Govt Undermines Audit Service

Withholding 1st Quarter Subvention Payment…

Disclosure by the Deputy Auditor General, Elwin Bell, during the Thursday 18th March edition of the Good Morning Salone show aired live on Radio Democracy that the institution is yet to receive its first quarter subvention, especially now that it is the 18th of March, will hamper their job. He furthered that previously; all subventions are paid earlier and quarterly, but the current situation seem to be exceptional.

However, this revelation has got many concerned Sierra Leoneans wondering whether the government is deliberately withholding the payment of the first quarter subvention to the institution so as to stall its proposed audit of NaCOVERC, whose preliminary audit report was released together with the 2019 Audit Report, and revealed a lot of anomalies and unauthorised payments.

It could be recalled that recently, there has been a lot of hue and cry over the ASSL holding of account in a Commercial Bank other than the Treasury Single Account at the BSL. During the interview, the Deputy Auditor General intimated that the Financial Secretary wrote a letter to their institution querying why they are not adhering to the Executive Order, to which their response was that they had earlier in 2018 had legal opinion from the Solicitor General of the Attorney General’s Office that was explicit that the ASSL is not a revenue generation entity of the government and as a result not included in that said Executive Order. Furthermore, they sought clarification from the Presidency, which also was explicit that they are not included in that order. He furthered that it is a surprise to them that the same SG office, three years on, has changed its opinion on the said order. This apparent change of mind by the office of the SG has been viewed by many right-thinking Sierra Leoneans as political manipulation to stifle the work of the ASSL and eventually arm twist it to dance to its tune.

There are also suggestions from other quarters that the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) should seek the permission of the President to conduct a Special Audit on NaCOVERC. This, if allowed to happen, will mean an interference with the operational independence of the ASSL, and the current delay in disbursement of its first quarter subvention is also being viewed as interference into the institution’s financial independence to carry out its work. It could also be recalled that some 80% of the evidence used in the Commissions of Inquiry established by the government to probe into the misappropriation of funds and other anomalies of the past government came from the ASSL’s Audit Report of 2017. The ASSL did conduct an audit on the Ebola funds that was later investigated by Parliament and the ACC. The question on the minds of many is why is the Audit Service being prevented from carrying out its mandate, as stipulated in the constitution?

Articles on both the print and new media were awash with insinuations and calls for the resignation of the Auditor General, a move that has been seen as a last ditch attempt by those on whose toes she has stepped to try to prevent the forthright lady from carrying out her constitutional mandate in the interest of the people. An interest that she had religiously vowed to undertake, backed by her oath of office sworn to.

According to the Deputy Auditor General, his institution had met with the office of the Financial Secretary and the Speaker of Parliament, and a suggestion has been made for the ASSL to close its account at the SLCB and open another at the Bank of Sierra Leone, which will be wholly controlled by the ASSL. 

By Salhaj Tajj

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