My attention has been drawn to a number of issues highlighted in the Government white paper based on Recommendations made by reports of the Chairman and sole commissioner in the Commission of Inquiry No. 1 established by Constitutional Instrument No. 64. I was represented by my solicitors because I was refused travel by the Anti-Corruption Commission to attend a critical medical follow up treatment that led to my health deteriorating and almost took my life by the time proceedings commenced. I am still fighting for my life during Covid-19.
I am dismayed that all evidence submitted and witness statements mainly from the Petroleum Directorate were ignored.
I wish to make the following statements:
- That the Petroleum Directorate was audited every year of my tenure as Director General and in our case, every transaction was audited and have consistently had a clean opinion year after year and have always implemented every recommendation from audit service Sierra Leone.
The transition team ignored speaking to the management team of the Petroleum Directorate before the Governance Transition Team (GTT) Report was published, we only had the Speaker of Parliament visiting the PD after the draft was published, mainly to ask for documents relating to issues raised in the GTT report, which we quickly submitted.
- RENTING OF AN OFFICE SPACE
This issue was audited by Audit Service Sierra Leone and no query raised. I must reiterate that all procurement and industry procedures were followed through an inclusive process chaired by Mr. Adekunle J. M. King; the current Ambassador to the African Union In Ethiopia, who was Senior Legal Counsel at the Directorate at the time of undertaking that activity.
After a thorough inspection of properties available at the time, Mr King submitted a report on the process. A copy of the report was tendered in evidence during the Commission’s hearing. Also, an inter-office Memo from the then Financial Controller (also submitted as evidence) formed the basis of the decision to proceed with renting the property, and these were the documents in which a letter, requesting approval from the former President to proceed. Prior to this, the Directorate had commissioned an assessment of its then premises in view of concerns relating to the safety of the building it was occupying, and had subsequently received a report from Engineering Consultants, indicating that the building posed an imminent danger and should therefore be vacated.
It was therefore no surprise that the alarming nature of the safety concern was re-echoed in the final paragraph of the Senior Legal Counsel’s report, with an emphasis on time, being of the essence to comply with the advisory. The report from the Engineering Consultancy can be accessed from the Directorate.
Another point worthy of note was the disclosure of the interest by the then Secretary to the President pursuant to the Anti-Corruption Act 2008.
- PAYMENT OF ACCRUED STAFF BENEFIT
This issue was ably explained by the Accounting Manager of the PD, during his testimony to the Inquiry, and also presented in detail in my letter addressed to the Secretary to the President requesting the former President’s approval to pay Staff Benefits that had accrued up to 31st December 2017. Following the passage of the Fiscal Management and Control Act 2017 (FMCA 2017), it was clear that the PD was one of the agencies that will lose its Financial Autonomy, as in section 6 of PEPA 2011, and that all monies held in PD’s Accounts will be transferred to the Consolidated Fund, including accrued liabilities such as staff benefits. May I clarify that all Staff who had left the Directorate or whose services are terminated, were paid their Benefits pursuant to the Directorate’s Terms and Conditions of Service and no further approval was sought from the Office of the President, which supervises the Directorate.
However, in this case where the Directorate was losing its financial autonomy, it would have meant transferring this huge liability to Government and therefore imperative that in order to make these payments, I had to secure Executive Approval with justification from the former President, which was duly granted.
This was also the view of the then constituted Finance Committee of Parliament with whom I had informal discussions with, during the pre-legislative process, in preparation of the passage of the FMCA 2017 by Parliament.
May I at this point stress that the payment of these benefits accrued by staff is not new within Government circles. My letter requesting approval for payment of these benefit cites Government Agencies/Parastatals (such as the Petroleum Regulatory Agency in 2014 and the Sierra Leone Ports Authority in 2016 to name but a few), where this had been done in the past. During this Inquiry, it has been revealed that other institutions have done the same. This was paid to every serving staff member at the Directorate and up to 90% of staff are still working at the Directorate
- ON THE ISSUE OF LOANS
Whilst the Directorate is a Government Agency, the sector that the Directorate regulates/oversees is still in its embryonic stage, since it has not reached the stage wherein it can boast of having proven reserves that could be potentially monetized. In this industry, there is need for fiscal autonomy in order to maintain operational efficiency. It is for this reason that in as much as all monies generated by the Directorate are government revenues and therefore belongs to Government, successive administration since the inception of the then Petroleum Resources Unit (PRU) – in 2003, which was transformed into the Directorate following the passage of PEPA 2011, have deemed it fit to maintain the PRU/Directorate as a semi-autonomous Agency with financial independence.
The Ministry of Finance, being the Competent Authority responsible for fiscal policy, worked out a method wherein specific requests were made to the Directorate and in recognition of the need for the Directorate’s fiscal autonomy, agreed to utilizing funds taken from the Directorate as loans that would be paid back to the Directorate if same was no longer generating money on data sales or other revenue streams, but need to keep its operations and not take from tax payers money to pay for the operations of the PD and salaries for staff of the PD. It is therefore not surprising that there were signed documents in the form of Memorandum of Understanding and Loan Agreement to give effect to this claim. These were merely the vehicle through which monies of the state were taken by the Government for budgeted activities, that is elections and the improvement of the interest of Rokel Commercial Bank, pursuant to sections 2 and 5 of PEPA 2011.Be that as it may, the then MoFED always allowed the Directorate to maintain resources that would satisfy the running of the Directorate’s operations and take into consideration the need that the Directorate could fall short in revenue generation, in view of the dynamic and cyclic nature of the oil and gas industry. Being that Sierra Leone has only made discoveries, which indicates geological success, there must be mechanisms to keep the industry self-sustaining and not dependent on tax payers.
In both cases on the loan under review, these monies were received by the said institutions –Rokel Commercial Bank received the money and increased government stake from 51% before the payment to 65%, as a result of the said money. Government can sell the 14% to recover the money and reduce their stake. Evidence and witness statements from PD and a representative from Rokel Commercial Bank testified at the commission and explained all this.
-On the Ministry of Finance, they accepted they took the money to meet government contribution for the payment for Biometric equipment, and the contractor confirmed receiving the money and delivered the equipment. I still cannot understand how verifiable activities could be undertaken by government, and all officers involved in the activity are asked to pay. The Ministry of Finance were fully involved in both cases and they have documents in that respect.
- Transfer to the Consolidated Revenue Fund
I will wish to clarify that the transfer to the Consolidate Revenue fund was based on an Executive Order and the Petroleum Directorate was never informed about any transfer, as the Central Government dealt directly with the Banks, because every account opened by the Petroleum Directorate had the approval of the Accountant General and so they facilitated the transfers and never reverted to the PD on what was done or not done.My retained lawyers will look at what the main report says and challenge this, as none of the people named to refund were involved in the transfer.
On the press release from Mr. Karefa Kargbo, I wish to state that as much as I agree with him on the fact that he was never a person of interest and therefore was not given an opportunity to defend himself at the COI, his explanation on the RCB loan is completely false, malicious and unfounded (the records are at the PD for those who will want to verify), furthermore, the reason for his sacking, which was well publicized, are completely wrong and can be verified from records at the PD and some senior management staff at the time at the PD. to just highlight a few malicious recollection of event on his press release.
The COI disregarded the basic principles of management that lubricates the wheels of administration (Manage by exception), that is an understanding that each level of management must know their decision making authority, that is why requests and approvals and directives are constantly moving between the different levels of management. All of the issues had Executive Approval and were implemented as approved and can be verified. Even the current government closed and transferred all monies from PD accounts on Executive Orders, without the involvement of any of the signatories to the accounts. We can never criminalise Executive Approval, because all transactions highlighted, had Executive Approval from a legitimate and democratically elected Executive President and can be traced to the activities they were designated for. I will work with my legal team, and in collaboration with my colleagues, to appeal this miscarriage of Justice in all higher courts in Sierra Leone and beyond to clear my name.