By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman
The Annual Audit Report for fiscal year (FY) 2020 submitted to Sierra Leone’s Parliament by the Audit Service of Sierra Leone omitted essential evidence relating to serious material misstatements and financial irregularities. These misstatements and irregularities were identified during the annual audit exercise, which monitors general purpose financial statements and other accounts of all government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).
Africanist Press discovered that the more than 50% of the evidence on financial irregularities discovered during the FY2020 audit exercise was omitted. The material left out includes details of cash losses, unreported transactions, irregular expenditures, dubious procurement activities, and other financial irregularities.
Africanist Press compared details in the FY2020 Audit Report with information recorded in audit documents, including management response letters regarding audit findings sent to MDAs and other correspondences between March 2021 and October 2021. Africanist Press found that pertinent details relating to major cash losses, irregular expenditures, public debts, and other material misstatements were omitted from the final FY2020 Audit Report. The missing details, if included, would have quadrupled the estimated cash losses recorded in the FY2020 Annual Audit Report submitted to Parliament. The missing information equally affects the overall picture of financial irregularities, mismanagement, and corruption presented in the FY2020 Audit Report.
In the final FY2020 Audit Report, for instance, reported cash losses, including those identified both for FY2020 and from backlog audits covering 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 amounted to Le153,916,933,928.25 (about US$15,144.410.00). For FY2020, the report states that the annual cash loss was Le113,133,032,085.02 (US$11,131,544.00). However, Africanist Press discovered that the reported cash losses are far below the actual amounts discovered during the FY2020 audit exercise. For example, we discovered that evidence of cash losses recorded in draft management response letters sent to MDAs between March 2021 and October 2021, are three times higher than the total cumulative amounts recorded in the FY2020 Audit Report as presented to Parliament.
In reviewing details in the FY2020 Audit Report against details recorded in audit working papers and correspondences relating to the FY2020 exercise, Africanist Press found that most of the issues relating to cash losses, procurement irregularities, and financial misstatements that were highlighted for management responses in several of the audited MDAs were excluded in the final report even though they were highlighted by auditors as high priority matters requiring management responses. We discovered that neither the information on the said queries in draft management letters, nor the requested responses from the respective officials in the said MDAs were included in the final report.
The FY2020 Audit Report made no mention of the details of these queries, including whether they were resolved or remain unaddressed. In some cases, Africanist Press discovered that the Report omitted vital details identifying specific individuals and organizations in MDAs whose names were categorically mentioned with identified issues on financial irregularities in the transactions of the audited MDAs. In other instances, Africanist Press also found that information on certain MDAs that were included in the audit exercise documents and to whom draft management letters were sent for responses were entirely removed from the FY2020 Audit Report.
Africanist Press noted that the omitted material significantly affected the overall information on the nature and extent of financial irregularities currently presented to the public in the final report submitted to Parliament. The relevant MDAs in question include the Petroleum Directorate, the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation (SALHOC), National Minerals Agency (NMA), Sierra Leone Maritime Administration (SLMA), and other sectors, including details on timber export revenues and transactions in the Office of the First Lady.
In the case of NASSIT, for example, we found evidence that a material misstatement amounting to over Le60.9 billion (over US$6 million) between contribution income recorded in the NASSIT Financial Statement for FY2019 and the amount recorded in the FY2019 NASSIT General Ledger and Trial Balance was excluded from the final report presented to Parliament. The audit exercise discovered that NASSIT officials did not completely and accurately record workers’ contribution income in FY2019. Audit letters examined by the Africanist Press noted specifically that the NASSIT General Ledger recorded a total of Le631,293,248,084 (about US$63.2 million) in income for FY2019, whereas the NASSIT Financial Statement shows only Le570,363,754,136 (about US$57.6 million), leaving a difference of over Le60.9 billion (over US$6 million) not accounted for.
“We identified a difference of Le60,929,493,948.87 between income as per financial statements and income as per general ledgers and trial balance. The difference was as a result of understatement of interest income in the financial statements and omission of government pension in the financial statements for the year 2019,” the audit letters stated, adding that the financial misstatement may have resulted from a deliberate underreporting of workers’ contributing income.
Auditors also stated in audit letters that NASSIT similarly underreported interest income in the FY2019 financial statement by Le309 million (over US$30,000) thereby affecting the ability of the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) to apply the corresponding interest rate of 19.46% for investments made in marketable bonds by the institution. Likewise, the audit working papers also identified a total of Le465,310,000 (over USD$46,000) as ineligible payments made to various organizations and individuals as donations. The audit team queried the basis upon which these payments were made, as they did not fall within the NASSIT’s normal operations.
These details on financial misstatements were identified by auditors during the audit exercise carried out on NASSIT’s financial statements and were highlighted as high priority in the draft management letters sent by the Audit Service to NASSIT for responses.
Africanist Press discovered that the FY2020 Audit Report only mentioned a few of the above listed issues that the auditors raised in the management letters, including only those relating to the violation of vehicle policy, the understated interest income in investment bonds undertaken by BSL and NASSIT, and the inadequate response regarding the ineligible donations. However, the FY2020 Audit Report expunged the most serious details on the NASSIT audit findings, including the material misstatement relating to the over Le60.9 billion in workers’ contribution income that the Auditor Service asked NASSIT to respond to. The FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament contains no mention of the said Le60.9 billion in contribution income that remains unaccounted for, an issue that was identified during the audit exercise as a matter of high priority. Thus, the FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament excluded the most pertinent element relating to the misappropriation of over Le60.9 billion in pension funds collected by NASSIT in FY2019.
The Report also excluded vital details that identified the list of ineligible organizations that received NASSIT donations in FY2019. The said organizations were listed in the draft management response letters sent to NASSIT for response as part of the audit exercise. The said ineligible recipient organizations included the Maada and Fatima Bio Foundation, the Old Bo Boys Association (OBBA), and several other organizations associated with the President and other senior members of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).
The FY2020 Audit Report was presented to Parliament on 9th December 2021 by acting Auditor General Abdul Aziz, who was controversially appointed a month ago after the unprecedented suspension of the country’s long-standing auditor general, Madam Lara Taylor-Pearce and her deputy, Tamba Momoh.
An Africanist Press investigation previously discovered that the President’s decision to suspend the two leading audit officials came after they highlighted financial and procurement irregularities while auditing details of the President’s travel expenditures and procurement activities of the Office of the First Lady for FY2020. The audit officials discovered that the President’s Office submitted several forged documents, including fake hotel receipts and invoices to the Audit Service as part of the president’s travel expenditures for FY2020. In management queries sent to the President’s Office in early October 2021, audit officials noted that several documents submitted by the President’s Office to justify travel expenses in FY2020, including lists of per diems, and details of alleged procurement-related activities by the President and his delegation while traveling abroad were verified to be false. The submitted receipts and invoices included alleged payments to hotels in South Africa, Lebanon, Gabon, the United Kingdom, and Ethiopia. Auditors presented the invoices and receipts to the hotels for audit verification, which the hotels denied having issued.
Africanist Press discovered that auditor general Lara Taylor-Pearce and deputy Tamba Momoh incurred the wrath of the President by insisting on including these audit findings on the president’s travel expenditure and details of the irregularities relating to the First Lady’s Office in the FY2020 Audit Report.
“The President has directed that these details be removed from the draft report before its publication,” officials in the President’s Office noted in their management response in late October 2021, which the two senior auditors refused to accept.
The President has since indefinitely suspended the two most senior members of the country’s national auditing agency. No official reasons were given for the decision, which many in Sierra Leone have described as unprecedented. The President also appointed a tribunal to investigate the “professional activities” of the two suspended senior auditors, but the tribunal is yet to commence hearings.
On Tuesday 14 December 2021, the Sierra Leone Parliament tabled the FY2020 Audit Report submitted by the acting auditor general Abdul Aziz for potential deliberation. The content of the presented controversial report nonetheless contains scandalous details, including evidence of forgery, double dipping, and potential money laundering by the President and his officials.
Despite the already scandalous details, observers say the report would have contained far more jaw-dropping evidence of graft and corruption in the Bio administration if the two senior suspended auditors were allowed to complete the audit exercise.
In verifying the content of the FY2020 Audit Report, Africanist Press has been able to identify several instances of omissions of vital evidence recorded in the audit working papers, including details in draft management letters that were supposed to be addressed by MDAs which have now been excluded in the final report submitted to Parliament. In subsequent reports, Africanist Press will continue to highlight details of these omissions and exclusions in the FY2020 Audit Report.
You can download the excerpt from NASSIT findings in the 2020 Audit Report and the draft management letter sent to NASSIT by the Audit Service to examine the vital information excluded from the final FY2020 Audit Report presented to Parliament.