Sierra Leone Auditor General’s Report: No Accountability and Good Governance
The Auditor General, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce’s report on the past year – December 31st, 2011- on the public account of Sierra Leone with the compliance audits on Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Schools and Vocation Institutions, Local Councils, City, Municipal and District Councils, Public Enterprises, Commissions and Donor Funded Projects remains one of the most valuable and visible pieces of documents ever formulated, written, and presented to parliament by a talented Sierra Leonean. This document is a declaration of war against corruption and mismanagement of public funds. It is the beginning of the fight for justice and a corrupt free Sierra Leone in the next decades to come.
The 290 pages which included also the performance reviews of MDAs, Public Enterprises, Commissions and Donor Funded projects was a landmark success of the human ingenuity of a patriotic citizen who demonstrated courage with an outstanding character of integrity beyond every imagination. The great work of Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce and her staff goes a long way to improving the quality of public financial management, advancing the principles of transparency and accountability, promoting good governance and moving Sierra Leone from a corrupt-infested state to an economically viable nation.
While running for the flag-bearership of a small political party at the last Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2012, someone told me that the platform of speaking to the people on an issue based strategy, of envisioning a prosperous Sierra Leone where jobs and incomes are created through technology and investments and of building a society where corruption is reduced or controlled, was a mere waste of time and effort. This lady added: “Sierra Leone is a birthday cake and everybody comes to take a piece of the cake.” I replied: “but if everybody comes and takes a piece of the pie, what will be left for the next generation.”
Not only did this bluntly honest woman represent the hallowed political and psychological misconception of thousands of public officers and civil servants in government today, but the audit documents of Sierra Leone’s most gifted woman outlined the magnitude and scope of such damaging “ birthday cake” analogy both at Ministerial and Public Institutional levels. Here is what the Auditor General alluded to: “the most significant outcome from my audit work for 2011 has been my professional judgment that a disclaimer of opinion on the Financial Statement of the Government of Sierra Leone was appropriate in the circumstances.”
In essence, the Auditor General issued a disclaimer because she was not able to obtain sufficient and appropriate audit evidence that the External Public Debt and Domestic Revenues disclosed in the Public Account was free from material misstatement. That the government’s bank balances disclosed in the Public Account were not free from material misstatement. This means: government has not demonstrated the accountability and the transparency standards required to command institutional competency and national trust.
The Auditor General on her forward message said: “all government bank accounts are not included in the financial statements of the government of Sierra Leone.” But she was optimistic: “improving the quality of governance in the public sector cannot be emphasized enough.” Again she wrote: “Indeed, it is far from clear whether the Accountant General’s department is fully aware of all bank accounts of the government held in Sierra Leone commercial banks or overseas.” She went on: “my office has not been provided with a comprehensive listing of these bank accounts.”
Many of the audit concerns raised by the ASSL described the entrenched corrupt practices in most of the areas audited, the blatant disregard of the law, the lack of policy formulation and at worst, the need for expertise and experienced people in most government and public institutions today. Among the common problems found across MDAs, PEs, Councils and Schools includes: payment without any or inadequate supporting documents, withholding tax not deducted, monthly bank reconciliation not prepared, fixed asset registers not maintained or updated and no or ineffective internal audit units.
The Auditor General’s deepest concern was directed at the National Revenue Authority (NRA). For instance, on the audit of operational and management transit accounts, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce wrote: “my staff was unable to obtain some of the 2011 transit bank statements for all tax streams from the NRA Director of Finance.” She added: “the Director of Finance indicated that these missing bank statements had not been received from the banks.” The Auditor General was unable to obtain sufficient and appropriate audit evidence that all revenues received from each tax stream had been banked and transferred to the consolidated funds.
According to the Auditor General’s Report, the estimated cash losses to the public purse was Le110,914,263,391 for 2011. As for the following Ministries audited from January 2011 to December 31, 2011, the problems included revenues collected and not paid into bank accounts, revenues not accounted for, expenditures without authentic documents, fuel utilized without operating records, fuel chits issued to illegal vehicles, withdrawal without supporting documents and other reasons related to that Ministry or Department. These are the common practices of those who work to defraud our nation behind the desk of public trust for so many years now.
Here are some of the official figures of the revenues losses found on the Appendix of the audit report of 10 Ministries that were audited:
- Ministry of Finance and Economic Development – Le 4,740,090,611,
- Ministry of Defense (HQ) – Le 193,002,000,
- Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources (2010 & 2011) – Le514,627,443,
- Ministry of Health and Sanitation – Le 7,028,071,651 (disbursement without supporting documents only),
- Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security – Le 2,990,793,000,
- Ministry of Works, Housing and Infrastructure – Le49,505,400,
- Ministry of Land and Country Planning – Le3,931,323,383,
- Ministry of Energy and Water Resource – Le29,997, 500 (lack of control over the distribution of fuel only),
- Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources – Le24,186,647,993,
- Ministry of Trade and Industry ( 2010 & 2011 ) – Le286,122,236 and
- Office of the President (2007-2010)- Le2,421,351,093 respectively.
Indeed, the solution to such anemic and widespread corruption, mismanagement or misstatements and not following procedures or not developing policies that will create transparency and accountability can be found in the hearts and minds of those who have access to public resources. We don’t need to employ experts from overseas to solve our national failings. We don’t have to look too far to see how we can build a corrupt free zone and draft a strategic portfolio of how to solve the poor governance culture in Sierra Leone. We may begin to wrongly imagine that our broken government is due to the fact that we don’t have enough human capital and endowed natural resources. This is absolutely not even close to the truth.
If we are to find the serious problems we face in Sierra Leone today, it is simply in the hearts and soul of the men and women who govern our beloved nation. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “the greatest problem facing modern man is that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live.” Many of our public servants have not learned how to be just and honest and true to what Sierra Leone’s national values and principles stand for – compassion, love, empathy, care, and looking out for those who are weak and vulnerable in our society.
The only way we can solve our dark and desolate circumstances as a nation is to go back and search for the true essence of our national founding. We must rediscover some mighty precious values that we have left behind. Sometimes, it is necessary to go backward in order to go forward. The political philosopher, Confucius, taught us that the best government is the one base on morality rather than coercion. And the principal obligation of every public servant must be anchored on the supreme character of honesty and integrity – a tenet that hinges on moral foundation. There are moral laws through which our world is governed. And when we disobey them by our selfish desires, we are doomed to pay for the consequences.
In Sierra Leone, we have adopted the attitude of a “relativistic ethic.” We have accepted the concept that right and wrong are merely relative to our imagination. Like the woman who told me that it was unnecessary to speak for the poor and voiceless or preach about accountability, transparency and collective trust, we have lost our moral compass in the crusade for justice and national prosperity. Most people cannot stand up for what they believe in because the majority of people are not doing what is right. And since everybody is not doing it, it must be wrong.
The “birthday cake” mentality might be the ideal philosophy for politicians today. And any Sierra Leonean who stands on the threshold of undoing the wrong by working to transform a dysfunctional system is told of the odds and impossibility of changing the hopeless situation. The people who seek the pathway to an open and honest society are considered outcasts, agitators and obstructionists to the entrenched culture of corrupt in Sierra Leone. They are even psychological scuffled, brutally undermined and sometimes tormented to leave town. This is the situation our nation finds itself in today.
Our governance problems – this mindless and reckless abuse of government’s funds and resources cannot be solved by mere bullet point solutions. It is by standing up and fighting for what is right and what is wrong. Sierra Leone needs a generation of men and women like Auditor General, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, former Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Abdul Tejan Cole and the renowned world scientist Dr. Monty Jones who will always stand up for what is right and be opposed to what is wrong wherever they see it.
Sierra Leone is in dire need of courageous citizens like the late Ibrahim Bash -Taqi, Mohamed Sorie Fornah and Brigadier John Amara Bangura who were willing to challenge the things that were wrong despite the human cost attributed to their sacrifices. We must have the spirit and character of people like Isaac Theophulius Akuna Wallace Johnson and the defiant Sengbe Peih who defended what was right when nobody saw them doing it. This is what we need in the battle against corruption and not a ‘sacred cow’ doctrine that sounds like a toothless bulldog that barks but does not bite.
Indeed, it is just right to be honest and if we don’t learn it – we will misuse our own powers and destroy our nation. All reality has a spiritual control and we must know that God is behind everything we do. If we can give our public service to something eternal and absolute – we may have a different perspective about how we serve and treat our own citizens when we are entrusted with the sacred obligations to do so. That was how a small fishing coastal village of Dubai became a tourist destination today. That was how a low income country of Mauritius became Africa’s strongest middle class society. That was how a post apartheid South Africa became an economic giant in the global market. That was how a genocide ravaged nation of Rwanda became a roaring economy in Africa. And this is how Sierra Leone will become Africa’s new emerging economy and prosperous nation tomorrow.
May our nation continue to be the realm of the free.
By M.C. Bah – Atlanta, Georgia-USA
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