By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman
Financial records of the government of Sierra Leone examined by the Africanist Press shows that the Sierra Leone Petroleum Directorate, the agency responsible for regulating the country’s petroleum resources, paid for alleged services worth over Le727 million (over US$84,352) in 2019 alone without following the country’s procurement rules and procedures.
Section 37(1) of the Public Procurement Act of 2016 requires the Directorate to employ an open bidding processes, with an open announcement and giving equal access to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination, when procuring goods and services.
Africanist Press discovered that the Petroleum Directorate paid for purported energy consulting services worth Le436 million (over US$45,000), security services for Le115 million (over US$17,400), cleaning services for Le56 million (about US$6,500), and internet services for Le120 million (US$14,000) in 2019 without following the 2016 Public Procurement Act.
Section 37(1) of the 2016 Public Procurement Act specifically provides that “public procurement shall be undertaken by means of advertised open bid processes, to which equal access shall be provided to all eligible and qualified bidders without discrimination.”
Procurement documents reviewed by the Africanist Press show that the Petroleum Directorate did not comply with the relevant provisions of the 2016 Public Procurement Act when hiring a global energy consultant in 2019. We discovered, in particular, that the Petroleum Directorate signed an energy consulting contract dated 4th January, 2019, with one Jacqueline Khoury of the Global Energy Consultancy Group at a monthly cost of US$8,000 for a period of 12 months ending 31st December, 2019. The contract stated only that the consultant provide services in connection with the Directorate’s business; neither tasks nor deliverables were listed. In addition to the US$8,000 monthly costs, the Petroleum Directorate was also required to “provide safe reasonable housing and reliable non-commercial transportation for the consultant when on-site at the Directorate’s headquarters.” In the event that the consultant is required to travel on behalf of the Petroleum Directorate, the contract also stipulates that an advance payment for all reasonable expenses related to travel, including airfare, hotel, meals, parking, taxis or rental cars, telephone calls, internet service, facsimile, and postal expenditures for each member of the consultant’s staff approved for travel will be paid by the Directorate.
Africanist Press discovered that Petroleum Directorate did not follow Section 37(1) of the 2016 Public Procurement Act to source and recruit Jacqueline Khoury from the Global Energy Consultancy Group as its energy consultant in 2019. We found no records that the Directorate advertised a call for an energy consultant in 2019, neither was there any evidence that the said Ms. Khoury was recruited from a pool of experts who applied to any such advertised position at the Petroleum Directorate in 2019.
Africanist Press also reviewed the Petroleum Directorate’s payment records for 2019, and we observed that payments totalling Le436,069,965.00 (about US$50,596.30) were made on the consulting contract without reference to the stipulated procedures governing payment for services as required by the 2016 Public Procurement Act. These payments included four months’ flat fees totalling Le280,664,480 (over US$32,000) and Le155,405,485.50 (about US$18,031.40) on accommodations, air tickets, and other expenses allegedly borne by the Directorate for the consultant. We identified ten specific payments in the financial records of the Petroleum Directorate made between 4th February 2019 and 5th July 2019 in the name of the Global Energy Consultant. These payments included only four monthly payments to the consultant that were made on 26 February 2019 in the amount of Le69,134,560.00 (about US$8,021.53), and three subsequent payments made on 27 March 2019 (Le70,093,600.00/US$8,132.81), 18 April 2019 (Le70,446,160.00/US$8,173.27), and 9 May 2019 (Le70,990,160.00/US$8,236.63) respectively, leaving unpaid balances for eight months.
Thus, Africanist Press found no records in the Petroleum Directorate’s financial statements and the corresponding procurement documents regarding the outstanding balance of US$64,000 (eight monthly payments) due to the energy consultant, Ms. Jacqueline Khoury. The Petroleum Directorate’s administrative records provides no evidence on the status of the energy consultancy beyond May 2019 after the fourth payment was made.
In the course of our investigation, we found that an internal audit had questioned the procedures used by the Petroleum Directorate to hire Ms. Khoury as an energy consultant in 2019, and they had also asked that a report justifying work done by the energy consultant be submitted for verification to justify value for money spent.
“A report justifying evidence of work done by the consultant should be submitted otherwise amounts paid totalling Le436,069,965 should be refunded by the consultant,” the audit noted in early March 2021.
A management query also sent in late March 2021 to the Petroleum Directorate asked for evidence on the status of the consultancy contract demanding to know whether the consultancy was terminated or rescinded by any of the parties and the grounds for such termination.
“The Petroleum Directorate is exposed to the risk of litigation by the consultant, and if this happens, it could lead to reputational damage and loss of public funds,” the management query stated while demanding that “evidence justifying termination or rescinding of the contract be submitted to guard against future litigation.”
The Petroleum Directorate is the national regulatory agency responsible for the general management and monitoring of Sierra Leone’s petroleum resources. Led by a director general appointed by the President, the institution, created in 2003, operates under the direct supervision of the President’s Office.
Officials from the Petroleum Directorate and the President’s Office had not responded to the management letter sent in early March 2021 to the agency by auditors who had earlier investigated the operational issues of the agency including its unregulated use of public funds. Africanist Press contacted the former head of the Petroleum Directorate, Timothy Kabba, who refused to comment despite having made promises to do so. Kabba was the director general of the Petroleum Directorate when Ms. Khoury was hired as an energy consultant in 2019. Kabba has since been appointed Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources by President Julius Maada Bio in July 2020. The Petroleum Directorate’s head of finance, Zainu Deen Karim, also insisted that a letter from the Africanist Press must be sent by post to their office in Freetown, otherwise they would not comment on issues relating to their operations.
In FY 2019 alone, the Petroleum Directorate received an annual budgetary allocation of over Le26.7 billion (over USD$2.6 million) from Sierra Leone’s national treasury to fund its operations; a budgetary allocation that is three times more than most government ministries, agencies, and departments. Africanist Press discovered that more than 85% of the Petroleum Directorate’s annual budgetary allocation for FY 2019 was spent on unregulated procurements and travel-related activities, including costs of flight tickets and per diems.
In subsequent reports, Africanist Press will further examine how the Petroleum Directorate utilized its budgetary allocations between 2018 and 2020, including its payments for goods and construction projects for its new headquarters.