October 1, 2022

Despite the much trumpeted shift from narrow economic diplomacy to development diplomacy, perceptions of corruption on Foreign Affairs Minister still prevail. Professor David Francis is being hunted by such perceptions as Sierra Leoneans doubt his capacity to deliver in the new ministry.

Superintending Foreign Affairs Ministry calls for not only sound academic credentials but also  probity and integrity. The development diplomacy promised is yet to be seen. Before his appointment as  Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Francis was Chief Minister for over three years.

The Chief Ministry is the most strategic  to Bio’s administration. The office handles policy matters  in the Office of the President and supervises other ministries. It was during the days of Professor Francis that Office of the President came under fire for corruption.

Office of the President was ranked third corrupt chasing closely parliament and the Sierra Leone Police ranked first and second respectively. Office of the President carried the tag of corruption following a perception survey conducted by a consortium of civil society organizations: Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, Restless Development and Christian Aid. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans were interviewed about their views on corruption.

The responses derived from the interviews were translated into a data the country could use to tackle corruption. Afro-Barometre, through IGR (Institute of Governance Reform) also came up with findings on Sierra Leone’s corruption after a study they conducted.

The corruption watchdog also indicted several public  institutions in the country for corruption. Counter responses came from government officials. Minister of  Information, Mohammed Rado Swarray said in several media interviews that Office of the President did not only refer to State House but also other offices.

The Minister maintained that Office of the President was too large. Other defenses advanced by some government officials hinge on the small population sample used by the researchers.

However, an argument put forward by former World Bank Country Director runs contrary to government’s. Arthur Brown had argued during a public lecture at Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown that for a country to be declared non-corrupt, perceptions of corruption must not exist.

The existence of corruption in the Office of the President was laid bare by a US-based media agency, Africanist Press. The media agency blemished Chief Minister’s personality and made him an object of investigation by ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission). Africanist Press alleged that the former Chief Minister exhibited cavalier behaviour towards public money entrusted to his care.

It was indicated by the reports that the sum of Le34.2 billion Leones was misused  by the former Chief Minister in activities unrelated to the country’s development. Corruption in the Office of former Chief Minister under Prof Francis took the form of travels, per diem allowances amounting to several billions of Leones.

Documents obtained by Africanist Press showed that the said sum was spent in less than three years. The money, according to the media agency, was spent on media consultancies, per die ms and procurement of goods and services that did not go through official competitive bidding process and open requests.

The revelations were shocking, and bring into question New Direction’s campaign against corruption. It was also discovered that several wire transfers of hundreds of million Leones were made to foreign media agencies and technology company in Europe, China and the United States.

These transfers, according to Africanist Press, were for consultancies, public relations and information technology products. It was former Chief Minister’s negative side as none of the services was advertised or put on open bid.

“Records of these large monetary transfers were non-compliant with Sierra Leone’s public finance laws and procurement regulations,” a portion of the report states. The country’s laws and regulations on public finance and procurement require that expenditure from the Consolidated Fund be within the ambits of each procuring agency or the department’s approved budgetary and procurement plan.

The procurement plan is to ensure probity in handling public money. Former Chief Minister’s financial activities  nakedly trampled on finance and procurement laws. Further evidence obtained indicated that procurement of goods and services were undertaken on ad hoc basis, and in ways that openly violated public procurement regulations.

“These procurements included, for example, a total of 1, 876, 061, 250 (about US$185, 000) paid directly in the last quater of 2018 to Salman Motors in Freetown. The money included the purchase of an alleged Toyota and Land Cruiser Prado vehicles for the newly established Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation(DST).

Africanist Press also discovered an unusually high advance payment of 1, 200, 000, 000 (one billion, two hundred million Leones) (about 120, 000 than 70% of the contract value was made to Salmon Motors ahead of three vehicles supposedly purchased for DSTI staff.

The figures shown in the report cannot be explored and exhausted by this article. The amounts of money allegedly misappropriated are huge and horrific. The money could wreck s weak economy.

As he presides over Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the public is casting doubt on his ability to bring development to Sierra Leone. The corruption allegations distrusts the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

To date, the former Chief Minister  remained silent about the allegations, and silence means consent. The question is: will the Chief Minister succeed in his development diplomacy in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.