By Allieu S. Tunkara
In their procurement activities between March and June 2020, the lead campaigner against Covid-19, National Covid-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) and Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) of government continue to undermine the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA).
The NPPA is a public institution charged with the responsibility of ensuring orderly procurement processes and activities in MDA’s.
The undermining of NPPA comes in the form of neglect by government officials and procurement officers to follow established procedures in the procurement of goods and services on behalf of the state.
Appalling procurement statistics presented by the 2020 Audit Report shows the cavalier attitude of government officials in the handling of public finances.
NACOVERC, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Integrated Health Projects Administration Unit of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), MoHS itself, among others have been singled out as government agencies that were involved in procurement anomalies.
After the index case of Corona Virus was detected in Sierra Leone on 31st March last year, Government of Sierra Leone put in place an implementation strategy in the same month to prevent the virus spreading in the country after it received the first transfer of funds from the Ministry of Finance (MoF).
In the campaign against the virus, an appeal for local and international support was made by government.
A number of individuals, local businesses and organisations responded to government’s appeal in the form of donations to boost the campaign against the virus.
The MoF opened bank accounts and transferred funds from the Consolidated Fund to enhance government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The funds were initially managed through the Emergency Operations Centre, but such management was later transferred from the EOC to NACOVERC.
Owing to the steady inflow of funds into the Covid-19 accounts, the country’s fiscal watchdog, Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) conducted what it referred to as a real time audit into the management of funds.
The aim was to ascertain whether the funds were utilised for the intended purpose.
The ASSL decision was in line with the relevant laws of Sierra Leone which mandate the Auditor General to audit entities entrusted with public money.
The findings that came out in respect of procurement processes and activities indicate a complete deviation from generally accepted standards of procurement.
Several procurement anomalies were captured by the audit report making the effort of NPPA over the years a complete disaster.
The report focused mainly on how procurement for certain goods was done in response to the Covid-19 outbreak especially the procurement of vehicles and motorcycles.
The procedurally flawed procurement of 30 vehicles and 100 motorcycles by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) amounting to Le20Bn was captured by the report.
The report indicated that MTA signed a contract with a middleman supplier, Anagkazo Ventures, on 24th April, 2020 to supply 30 assorted brand new vehicles and 100 motorbikes for NCOVERC operations valued at Le20, 061, 000, 000 (Twenty Billion and Sixty-One Million Leones).
This procurement contract embarked upon by NACOVERC became an object of intense criticism by the report as the agency went through a middleman supplier that cost the state billions of Leones.
MTA’s decision, the report said, in engaging a middleman supplier instead of dealing directly with the primary suppliers brought a financial loss of Le3, 241, 774, 484 (Three Billion, Two Hundred and Forty-One Million, Seven Hundred and Seventy-Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Eighty-Four Million Leones).
The sum is a huge one that would have been used in other sectors of the Covid-19 response especially taking care of the welfare needs of those in quarantine facilities and treatment centres.
Lately, NACOVERC’s response to the virus has been insistently questioned owing to strikes and civil disorders in quarantine facilities for their failure to cater for the needs of quarantined inmates.
It was also shown by the report that the supplier breached the terms of the contract as two of the vehicles delivered were not brand new.
NACOVERC, the report further noted, failed to register and insure the procured vehicles and motorcycles despite the provision of quotations from the National Insurance Company and the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority.
The report also touched on the procurement of 30 motorcycles for the Office of National Security amounting to Le651M (Six hundred and Fifty-One Million Leones).
Based on a contract between ONS and Speedwing Investment Sierra Leone Limited, the report said, the Accountant-General paid Le651, 060, 000 (Six Hundred and Fifty-One Million and Sixty Thousand Leones) for the 30 motorcycles without proper documentary evidence.
“There was no evidence to indicate how the procurement and supply came about,” the report emphasised.
The report went further to show that Speedwing Investment Ltd. had little or no experience in selling motorcycles.
The company, according to the audit report, was a mere middleman who won the procurement under doubtful circumstances.
“As a result of this obscured procurement process, the audit was able to determine that when compared with the primary supplier, KAM 125 Enterprises, the contract price was hugely inflated and resulted in the loss of public funds of Le276, 060, 000 (Two Hundred and Seventy-Six Million and Sixty Thousand Leones).
The said sum is another good chunk of money that would have been better utilised for other Covid-19 response components.
The report didn’t lose sight of the procurement processes of 60 motorbikes costing Le1.3Bn for the use of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
It was observed by the audit team that the 60 motorbikes were procured by the Ministry of Defence using the Public Procurement Act of 2016, but the unit price of the motorbikes as per contract was highly inflated.
The inflation of the price, the report noted, led to a “possible loss” of Le552, 120, 000 (Five Hundred and Fifty-Two Million, One Hundred and Twenty Thousand Leones) of public funds.
The report also indicated that the supplier who may not be registered for the Goods and Services Tax with the tax-collection agency, the National Revenue Authority, charged Le169, 841, 739 (One Hundred and Sixty-Nine Million, Eight Hundred and Forty-One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty-Nine Leones).
The audit report also delved into the procurement of 40 motorbikes KAM-125 for the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) worth Le868M (Eight Hundred and Sixty-Eight Million Leones).
The SLP, the report said, got the said sum to procure the 40 motorbikes for the institution, but later discovered that the unit price of the motorbikes as per contract was also highly inflated thereby resulting in the “possible loss” of public funds amounting to Le368, 080, 000 (Three Hundred and Sixty-Eight Million and Eighty Thousand Leones).
The procurement of goods and services by the Finance Team of Integrated Health Projects Administration Unit valued at Le143, 950, 000 (One Hundred and Forty-Three Million, Nine Hundred and Fifty-Thousand Leones) also came under the spotlight.
The report noted that the sum was allocated to the SLP for the procurement of the said quantity of motorcycles for the institution, but evidence to show how the contract came about and proof of performance and delivery were never presented to the auditors.
The procurement of personal high-end gadgets including an ‘Apple Airpod,’ JBL Bluetooth speakers and a headset Neck Bluetooth have been described by the report a complete waste of public money.
The procured gadgets, the report said, had no bearing on the Covid-19 response.
The procurement findings and analysis done by the report indicate a complete deviation from legally accepted standards of procurement.
When such findings are put out within domain, the work of the regulator, the NPPA is brought into question.
By virtue of the agency’s accomplishments since the NPPA Chief came into power, it is safe to say much has been done to ensure sanity in the field of procurement.
But, the audit report has sent a loud and clear message that much has to be done if much is to be realised.