From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Sierra Leone Successes in Audit Reform & Transparency: Another Look at 'Missing' Le110 Billion discourse
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Jan 30, 2013, 17:17

Auditor-General, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce was appointed by President Koroma who likes to empower capable women. She gets unprecedented support from APC Government in her work.
On 15th November 2007 at the Inauguration of President Koroma, the former President Kabbah distributed his Handing Over notes as a publication. Part of his words read thus:


"I was amazed to read in our press that my Government was soft on corruption and that our development partners may have withheld funding because of this... I may add here that certain strong positions taken by our development partners may have been counter productive... Making the Auditor-General’s Report available to an international agency before it had gone through Parliamentary scrutiny as required by our laws was another area of difficulty. Even the President is not entitled to this document until after parliamentary scrutiny. Our government could not tolerate, even from a friendly country, the use of financial leverage to undermine our sovereignty".


In summary, the former President was saying under the SLPP, Auditor-General Reports were “TOP SECRET” documents which even he could not set eyes on until they had been verified by Parliamentary probe.


What the former President however did not reveal was a patent inability of his SLPP Government to abide by the laws insofar as presenting financial records to be audited. For many years prior to SLPP losing power, SLPP Government just did not bother to prepare financial reports!


With the advent of APC Government of President Koroma, it has been a total turn-around for the better. The country and our donors have seen an amazing display of transparency and an applaudable effort to reform for the better.


Unlike the SLPP of Kabbah which hid away Auditor-General Reports even from donors (under the guise of "sovereignty") and unlike the SLPP of Tejan Kabbah which refused to prepare financial statements to be audited, the Koroma regime has been a breathe of fresh air doing just what the laws demanded and even amending the laws to ensure increased transparency in service to the people.


The immediate task the APC did was to first of all work hard to clear up the SLPP’s several years of backlogs in the preparation and audit of financial statements and this eventually culminated in the timely preparation and audit of financial statements in accordance with the relevant legislations.


Additionally, all the SLPP’s dismal backlogs in review of Auditor General’s report by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Parliament were comprehensively cleared under the APC leadership.Furthermore, the PAC now conducts public hearings on the Auditor General’s report thereby increasing transparency unlike the days of the Tejan Kabbah SLPP when it was all “TOP SECRET”.


APC Transparency is better than SLPP days


But perhaps the most commendable of all is the strength of leadership shown by President Koroma when in direct opposite to the SLPP’s weak excuse of “sovereignty” and “top secret”, the Head of State recently boasted in his 5-Years Transformation Manual that:-


“My Government worked with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament to clarify Standing Order 75. Today the general public can access the Annual Public Accounts as soon as they are laid in Parliament”.


What this means is that unlike the SLPP era, under Ernest Bai Koroma, the minute the Auditor General’s Report is ready, even with any possible mistakes therein, it is simultaneously released to not only our Donors but to the general public even before it is debated in Parliament to verify authenticity of its claims. This, from Ernest Bai Koroma, is confidence indicating leadership strength that causes a leader to open himself up to such scrutiny over an Auditor-General’s Report that has not yet been endorsed as accurate!


It is a fact that under the SLPP Government, no Auditor-General Report was released in the manner in which it is now being done with the fullest endorsement of our elected Head of State.


What makes this development from Ernest Bai Koroma to be even more applaudable is the fact that the Auditor-General’s report is not sacrosanct but based on assumptions made by the country’s auditors which will now be examined by Parliament. Already, there is a hue and cry from many public servants that the Auditor-general’s current report is plagued with serious inaccuracies and blatant falsitudes. However, the impugned report is already out in a bid to provide transparency. Indeed, President Ernest Bai Koroma in the 5-Years manual again boasts that:-


“considerable progress has also been made in the quality and timeliness of recording, accounting and reporting of government finance transactions. It is gratifying to report that there are no longer backlogs of Annual Public Accounts. The Annual Public Accounts for 2007 through 2011 have been prepared and submitted to the Auditor-General on time as required by law. My Government also believes in the external oversight of Public financial operations”.


So, unlike SLPP which was trying to rationalise its ineptitude in public accounting and auditing of financial records with talk of “sovereignty”, the APC of Ernest Bai Koroma believes  in external oversight of government's finance operations.


There are many more pluses in the area of financial reform over the last five years inluding increase in MDA internal audit units from only seven in 2007 to thirty-seven currently! What is also clear is unlike the SLPP Government, the APC of Ernest Koroma is confident in its prudence hence it allows a great deal of transparency in its internal operations; not least allowing its appointed female Auditor-General, the leeway to work in an unfettered manner.


It is this belief in transparency that allows allegations of missing 110 billion leones to be floated in the public space even without it confirmed by Parliament.


Le110billion might be missing but it is now the work of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee to look into the Auditor-general’s report and invite errant Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs) in for questioning as per law dictated. Already, many MDAs are complaining that the report is flawed and was rushed out without going back to the MDAs to conduct exit questioning and clarifications.


Whatever be the case between the Auditor-General and the alleged errant MDAs, the truth will be unravelled by our elected representatives. Fortunately, unlike the old SLPP days, the current leadership of President Koroma has AMENDED the laws so that all such public questioning of MDAs will now be done PUBLICLY and no more behind closed parliamentary committee room doors as used to happen before the advent of President Koroma's APC-led regime. 


One Hundred and Ten Billion Leones might be "missing" but what is indisputable is the fact that the country is in the throes of enjoying its democratic credentials under the leadership of easily its most transparent Head of State ever in its History, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.