At a press conference held at the St, George Cathedral Hall in Freetown, the Anti -Corruption Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala told journalists and Civil Society representatives present at the meeting that after perusal of the Auditor General’s 2019 Audit Report, they discovered that certain issues dating back to 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 were captured in the report.
This venture by the Auditor General, he said, is a composite analysis of the financial transactions of MDAs and Commissions, including those that took place in 2018.
Ben Kaifala furthered that during their examination of the Report, they discovered that some of the issues raised have been investigated and actions taken, some are currently under investigation and others will be given immediate attention.
He went on to say that there are issues that investigations have been completed on by the Commission and the persons of interest have been ordered to pay back those monies, in other cases some payment have been done and further payments are due, according to the arrangements made with the persons of interest. In some other cases, they have charged the matters to Court, whilst others are being investigated.
He noted with dismay the discovery in the Report about failure on the part of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) to collect outstanding GST from known businesses. That institution, he maintained, has the mandate to even get the Court to order the culprits to honour their debts. However, he said the ACC will engage the NRA on those issues and if they fail to retrieve those monies, the ACC will take the necessary actions to get the defaulters to comply.
Ben Kaifala further outlined the various issues in the Audit Report that borders on the past years, noting that various Ministries have issues and the following have been put on priority list for immediate investigation: Ministry of Finance, Local Government Ministry, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Ministry of Information and Communications, Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Judiciary etc.
He stressed that the ACC will be working closely with Parliament to ensure accountability for the missing funds. He noted that the Parliament of Sierra Leone has the constitutional mandate to investigate all matters of corruption and because of the volume of work on its hand, it decided to form the ACC.
Thus the Commission is not usurping the powers of Parliament, but rather working on their behalf for the good of the people of Sierra Leone. Kaifala hastened to say whilst there are cases of corruption to be investigated, yet it does not mean that when the Report say documentary evidence has not been provided for some transactions, that an act of corruption has taken place.
It could be that at the time of the auditing of the respective MDAs the receipts for the said transactions were not provided, but may well be in the possession of the respective institutions.
In this regard, he referred to an incident in which an Audit Report disclosed that some Le2.6 billion was not accounted for by the Ministry of Works, but during their investigation, they discovered that they were looking in the wrong places, whilst the money was lying safely in an account at the Bank of Sierra Leone.
He further disclosed that at NASSIT a huge amount said to be unaccounted for is due to the fact that the official who had the password for the machine where the details are inputed, abandoned his post and took with him the password, as a result the figures cannot be reconciled as no one was able to access the data in the machine.
He stressed that issues of 2018 will be immediately dealt with and that they will be holding consultations with Parliament on those issues, especially as the Parliamentary Committee on Accounts should examine and release a report on the said Audit Report before any action is taken on them.
He however assured the audience that the ACC is poised to do all in its power to ensure that the missing funds are recovered and if need be, the Persons of Interest charged to Court. Either way, the monies will be retrieved, he stressed.
He urged the media to let the people know that an Audit Report is no longer an opinion, but a fact that should be investigated and the culprits brought to book. On the issue of the Treasury Single Account, Francis Ben Kaifala said that it involves a combination of accounts under one umbrella, thus defending the issue of the ACC having some 15 Accounts.
Those Accounts, he said, were opened by the Accountant General for the Commission and are being regularly viewed by the AG.
He praised Sierra Leoneans for taking keen interest in the way tax payers’ monies being expended and assured them that the ACC will ensure that they are used for the right purposes.
A question and answer session climaxed the Press Briefing.