quarters sold in 2018.
The current Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Lands Housing and the Environment, Israel Bunduka Konewa Jigba, last week testified before the same Commission that his predecessor at the ministry, Barba Brima Fortune, was one of the beneficiaries that bought a government quarter at Spur Road at the cost of Le110 million.
Former Chief Justice,Abdulai Charm, Justice Kekura Bangura, Dennis K. Vandi, and former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport, were prominent names that benefited from the sales of the quarters.
Led in evidence by State Counsel, Kadija Bangura, Barba Brima Fortune said when he was leaving the lands he had prepared a handing over note for his successor.
He further that in his handing over note, one of the things he highlighted was the selling of government quarters in 2018, and that his name was among the list of beneficiaries who bought the government quarters.
Fortune said between April 2016 and April 2018, he was working in the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment as Permanent Secretary under former Minister, Finda Diana Konomanyi.
He told the commission that he was directly responsible to the minister and was head of administration responsible for coordination, supervision and oversight of the various divisions within the ministry including the Directorate of Surveys and Lands, the Directorate of Country Planning and the Directorate of the Environment.
He said he was also the vault controller and that the minister was the overall head of the ministry under whose direction he (Barba Brima Fortune), and other directors worked within the confines of the regulations.
He said the minister was also responsible for the signing of conveyances for the sale of state lands, adding that the minister was also responsible for taking papers to cabinet where a cabinet decision was required.
He said the minister was also expected to seek executive clearance from the president where a cabinet decision is not met on issues.
He said the financial control system during his tenure at the ministry was still the same in the current administration, noting that the Accountant General’s Department posts an accounting officer to the ministry to give technical directions as to how the financial system should operate.
He said he couldn’t tell how many bank accounts the ministry was operating, but knew about one active account which was the ministry’s main bank account, noting that besides government annual budgetary allocation there were other means of revenue to the ministry.
He said the UNDP had supported the implementation of country’s land policy, adding that the ministry was also generating resources through payment for lease of state lands, selling of state lands and payment for survey bills.
He said those revenue were being paid into the National Revenue Authority’s (NRA) account by the tenants occupying state lands and buyers of state lands, noting that the NRA has a revenue officer stationed in the ministry to whom the clients submit payment slip and in return the NRA officer issues the clients with receipts to confirm payment.
He said freehold was outside selling based of conditions stated in the lease letter, but that when the price is fixed by the ministry the same method of the above payment is applied.
He added that the minister, permanent secretary and the director of surveys lands are responsible for freehold.
He said when the applicant for freehold applies to either the minister, permanent secretary or the director of surveys and lands, the application goes to the Director of Surveys and Lands that will visit the land and does his technical assessment.
He said the director would in turn make recommendation to the minister through the permanent secretary as to whether the said land should be sold as freehold, while the minister determines the price.