October 2, 2022

All is not well at the electoral commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) where an alleged embezzlement of US$10m has been detected, a report by a US-based media agency says. Despite conflicting evidence showing that over US$10m has been spent on procurement of ICT gadgets for the voter registration, Africanist Press found no evidence that the equipment were actually delivered.

The money was allegedly stashed away in procurement scams undertaken by the elections body for which the elections chief may be indicted. Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh may face Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation in days to come in respect of the fraud.

EU allocated US$10m to ECSL for the conduct of 2023 elections. The money was meant for the purchase of   equipment and materials for the registration exercise. It was a fulfillment of a promise made by EU ambassador, Manuel Muller as part of their support to a free, fair and credible electoral process in Sierra Leone.

The alleged embezzlement was brought to public attention for necessary action by the anti-graft agency. “The Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone awarded two procurement contracts worth about US$10m to two Freetown companies that did not show technical capacity to supply the requested voter registration technology and the software for the country’s upcoming elections in June, 2023,” a portion of the report reads.

The money was allegedly stolen through bizarre procurement deals. ECSL, the report notes, awarded Infinity Communication Technology and General Merchandise an US$8.5m contract to supply laptop computers, finger print scanners and other accessories.

Africanist Press further stated that another US$1.2m contract was also awarded to Felicity Solar Technology Limited for the purchase of 1, 850 portable rechargeable solar-powered generators and 1, 850 extension cords with protector accessories. The two companies were selected in April, last year among 13 that lodged bids with ECSL to supply the technology equipment.

The procedures leading to ECLS’s selection of the two companies were absurd, but Mohamed Konneh justified his decision on low price bidding submitted by the selected company.

“We hereby announce our intent to award the contract to Infinity ICT and General Merchandise having been evaluated as the lowest response bidder in accordance with the criteria stated in the bidding document,” William Addo Davies wrote on 29th April, 2022.

ECSL, nonetheless, provided no other reason for choosing Infinity Company for the contract among companies which are more qualified with more proven capabilities and lowest bid offers.

In their proposal, Infinity company showed no other competitive advantage over the other companies. Evidence that emerged after the contract had been awarded showed that Infinity Company was not the lowest bidder.

Documents uncovered by Africanist Press on the evaluation process show that Infinity’s proposed contract offer of US$7, 475, 700 was higher than the amounts offered by at least two other companies, Orchid ventures (US7, 186, 626) and Bintex Incorporated Ltd (US$5, 800, 700).

Apart from the low prices offered by the two companies, they also matched with Infinity Company on all seven criteria used to evaluate the bids. The report thus argues that in a normal bidding process, these criteria would have led to the selection of either Orchid or Bintex.

Doing otherwise amounts to corruption suspicion that should eventually lead to investigation and possibly prosecution. Africanist Press also discovered that Orchid and Bintex fulfilled all the listed bidding requirements including NASSIT (National Social Security and Insurance Trust and NRA (National Revenue Authority) clearances, business registration certificates, evidence of similar experience and updated audited financial statements.

It was found out that the two companies even provided manufacturer’s authorisation which Infinity, the successful bidder, did not include in his bidding documents. In what is showcased as limited capacity, a third-party supplier identified as Laxton Group was subcontracted again through Infinity ICT and General Merchandise to deliver the voter registration equipment and software.

After invoices and financial correspondences were reviewed, it was also discovered that Laxton accepted the subcontract which is to cover the entire procurement for US$2, 247, 100.

“In the course of our investigation,  we reviewed invoices from ECSL records and found that a specific invoice #637 issued on 14th June in the name of Laxton requested from ECSL the amount of US$224, 710.00 as 10% advance payment on the voter registration contract,” Africanist Press report also indicates.

Correspondence by ECSL’s executive secretary, William Addoe Davies dated 15th June,  instructs Bank of Sierra Leone officials to transfer the amount of US$213, 963.00 from ECSL/NEC’s BSL account #011 200 8440 to Infinity ICT and General Merchandise’s USD account #003, 001 100 165 412 164 held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank in Freetown.

Records also show that Bank of Sierra Leone transferred funds to the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank on 16th June, 2022 in Sierra Leone.

It was also detected that two weeks later on 29 June, 2022 another US$409, 294.58 was paid through SWIFT transfer via Standard Chartered Bank, South Africa-SCB-SA in the name of Infinity as additional payment of 20% on the said contract. The US-based media agency also claimed that Infinity ICT was awarded the contract without fair competition, and a transparent bidding process contrary to ECSL’s claims, and in violation of the Public Procurement Act, 2016.

The law, in question, regulates procurement procedures and processes in ministries, departments and agencies of government.    The law states in Section 37(1) that “public procurement shall be undertaken by means of an advertised open bid processes to which equal access shall be provided to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination” and that letters of notification informing unsuccessful bidders of the reason for which their bids were unsuccessful must be sent to the bidders.”

The report also stated that Africanist Press examined the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) database on awarded   contracts in for the fiscal year, 2022 and found that inconsistency between NPPA’s records for the same contracts awarded to Infinity and Laxton.

ECSL’s financial documents show that an US$8.5m contract was awarded to infinity which, in turn, subcontracted on a US$2.2m offer on the same contract. The NPPA database however suggests that Infinity Company had a separate contract of US$8.5m and Laxton had a contract of US$2.2m which means ECSL spent US$10, 844, 155 on registration computer.

The NPPA database on the contract contains details that contradict detailing of the bidding notices and ECSL’s financial transactions relating to the payments. “The exaggerated amounts which directly contradicts stated budgets in the advertised bid notices for the contracts clearly shows efforts by the Electoral Commission and Procurement Authority to justify procurement irregularities and corruption surrounding the award of the contracts,” says finance specialist Ahmed Sesay.

Apart from the US$8.5m contract awarded to Infinity Company, Africanist Press also discovered another US$1.2m contract similarly awarded to Felicity Solar Technology (SL) Limited.

The felicity Solar Technology contract was granted for the purchase of 1, 850 portable rechargeable solar-powered generators and 1, 850 extension cords with surge protector accessories.

“We discovered an invoice issued  on 31st May, 2022 in the name of Felicity Solar Technology requesting an amount of US$385, 725.00 as advance payment of 30% from the US$1, 285, 750.00  contract awarded for the supply and delivery of the portable solar-powered generators,” the report also noted.

The report went on to state that at a conservative estimate, a good quality solar-powered generator costs about US$2,000, and usually comes bundled with power cords and adaptors. The rough estimate would amount to about US$3.7m.