September 28, 2022

In 2018, in the early days of the New Direction government, Chief Minister David Francis led a team of SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) stalwarts to manage one of the turbulent transitions in history. The team was the Governance Transition Team (GTT). The GTT members were tasked by the President to investigate all ministries, departments and agencies of government and submit a report.

Within a month, Prof Francis produced a report dubbed as one of the most scathing against the government of former President Koroma. The Chief Minister referred to the past government as a “Criminal Racketeering Enterprise.”

The phrase, in plain terms, means the government of former President Koroma is nothing less than a bunch of thieves, criminals and ‘AYAMPIS.’

Prof Francis accused the then government of a state loot, open tribalism and regionalism in the appointment of officials in the public service.

Most importantly, the Francis Report further maintained that APC’s reckless handling of state finances plunged the country into the biggest debt burden ever seen after independence. The Professor’s writings became the foundation for the setting up three commissions of inquiry to investigate former government officials of the APC. The report also set in motion intermittent waves of intimidation and harassment of past government officials who are most times roped in for graft offences. Owing to the Francis report, the slightest of suspicion of corruption on any past government officials would be humiliated, intimidated and detained.

Former Minister of internal Affairs, Alfred Paolo Conteh was arrested and detained at the Criminal Investigation Department and subsequently released without charge. Former Commissioner-General, Haja Kallah Kamara was held in police custody for close to three days owing to corruption allegations.

ACC, in a press release told the public that the former Commissioner-General had preferred an out-of-court settlement of the matter. Former Minister of Mines and Minerals, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray was also hounded and later arraigned at a high court in Freetown for alleged corruption.

After months of trial, the court acquitted and discharged Mr Mansaray for want of evidence. The former Minister now walks a free man although at the annoyance of government who had wanted a guilty verdict at all cost. Former Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh is also answering to corruption charges at the high court months after he was arraigned there.

Mr Foh was accused of embezzling Hajj money running into hundreds of millions of Leones. No one knows what the outcome would look like. Other government officials left behind by the past government were also targeted.

Most have faced court trials, fined and sometimes banned from holding public office. The ban on former government officials on holding public office was once moved by one of the state counsels at the defunct commissions of inquiry.

Those former government officials who could not be roped in for corruption offences were brought in for other offences. Even serving government officials also are not spared. The slightest suspicion of any affiliation or affinity with the past government makes you vulnerable to illegal dismissals.

Waves of dismissals have hit and continue to hit such government institutions as State House, Statistics Sierra Leone, National Telecommunications Commission,  Sierra Leone Maritime Administration, Sierra Leone Police, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the list continues. The corruption investigations and trials as well as dismissals were initiated by the Prof Francis Governance Transition Report of 2018.

Today, Prof Francis is here battling with allegations of corruption on a grand scale as alleged by a media-based agency, Africanist Press.

Relying on concrete evidence (receipts and other financial documents), it was alleged that the Chief Minister spent over Le34, 000, 0000, 0000 (Thirty-Four Billion Leones) on media consultancies and travel per diem in less than three years.

“Financial records obtained by Africanist Press show how Office of Chief Minister of Sierra Leone spent over Le34.2 (more than US$3.4 million) in less than three years despite the fact that President Maada Bio was elected into office under the guise of ending the corrupt practices of his predecessor,” the Africanist Press report reads in part.

The Africanist press publication further alleged that the money was spent without any competitive bidding process with open requests. The report also alleged that the Chief Minister’s Office financial records also indicate several wire transfers of hundreds of millions of Leones were sent to foreign media agencies and Technology Company in Europe, China and the United States.

Theses transfers were purportedly for consultancy services, public relations operations and information technology products. The report also alleged that none of these services or products were ever advertised or put on an open bid. Records of these large monetary transactions and wire transfer payments reveal that these transactions were non-compliant with Sierra Leone public finance laws and the Public Procurement Regulations.

Sierra Leone Public Finance laws and Public Procurement Regulations require that all expenditures from the country’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, the Government’s treasury account, must be based on each procuring agency or department’s approved and procurement plan as approved by parliament for each specific year.

Section 18 of the Public Procurement Act, 2016, one of the laws that regulates public procurement in Sierra Leone, specifically provides that all goods and services procured by a ministry or department must be included in the prior approved annual procurement plan for that entity and that a procurement committee must be in charge of a procurement process.

Evidence obtained by Africanist Press shows that procurement for goods and services were mostly undertaken on an ad hoc basis, and in ways that openly violated Public Procurement Regulations. Those procurements included, for example, a total of Le1, 876, 061,250 (about US$185, 000) that was directly paid during the last quarter of 2018 to Salman Motors in Freetown.

These funds included the alleged purchase of three Toyota Land Cruiser Prado vehicles for the newly established Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation. The Africanist Press further alleged that no evidence was found in the Office of the Chief Minister to indicate that Salman Motors was awarded the said procurement contract from an open bidding process.

Evidence reviewed by Africanist Press shows that an unusually high advance payment (Transaction ID No FT1833061004) of Le1, 200, 000, 000 (about US$120, 000) more than 70% of the contract value was made to Salman Motors on November, 26, 2018.

Apart from the illegal expenditure on media consultancies and public relations firms in a foreign land, the Chief Minister’s Office expenditure 0f Le10, 000, 000, 000 (ten billion Leones) in irregular cash withdrawals.

The report indicates that cash withdrawals done by the Office of the Chief Minister demonstrates a pattern of irregular public activity. Documents on the expenditure details of the Chief Minister’s office show precisely that large cash withdrawals alone amounted to over Le10, 000, 000, 000 (ten billion Leones) (more than US$1M) from the imprest account of the Chief Minister from August to December, 2020. Despite the horrific instances highlighted by the Africanist Press, the chief Minister has never faced ACC investigations.

The big question is: if the First Lady who is more powerful and influential in the New Direction is currently being investigated by the ACC, why not the Chief Minister?