By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) of government have been warned by Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) about the use of public money in emergency situations.
The warning is centred on the procedures and approval arrangements to be followed under an emergency procurement.
ASSL is a government institution that ensures probity in the use of public finances through periodic auditing and reporting on the financial activities of MDA’s.
It derives its mandate from the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 which mandates the Auditor-General to audit public accounts of Sierra Leone and all public offices.
The periodic auditing usually lasts for a year although the institution can conduct special auditing upon request by government.
The auditing institution reminds MDA’s about the use of public funds under a state of public emergency.
“…Under a national emergency situation, users of public funds are required to be mindful of public financial management and procurement rules and regulations,” an ASSL news release reads in part.
ASSL, in its press release, also highlighted specific procedures to be followed by users of public money.
The auditing agency says there must be clear communication, documentation and approvals for all transactions, tracking of funds and accurate reporting including appropriations and all other sources of public funds as well as appropriate spending of public money.
ASSL does not lose sight of the legal framework that guides procurement processes in an emergency situation.
“Section 40 of the 2006 Procurement Regulations spells out the procedures to be followed under an emergency procurement, and section 117 highlights the approval arrangements to be followed for emergency procurement,” the news release also reads.
Also, specific attention was paid to imprest disbursed to MDA’s.
ASSL makes reference to part 10 of the Public Financial Management Regulations (PFMR), 2018 which deals exclusively with the establishment, utilisation and retirement of imprest.
Both standing and emergency imprest are mentioned in the warning. The former lasts for a year while the latter is meant for 30 days after the completion of an activity.
Section 117 of the PFMR, 2018 was also cited in the warning issued to MDA’s. The law states that: “An imprest fund shall be established for making payments of petty expenditure that cannot be made through the ordinary payment process required under the Act…” the release also reads.
The ASSL warning came at the height of the Corona Virus epidemic which is threatening the survival of nations.
Government has set aside Billions of Leones to combat the deadly Corona Virus. It has also opened a Corona Virus account calling on well-meaning Sierra Leoneans including corporate entities and business institutions to put in financial resources for Corona Virus related expenditure especially procurement-related activities.
Flouting of procurement processes, rules and regulations always raise questions of probity in public spending.
See press release below:
AUDIT SERVICE SIERRA LEONE
USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS UNDER A NATIONAL EMERGENCY SITUATION
Freetown, Sierra Leone – 8th April, 2020: As part of its public education and information drive, the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) wishes to inform the general public about the procedures in the use of public funds under a national emergency situation including the manner in which imprest funds should be accessed and retired.
In order to ensure a prudent use of public funds under a national emergency situation, users of public funds are required to be mindful of public financial management and procurement rules and regulations when carrying out activities using public monies ;
1. There should be clearly communicated and, documented authority and approvals for all transactions.
2. All funds spent must be properly tracked and accurately reported including appropriations and all other sources of public funds for managing the emergency situation.
3. For Items not usually part of normal public spending, MDAs need to be clear on whether or not such spending is an appropriate use of public money
4. Section 40 of the 2006 Procurement regulations spells out the procedures to be followed under an emergency procurement, and section 117 highlights the approval arrangements to be followed for emergency procurement.
5. Part 10 of the Public Financial Management Regulations, 2018 deals exclusively with the establishment, utilization and retirement of imprests.
6. Section 117(1) of the Public Financial Management Regulations 2018 states that an imprest fund shall be established for making payments of petty expenditure that cannot be made through the ordinary payment Process required under the Act and these Regulations without undue inconvenience.
In line with the above section, an imprest can be defined as a fund disbursed to Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) for small items of expenditure and restored to a fixed amount periodically. An imprest can also be referred to as an amount disbursed to an MDA to undertake a specific activity. Imprests are paid into the accounts of the MDAs in advance, and the MDAs are required to retire imprest disbursed in full.
There are two types of imprest:
• Standing Imprest – A standing imprest fund is an amount allocated/disbursed to an MDA for the payment of small items of expenditure, and utilized amount of which can be replenished upon retirement and request. Standing imprest is maintained throughout a financial year.
• Special Imprest- A special imprest fund is established for making specific payments in respect of specific activities or events. A special imprest is not replenished, and must be fully retired 30 days after the completion of the activity.
Section 119(2) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone mandates the Auditor-General to audit the public accounts of Sierra Leone and all public offices. It further states that the Auditor-General shall have access to all books, records, returns and other documents relating or relevant to those accounts. The MDAs expenditure relating to imprests are part of the records, returns and documents submitted to auditors for audit purpose.
Imprest holders are therefore expected to FULLY comply with the provisions in Sections 117 to 124 of the Public Financial Management Regulations 2018, in the management of all forms of imprest given out from public funds for both emergency and non-emergency use.
The ASSL will continue to carry out its mandate of being the guardian of Sierra Leone’s Economic Security.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Information, Education and Communications unit of the ASSL for any further clarifications.
Information, Education & Communications Officer