The Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) was created under Chapter VI, Section 119 of the 1991 Constitution to perform one basic function: promote accountability and good governance. However, to effectively “carry out audits on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the audited government entities use their resources in carrying out their responsibilities,” they should be allowed to function as an independent institution.
As opposition presidential candidates, the work of ASSL allowed us to challenge the excesses of the previous APC government between 2015 – 2018. Using evidence from reports produced by the Office of the Auditor-General, current President and former SLPP Presidential Candidate, Julius Maada Bio and I harangued the past government for four years.
Launching his party’s manifesto in Port Loko, President Bio promised to fight corruption and improve accountability and lauded the work of ASSL for “the publication of a series of robust annual audits providing evidence of leakages…” during the previous government.
The New Direction Promise
For several months now, Sierra Leoneans have watched as the ASSL has come under attack and its Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce under siege. The campaign intensified after the release of the 2019 audit report and the Covid-19 special audit. The government used the current audit service and forensic audits reports to substantiate its White Paper. Yet, the same government, six months later, turns around to wage war on the audit service for exposing their own malfeasance. It is hypocrisy, effrontery, and total disregard for the Sierra Leonean people.
The fight against corruption, fiscal consolidation and discipline promised us will be meaningless if Sierra Leoneans fail to call out party operatives who are bent on the systematic dismantling of the Audit Service – an institution that has shown exemplary service and resilience for 15 plus years. As father of the nation, President Bio should lead that call!
President Bio promised in his manifesto to “ensure the full implementation of all recommendations in annual audits of the ASSL and of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.” He promised us a New Direction “with a committed political leadership in the fight against corruption” and one that will “ensure the efficient political and economic management of the state and its natural resources to capacitate our country to pay for and finance all our basic and essential services…”
The Role of Parliament
However, our parliament has an important role to play, too. When it comes to institutionalized corruption, like institutionalized leakages, we, parliamentarians will inadvertently, aid and abet bad behavior by negligence and willful dereliction of responsibility. It is so ironically convenient that we are all painted as personally corrupt just after we call for parliamentary hearings. Will our parliament be used to bully Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce? Will we allow Parliament to be used to disparage the Audit Service reports or support the auditee to tell the auditor how to do its work?
Unless Parliament says otherwise, the Audit Service’s budget and revenues are managed by the institution itself. By compelling the audit service to surrender its funds to the single treasury account, you are forcing them to receive instructions from (and be controlled by) the government. In other words, the tail will wag the dog; the auditee will tell the auditor when to audit, who to audit, what questions to ask, and what reports to prepare. All the decades of World Bank capacity building for prudent financial management and accountability will be flushed into the cesspit.
Silence of Convenience by International agencies and donors
The United Nations, the World Bank, and other donors who lecture us about accountability, International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), internal controls, etc. cannot pretend not to see this drama. If Ms. Taylor-Pearce is harassed enough, she will resign. Then for the first time in two decades, a party loyalist will be quickly railroaded through Parliament.
Where is UNDP-the agency for good governance? All donors know that by IPSAS standards, auditors are independent. By keeping silent, they are aiding and abetting the government to run the Auditor General out of town. Is it not double standards that the fight against corruption is only about the past?
Where is UN Women? What happened to all those proclamations about women’s rights and empowerment? Is it not a shame that during the week of the celebrations of international women’s day, Lara Taylor Pearce, the brave and first female auditor general of Sierra Leone, faced the worst barrage of threats and disparaging attacks by the government’s media lackeys? Is it OK for the Chief Fire Officer to become the arsonist?
In my earlier professional life, I spent six years working on Minority Affairs and was appointed the first Assistant to the Dean for Minority Affairs in the College of Agriculture, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. We learnt that one way institutionalized racism gets rid of prominent minorities and women is by attrition through racist and sexist innuendoes.
Auditor General Taylor-Pearce should hold on. However, she needs our support. In 2018, the Chief Justice and Governor of the Central Bank all hastily resigned for one reason or the other, even though their offices and tenure are protected under the Constitution. Will Sierra Leoneans sit back and allow the ASSL to be torn down and politicize? Are the District Councils next to be decapitated and made monolithic? When will we wake up from our slumber?
Leave Lara Taylor – Pearce alone! Hands off our Audit Service Sierra Leone!