$75 M. World Bank Grantp for Sierra Leone

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The World Bank Board has approved an International Development Association (IDA) grant of $75 million to improve natural resources governance, enhance inclusiveness and promote sustainability of development financing. This Development Policy Operation (DPO) is the first in a series of three operations focusing on Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Financing, aimed at supporting the government’s efforts to build the foundations for a robust, inclusive, and sustainable economic recovery from the pandemic.

“The World Bank continues to be an active partner in supporting Sierra Leone’s recovery from severe shocks in the aftermath of the Ebola Virus Disease, and the current COVID-19 pandemic,” said Abdu Muwonge, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “We stand ready to further support the Government of Sierra Leone to transform the economy, make it resilient to shocks while improving the well-being of the Sierra Leonean people.”

Sierra Leone faces major economic and social challenges, including substantial gender gaps that lead to low human development outcomes. The country’s growth potential has been constrained by limited spillovers from the mining sector, and poor access by the population to financial services, natural resources (such as, land and minerals), and high-quality education.

The reforms supported by this DPO address some of the most critical structural impediments to raising potential output and improving resource allocation in key sectors of the economy and are well-anchored in Sierra Leone’s Medium-term National Development Plan (MTNDP, 2018–2023). This DPO supports the Government’s efforts to build the foundations for a robust and inclusive economic recovery from the pandemic and promote sustainable development financing of the Budget. In the short term, the operation will help the government close the country’s large financing gap, as it emerges from the pandemic. It supports policy reforms under three pillars: improving natural resources governance through land and mining reforms; enhancing inclusion through reforms to support women’s economic participation, access to quality education and financial inclusion; and ensures sustainable development financing through measures to improve fiscal sustainability and debt transparency and management.

This DPO will address poor governance of the mining and land sectors, limited access to financial services, limited job creation, and the quality of education.  As the COVID-19 shock has eroded the country’s fiscal position, this DPO proposes reforms that will help minimize the immediate tradeoff between supporting the economy and maintaining fiscal sustainability. It aims to improve fiscal and debt sustainability and address weaknesses in the public procurement process. By addressing regulatory issues in the land and mining sectors, this DPO is expected to help mitigate climate risks through progressive afforestation of mining sites, protection of forest reserves, improved environmental standards and community involvement in managing the environment.

“This Operation builds on previous development policy engagement in Sierra Leone, while also introducing new elements. It has a direct connection with the previous DPO series (“Productivity and Transparency Support Grant” over the period 2017-2020) and continues two policy reforms –the mineral and mines and lands reforms – whose implementation was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kemoh Mansaray, Senior Economist and Task Team Leader. The financing by this DPO closes a critical fiscal gap essential for maintaining macroeconomic stability during the pandemic.

The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

 Centre for Disability Students begins at FBC

By: Maa-Oul-La-Neine Tunis

The Administration of Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL) has established a Special Resource Centre for Students with Disability within its campus at Mount Aureol, Freetown.

The establishment of the center is considered by many people as a laudable move by the Administration, as Students with Disability mostly find it challenging to compete with able-bodied students in realizing their dream of attaining tertiary education.

The center aims at enhancing the promotion of Article 24(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides for the right of persons with disabilities to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity ;  Article 8(3) (f) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone, which explicitly protect the rights of older persons and persons with disabilities in the area of care , welfare and educational opportunities;  Article 15(2) of the Sierra Leone Persons with Disability Act, 2011 which advocates for the provision of special needs for persons with disability in an educational environment;  and other local and international instruments protecting the rights of persons with disability in an educational institution.

Calmly explaining the need for the establishment of such an important facility for Students with Disability on campus, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of FBC, Professor Lawrence Kamara described the establishment of the center as one of the modern obligatory fulfillments of the Administration in meeting the needs of disabled students. He however pointed out that further work is required to fully modernize the center for its users. 

“ The Administration will continue its strive in ensuring an enabling platform for Students with Disability on its campus, and it will also be open to working with Alumni and well-wishers of the college in promoting the issue of students welfare on campus,” he added

Speaking on behalf of students with disability at FBC, a final year student in the Mass Communication Department, who also doubles as the President of an Association of disabled students on campus known as Students with Special Needs, warmly thanked the college administration for establishing the centre, describing it as a form of

recognition for students with disability to be regarded as full constituent members of the College.

She also mentioned going through a lot of challenges whiles studying as a disabled students on campus, but however noted that the establishment of the facility would help ease most of the challenges faced by them as students with disability.”

She further pleaded with the Alumni and well-wishers of the College to work with the College’s Administration in actualizing its dream of fully modernizing the center.

SLAJ Boss ridicules Bio’s Govt.

The president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) Ahmed Sahid Nasralla  during the fourth annual media cocktail has highlighted some topical controversial issues the left many citizens questionable.

Below is the speech

Your Excellency, please permit to ask everyone present here who has not yet been counted. Let me see your hands raised please. If the Census people are here, I encourage you to please go around and do the counting whilst we continue with the program.

I believe as citizens we should all stand up and be counted. If the government wants to count us 10 times in a year let them count. I don’t think there’s any harm in that. May be the government is planning to do some gifts distribution to every household during this Christmas. So if you refused to be counted then you will lose out and you will have yourself to blame.

Your Excellency, since the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, SLAJ has become very attractive, especially for women.

Earlier today we inducted new members into SLAJ from the Western Urban and Rural regions, after a membership drive of over 200 applicants, the highest ever in take in the Association’s 50 years of existence. Of this total, women constitute 30 percent, the highest ever we have recruited into SLAJ.

All of this, thanks to your policy of free media. It is clear now that women can freely practice our profession. And I expect now we will begin to see more women taking leadership positions in the media industry.

The arrest of journalists in relation to their work has also substantially reduced since the repeal. In this light we have signed an MoU with the Security Sector to see how we can improve our relationship with especially the SLP so that the working environment will be more conducive for us.

However, and regrettably, the latest incidents of cyber bully of our dear sister and colleague, Mrs Asmaa James, by one of our popular musicians, and the physical attack and detention of an AYV Staff by the SLP will cloud all of these gains. And this is the huge challenge we will continue to face, especially in the digital space. These are the imperfections of life; when you plan for good, others plan for bad. We hope that in the New Year things will improve.

Your Excellency, may I take this opportunity to remind you of your outstanding manifesto promises to the media.

For the annual subvention, this year’s allocation has been surprisingly delayed as we are yet to receive for 2021.

For land for a SLAJ Secretariat, when it comes to lucky dips I don’t think I will stand a chance. I have heard my colleagues and some people say I am probably the luckiest President SLAJ has ever had, but I don’t think I will want to put that to the test through a lucky dip to acquire land that Your Excellency promised us. So if your Excellency will consider our follow up request for SLAJ to acquire the Daily Mail building at Rawdon Street, that will be the best gift of the year to the media.

In addition, Your Excellency, I want to draw your attention to the SLAJ East Building project which is now almost 40% up. Thanks to Chief Brima Swaray of the NPPA and our own Sheikh Bawoh of the SLRSA for their contributions. We call on other well-meaning people and organizations to support this initiative for an independent media.

For the investment conference for the media, we have worked with the Ministry of Information and Communications, the indefatigable Minister Mohamed Rahman Swarray and his team, throughout the year to put a program together, but there are still outstanding issues that we are trying to sort out. We will continue to work with the MIC to deliver on this promise by mid next year and we anticipate a conference whose outcomes will change the face of the Sierra Leone media forever.

In this vein, Your Excellency, we are happy that you have just launched a Sports Development Fund and committed Le10 Billion Leones from the State. May I take this opportunity, Sir, to inform you that SLAJ under my leadership will launch the Golden Jubilee Journalism Welfare Fund by mid-January 2022 to cater for the welfare of journalists in times of emergency and to promote independent journalism in Sierra Leone. Several corporate bodies, including Orange SL, Mercury International and Rokel Commercial Bank have consented to contribute to the seed fund, part of which will be invested in bearer bonds so it will yield dividend periodically. We hope other well-meaning organizations will come onboard in time for the launching, and I believe the State, and your Excellency, would not want to be left out from this initiative to support independent journalism in the country.

Your Excellency, there are other promises but we understand the State can only do some because of limited resources. So we understand the times and we will not be Oliver Twist.

Your Excellency, as I conclude, here’s a recap of some of the topical controversial highlights of the year, not necessarily in order of sequence, which kept the media and the citizens excited:

• The April 19th Parliamentary Clash in relation to the tabling of the mid-term census instrument which saw MPs throwing punches, doing mix martial arts, police spraying gas and a very senior citizen breaking his fast;

• The appointment of the NEC Commissioner for the Western Area

• The final Re-run MP elections for Constituency 110 which the SLPP lost;

• The Black Johnson Fish Harbour, which we expect to produce fish in the near future.

• The COP26 Glassgow Climate Change Summit and the untimely Public Notice from Leadway for the exportation of our timber;

• Those that are practicing Munku politics in my party, to the idiots who want to interrupt while I am speaking

• The Koinadugu bye election and those conflicting figures, 

• The 68 million Dollars the Bank Governor used to bribe hoarders of the Leone to bring back the national currency to the banks but which is the only bribery that is not corruption.

• The SLPP Women’s Leader Elections: we tok am, we do am!

• The indefinite suspension of the Auditor General and her deputy.

And the last, but not the least, Your Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues in the media: I WILL CONTINUE TO FLY!

 Freetown Mayor Discusses  with Irish Ambassador

The Mayor of Freetown Ynonne Aki-Sawyer had fruitful discussions with the Irish Ambassador, Claire Buckley, the aim of the meeting was to provide her an update on #TransformFreetown projects that have been implemented as a result of our continued partnership.

Madam Claire Buckley was excited to see tangible results of work done in the Jamaica community along Syke Street after a mini landslide in the community in 2018 left cracks and exposed boulders.

With funding from Irish Aid, trees were planted to stabilize the slope and to reduce susceptibility to subsequent landslides. Three years on, we have a little “forest” thriving in the community, which not only reduces the risk of landslides but also reduces heat stress for residents.

This is what transformation looks like and I look forward to achieving more together to make #Freetown safe for all #Freetonians.

Vital Evidence Missing in FY2020 AG’s Report  

By Chernoh A. Bah, Matthew Anderson, Mark Feldman

The Annual Audit Report for fiscal year (FY) 2020 submitted to Sierra Leone’s Parliament by the Audit Service of Sierra Leone omitted essential evidence relating to serious material misstatements and financial irregularities. These misstatements and irregularities were identified during the annual audit exercise, which monitors general purpose financial statements and other accounts of all government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).

Africanist Press discovered that the more than 50% of the evidence on financial irregularities discovered during the FY2020 audit exercise was omitted. The material left out includes details of cash losses, unreported transactions, irregular expenditures, dubious procurement activities, and other financial irregularities.

Africanist Press compared details in the FY2020 Audit Report with information recorded in audit documents, including management response letters regarding audit findings sent to MDAs and other correspondences between March 2021 and October 2021. Africanist Press found that pertinent details relating to major cash losses, irregular expenditures, public debts, and other material misstatements were omitted from the final FY2020 Audit Report. The missing details, if included, would have quadrupled the estimated cash losses recorded in the FY2020 Annual Audit Report submitted to Parliament. The missing information equally affects the overall picture of financial irregularities, mismanagement, and corruption presented in the FY2020 Audit Report.

In the final FY2020 Audit Report, for instance, reported cash losses, including those identified both for FY2020 and from backlog audits covering 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 amounted to Le153,916,933,928.25 (about US$15,144.410.00). For FY2020, the report states that the annual cash loss was Le113,133,032,085.02 (US$11,131,544.00). However, Africanist Press discovered that the reported cash losses are far below the actual amounts discovered during the FY2020 audit exercise. For example, we discovered that evidence of cash losses recorded in draft management response letters sent to MDAs between March 2021 and October 2021, are three times higher than the total cumulative amounts recorded in the FY2020 Audit Report as presented to Parliament.

In reviewing details in the FY2020 Audit Report against details recorded in audit working papers and correspondences relating to the FY2020 exercise, Africanist Press found that most of the issues relating to cash losses, procurement irregularities, and financial misstatements that were highlighted for management responses in several of the audited MDAs were excluded in the final report even though they were highlighted by auditors as high priority matters requiring management responses. We discovered that neither the information on the said queries in draft management letters, nor the requested responses from the respective officials in the said MDAs were included in the final report.

The FY2020 Audit Report made no mention of the details of these queries, including whether they were resolved or remain unaddressed. In some cases, Africanist Press discovered that the Report omitted vital details identifying specific individuals and organizations in MDAs whose names were categorically mentioned with identified issues on financial irregularities in the transactions of the audited MDAs. In other instances, Africanist Press also found that information on certain MDAs that were included in the audit exercise documents and to whom draft management letters were sent for responses were entirely removed from the FY2020 Audit Report.

Africanist Press noted that the omitted material significantly affected the overall information on the nature and extent of financial irregularities currently presented to the public in the final report submitted to Parliament. The relevant MDAs in question include the Petroleum Directorate, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation (SALHOC), National Minerals Agency (NMA), Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), and other sectors, including details on timber export revenues and transactions in the Office of the First Lady.

In the case of NASSIT, for example, we found evidence that a material misstatement amounting to over Le60.9 billion (over US$6 million) between contribution income recorded in the NASSIT Financial Statement for FY2019 and the amount recorded in the FY2019 NASSIT General Ledger and Trial Balance was excluded from the final report presented to Parliament. The audit exercise discovered that NASSIT officials did not completely and accurately record workers’ contribution income in FY2019. Audit letters examined by the Africanist Press noted specifically that the NASSIT General Ledger recorded a total of Le631,293,248,084 (about US$63.2 million) in income for FY2019, whereas the NASSIT Financial Statement shows only Le570,363,754,136 (about US$57.6 million), leaving a difference of over Le60.9 billion (over US$6 million) not accounted for.

“We identified a difference of Le60,929,493,948.87 between income as per financial statements and income as per general ledgers and trial balance. The difference was as a result of understatement of interest income in the financial statements and omission of government pension in the financial statements for the year 2019,” the audit letters stated, adding that the financial misstatement may have resulted from a deliberate underreporting of workers’ contributing income.

Auditors also stated in audit letters that NASSIT similarly underreported interest income in the FY2019 financial statement by Le309 million (over US$30,000) thereby affecting the ability of the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) to apply the corresponding interest rate of 19.46% for investments made in marketable bonds by the institution. Likewise, the audit working papers also identified a total of Le465,310,000 (over USD$46,000) as ineligible payments made to various organizations and individuals as donations. The audit team queried the basis upon which these payments were made, as they did not fall within the NASSIT’s normal operations.

These details on financial misstatements were identified by auditors during the audit exercise carried out on NASSIT’s financial statements and were highlighted as high priority in the draft management letters sent by the Audit Service to NASSIT for responses.

Africanist Press discovered that the FY2020 Audit Report only mentioned a few of the above listed issues that the auditors raised in the management letters, including only those relating to the violation of vehicle policy, the understated interest income in investment bonds undertaken by BSL and NASSIT, and the inadequate response regarding the ineligible donations. However, the FY2020 Audit Report expunged the most serious details on the NASSIT audit findings, including the material misstatement relating to the over Le60.9 billion in workers’ contribution income that the Auditor Service asked NASSIT to respond to. The FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament contains no mention of the said Le60.9 billion in contribution income that remains unaccounted for, an issue that was identified during the audit exercise as a matter of high priority. Thus, the FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament excluded the most pertinent element relating to the misappropriation of over Le60.9 billion in pension funds collected by NASSIT in FY2019.

The Report also excluded vital details that identified the list of ineligible organizations that received NASSIT donations in FY2019. The said organizations were listed in the draft management response letters sent to NASSIT for response as part of the audit exercise. The said ineligible recipient organizations included the Maada and Fatima Bio Foundation, the Old Bo Boys Association (OBBA), and several other organizations associated with the President and other senior members of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).

The FY2020 Audit Report was presented to Parliament on 9th December 2021 by acting Auditor General Abdul Aziz, who was controversially appointed a month ago after the unprecedented suspension of the country’s long-standing auditor general, Madam Lara Taylor-Pearce and her deputy, Tamba Momoh.

An Africanist Press investigation previously discovered that the President’s decision to suspend the two leading audit officials came after they highlighted financial and procurement irregularities while auditing details of the President’s travel expenditures and procurement activities of the Office of the First Lady for FY2020. The audit officials discovered that the President’s Office submitted several forged documents, including fake hotel receipts and invoices to the Audit Service as part of the president’s travel expenditures for FY2020. In management queries sent to the President’s Office in early October 2021, audit officials noted that several documents submitted by the President’s Office to justify travel expenses in FY2020, including lists of per diems, and details of alleged procurement-related activities by the President and his delegation while traveling abroad were verified to be false. The submitted receipts and invoices included alleged payments to hotels in South Africa, Lebanon, Gabon, the United Kingdom, and Ethiopia. Auditors presented the invoices and receipts to the hotels for audit verification, which the hotels denied having issued.

Africanist Press discovered that auditor general Lara Taylor-Pearce and deputy Tamba Momoh incurred the wrath of the President by insisting on including these audit findings on the president’s travel expenditure and details of the irregularities relating to the First Lady’s Office in the FY2020 Audit Report.

“The President has directed that these details be removed from the draft report before its publication,” officials in the President’s Office noted in their management response in late October 2021, which the two senior auditors refused to accept.

The President has since indefinitely suspended the two most senior members of the country’s national auditing agency. No official reasons were given for the decision, which many in Sierra Leone have described as unprecedented. The President also appointed a tribunal to investigate the “professional activities” of the two suspended senior auditors, but the tribunal is yet to commence hearings.

On Tuesday 14 December 2021, the Sierra Leone Parliament tabled the FY2020 Audit Report submitted by the acting auditor general Abdul Aziz for potential deliberation. The content of the presented controversial report nonetheless contains scandalous details, including evidence of forgery, double dipping, and potential money laundering by the President and his officials.

Despite the already scandalous details, observers say the report would have contained far more jaw-dropping evidence of graft and corruption in the Bio administration if the two senior suspended auditors were allowed to complete the audit exercise.

In verifying the content of the FY2020 Audit Report, Africanist Press has been able to identify several instances of omissions of vital evidence recorded in the audit working papers, including details in draft management letters that were supposed to be addressed by MDAs which have now been excluded in the final report submitted to Parliament. In subsequent reports, Africanist Press will continue to highlight details of these omissions and exclusions in the FY2020 Audit Report.

We have published on the Africanist Press website both an excerpt from NASSIT findings in the 2020 Audit Report and the draft management letter sent to NASSIT by the Audit Service to show evidence of the essential information that was excluded from the final FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament.

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