Suspected misappropriation of Le 5.7Bn by Universal Access Development Fund (UADF) renders the agency liable to investigation by the country’s anti-graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The CEO showed up before the Information and Communication Committee in parliament to present details on how the whooping sum was spent.
UADF was set up by the Telecommunications Act of 2009 to promote universal service and access to information and communication services by all Sierra Leoneans. UADF is managed to facilitate the widest possible access to affordable telecommunication services for greater social equity and inclusion for the people of Sierra Leone. The agency operates on a public-private partnership model to realise the objective of a universal accessibility of telecoms services.
Like any public body, UADF is funded by consolidated fund implying that resources allocated to it either material or financial must be utilised judiciously and must account for it. But, the presentation made by UADF’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Marie Momoh before the information committee the Previous Tuesday about finances allocated to the agency raised a big cloud of suspicion.
The suspicion, no doubt, may compel ACC to investigate. The Presentation on how UADF spent the Le 5.7Bn in 2019 was presided over by the Chairman for the parliamentary Committee on Information and Communication, Hon. Boston Munda. The details of Madam Momoh’s financial expenditure indicate that the agency spent the said sum on administrative, operational and other blanket costs.
The CEO’s financial records show that the sum of Le Le126M was allocated to administrative expenses. The documents presented by the CEO failed to show how the money was expended. The failure to submit the detailed report on the UADF’s financial expenditure did not go down well with parliamentarians including Hon. Munda.
He accused the CEO of failing to furnish the committee with the requested documents noting that those submitted were scanty. The World Bank Survey Report, Bank Statement of 2019 and 2020 and other vital documents were not part of the CEO’s submissions to parliament. MP’s were also convinced that UADF attempted to duplicate their documents to take credit for the Sierra Leone Cable fibre connectivity projects in universities and schools across the country.
The UADF’s sinister cover-up of their expenditure was seen as a move to justify the huge sums of money spent in 2019 and 2020. During the presentation in parliament, it was made clear by the CEO that the confidence of UADF partners to work with UADF has been shaken to the core. The partners are no longer willing to work with UADF. The unwillingness of partners to work with the communication agency is attributed largely to dishonest disposal of public funds. A big headache exists for UADF in light of persistent budgetary deficits Sierra Leones suffers annually, if not perennially.
Since UADF’s report is riddled with serious deficiencies, parliament continues the probe indefinitely until the truth is discovered. Financial leakages as indicated in the UADF report is one of few incidents taking place in the public sector agencies especially parastatals. The persistent leakages have a combined effect of weak links for the country’s public service, and undermine the much needed services that due the people of Sierra Leone.
Continuous wastage of public funds was made public by a presentation made in 2015 by Dr Samuel Jibao, a former university lecturer who now heads the country’s revenue collection agency, the National Revenue Authority. The presentation indicates that 5% of the country’s budget at that time was wasted in administrative activities, and the act constituted a loss of public revenue.
The former ACC Deputy Commissioner, Shollay Davies witnessed the presentation, and took responsibility. President Julius Maada Bio was voted in on the platform of blocking leakages for the national good. In most of his campaign platforms, the President came out clear that stoppage of leakages will be a top priority for his government if voted in power.
In most of President Maada Bio’s responses to international media particularly the BBC, he made no mince of words about his relentless campaign against corruption through blockage of leakages in the public sector. It came to pass as the then flag-bearer is now President of Sierra Leone and the same promise of sealing off financial leakages has been re-echoed times without number.
The zero-tolerance campaign against corruption and systems review is a manifestation of stopping leakages by the President. The setting up of the Commission Of Inquiry (COI) as a platform of democratic accountability for past government officials was another major step to stop cavalier attitude towards public finances.
The COI was an opportunity for Sierra Leoneans to see how the country’s public finances were expended by the purse holders as they render accounts of their stewardship to the nation. A number of public and civil servants especially permanent secretaries, directors and managing directors as well as ministers were humbled in the COI.
The facts and findings of the COI have been presented to the President, and a ‘White Paper’ is pending. It is widely hoped that no one would be spared when the ‘White Paper’ comes out.
It is widely expected that ACC investigation would follow the ‘White Paper.’
Head of the ACC, Francis Ben Kaifallah has said the ACC is ever ready to implement the COI recommendations when the ‘White Paper’ is out. He assured the public that the structures for investigations are now in place for those who will be named in the report. Apart from the COI report, the ACC is ever ready to investigate incidents of corruption captured in audit reports.
“Gone are the days audit reports are treated as mere opinions by the ACC,” the ACC head warns. ACC’s readiness was pronounced by Mr Kaifallah in a press briefing at the Cathedral House in Freetown which was witnessed by very important personalities from diverse spheres of life. The statement from the ACC means the agency will no longer sweep, under the carpet, acts of corruption captured by reports especially audit report.
The ACC, over the years, has demonstrated great effort towards the investigation of corruption offences allegedly committed by public bodies. Its effort in the recovery of over Le8Bn of public money represents one of the greatest milestones in the country’s anti-corruption campaign.
However, ACC has been lambasted quite recently for tailoring the fight against corruption only to the past government now in opposition. Trials of corruption that have taken place and those pending seem to have contained an element of truth of the allegation of bias by the ACC.
Former Vice President, Victor Bockarie Foh and other ministers battle it out with alleged corruption, former Minister of Internal Affairs, Alfred Paolo Conteh who now serves a jail term has been roped in for corruption charges, former Commissioner-General, Haja Kallah Kamara of the National Revenue Authority too has faced the ACC and others continue to be threatened with charges of corruption.
All the afore-mentioned officials are past government officials. On the Side of the ‘New Direction’ Government, most Sierra Leoneans say, ministers and other officials are let off the hook of corruption. The case against former Minister of Basic and Senior School Education, Alpha Timbo and other officials have been discharged though not acquitted.
Minister Timbo and others were accused to have misappropriated thousands of bags of rice donated to Sierra Leone by the Republic of China.
The indicted minister now sits as Minister of Labour and Social Security after he walked free from the courts. His accomplices Madam Cogra and other officials have returned to work as usual. The case has died sine die.
Notwithstanding allegations of bias against ACC, it is widely hoped that the terrible revelations in parliament will ignite an ACC investigations into the financial activities of UADF for 2019 and 2020 to save the people’s money.