By: Bernard Abass Kargbo, Public Education Officer, ACC
On the 11th July 2003, the African Union Convention on Prevention and Combating
Corruption (AUCPCC), was adopted in Maputo, Mozambique. The Convention came into effect in 2006. The Convention has been ratified by 47 Member States of the African Union. From its inception to date, it has made significant efforts in the fight against corruption among the
Member States which include the establishment of national laws and the creation of strong anti-corruption agencies to end corruption in the continent. It is against this backdrop that the African Union decides to designate 11th July as the African Anti-Corruption Day.
As this year marks the 6th anniversary of the African Anti-Corruption Day, it will be commemorated under the theme ‘Strategies and Mechanisms for the Transparent Management of COVID-19 Funds’. A pernicious scourge, corruption has a wide range of damaging impacts on societies. It undercuts democracy and the rule of law, results in human rights abuses, skews markets, lowers the standard of living, and promotes organized crime, terrorism, and other risks to national security. All nations, large and small, wealthy and impoverished, are affected by this wicked phenomenon, but its harmful repercussions are most pronounced in the developing world.
By stealing money meant for development, diminishing a Government's ability to deliver essential services, fostering inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign help and investment, corruption disproportionately harms the poor. Also, it has been advanced that economic underperformance is heavily influenced by corruption, which also poses a significant barrier to progress and the reduction of poverty. Massive resources are being rushed to address the health crisis and its economic effects as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the globe, while the procedures in procurement oversight and enforcement efforts are relaxed or scaled back due to the urgency of the situation and the social distance that prevailed at the height of the pandemic, this was according to the World Justice Project (WJP) website. This gives the perfect opportunity for graft and corrupt officials to thrive.
COVID-19 money is being stolen in Africa in a variety of ways, including but not limited to; inflating the cost of medical goods by 1,000%, giving aid to illegitimate recipients, and having influential people rig lucrative tenders. It is almost impossible to estimate the amount that has
been lost, but the examples of theft in the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the misappropriation of aid funds intended for vulnerable individuals indicate the potential theft of billions of dollars. For instance, in South Africa, the Auditor General found widespread corruption in the use of 500 billion rands ($26 billion) in COVID-19 relief funds, and several suppliers have admitted to raising costs of items like face masks by as much as 748 percent. In addition to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Somalia, and Nigeria, cases of corrupt officials and COVID-19 funding are already public.
However, it is anticipated that many more nations will come under scrutiny as the active investigation continues and more information comes to light.
The case of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone also has its share of the COVID-19 funds' mismanagement scandal, but due to the proactive nature and commitment to leadership, the Government, through the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) immediately instituted real-time audit into COVID-19 Funds. The ‘COVID-19 Audit Report 2020’, produced after the audit was swiftly utilized by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Among the allegations was that staff of the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NaCOVERC) and the Integrated Health Project Administration Unit (IHPAU) misappropriated funds meant for the purchase of forty-seven (47) laptops valued at Four Hundred and Sixty-Seven Million Leones. The Commission, after it has carried out its investigations on the said missing laptops, was able to ascertain that the laptops were not missing, but that they were not the ones specified in the contract document which caused a loss of Two Hundred and Fifty-Four Million Leones to the Government of Sierra Leone.
Upon conclusion of the investigation on the said matter, the Commission gave an ultimatum to the officials concerned to pay back in full the amount within two (2) weeks or face the full consequences of the law. The said money was eventually recovered from officials of NaCOVERC, IHPAU and the contractor. Further administrative measures were instituted resulting in the dismissal of some senior members of the National COVID-19 Response Team that were connected to the investigation.
Furthermore, the said Audit Report notes that officials of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation misappropriated funds allocated to the Ministry when they used the said funds to buy personal high-end gadgets without going through the normal procurement procedures. Consequently, the ACC gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry to fully refund to the State the amount used to procure the items or face the full force of the law. The funds were immediately paid to the ACC and later transferred to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The Audit Report also implicated the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) that they did not follow procurement regulations in the purchase of sixty (60) motorbikes, which led to the loss of COVID-19 Funds of about Five Hundred and Fifty-Two Million Leones (Le.552,000,000). Similar claims were also made against the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and Office of National Security (ONS). A thorough investigation into the matter by the ACC however absolved the institutions of any wrongdoing.
It has not been all-glory in the management of COVID-19 funds in Sierra Leone.
Like other African countries, there have been enormous challenges in managing COVID-19 funds. The big difference in the case of Sierra Leone is that concrete steps and actions were taken to investigate and recover misappropriated funds and other resources meant for combating the pandemic.
The ASSL and the ACC were particularly very proactive in making sure that public officials and contractors were held accountable.
Other African countries should probably learn from this.
Happy African Anti-Corruption Day to you all
©️ Public Relations Unit, ACC.