By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Over Le 22.2 billion in revenues is still unaccounted for by various Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as a result of discrepancies in what was recorded in the National Revenue Authority (NRA) cashbook, statements in transit accounts and what actually reflected in the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account (CRFA), the Auditor General’s Report of 2015 suggests.
This seems to be the case year after year as recommendations by the National Audit Body is largely ignored.
In a debriefing on outstanding issues in the Auditor General’s Report 2015 organized by Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) with support from Christian Aid in August 2018, the need for follow-up on outstanding recommendations was emphasized to ensure Government recoup much needed revenue.The debriefing looked at 14 key MDAs and attempted to calculate the total sum which Government could derive (or lose) from unresolved financial issues highlighted in the Auditor General’s Report of 2015. This runs into billions and billions of Leones.
For most of the MDAs, issues which are yet to be resolved range from withholding and PAYE taxes not paid to the NRA, NASSIT contributions deducted but not paid to the Trust, withdrawals and payments made without supporting documents, unretired imprests to failure to provide relevant documents for audit and revenues not deposited into the CRFA.
For example: the Ministry of Defence allegedly procured 126 common user and specialized vehicles for over US$15 million and for which duty costs of Le9.7 billion was not paid.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology allegedly made withdrawals of over Le9 billion from imprest, EMISS (Education Management Information Systems)and School Material accounts without supporting documents to substantiate the utilization of the funds.
At the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security 15 personnel allegedly received salaries from the Ministry totaling about Le180 million while they were also receiving salaries from various projects for which there was no evidence of letters of them being on secondment from the Human Resources Management Office (HRMO).
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is yet to resolve issues of payments without supporting documents, unretired imprest and withholding taxes not paid to the NRA, to the tune of Le3.5 billion.
The Registrar and Administrator General’s Office claimed to have deposited Le 1.1 billion in their transit bank account, but the transfers in respect of this deposit could not be traced to the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) bank statement as at the end of December 2015. For this particular case a follow-up was made to find out the status of the issue and the Registrar General, madam Saptieu Elizabeth Saccoh, responded promptly via email with copy of a letter to the Financial Secretary claiming the deposit was actually made. The letter basically claims that the transit account in which the money was deposited was controlled by NRA, and the Administrator and Registrar General’s Office has no access to it. However, there is a discrepancy in the dates mentioned in the letter. The letter to the Financial Secretary was dated 31st July 2017 and acknowledging receipt of a memorandum dated July 2018 on the issue. Further clarification was sought from the Administrator General’s Office but none was forthcoming.
Almost all of the outstanding issues involving the 14 government institutions have to be corroborated by/with the NRA, especially those relating to taxes generally. A team of investigative journalists,including a representative of BAN, met with the top management of the NRA to solicit their cooperation in providing information on which public institutions have resolved their outstanding issues and those which have not. The NRA team pledged their cooperation and assigned their Corporate and Legal Affairs staff to serve as contact point for the verification process. However, that was as far as the NRA’s cooperation went as they could not make a single verification despite repeated follow-up calls and emails.
Sierra Leone held elections in March 2018 and elected a new Government for the next five years. The Government’s proposed national Budget for the 2019 fiscal year projected Le7.03 trillion expenditures; Le5.6 trillion of this is expected to be serviced from domestic revenue derived mainly from taxes.
The budget made commitment to reconstitute Audit Committees in MDAs and establish a special Government Audit Committee in the Ministry of Finance, comprising professionals outside the civil service to follow up on unresolved issues from audit committees of MDAs.
Furthermore, it promises to incorporate the implementation of audit recommendations in the performance contracts of Vote Controllers.
If these measures are put in place, it will not only help reduce corruption in public institutions and save Government much needed revenue, but will also inspire confidence in the citizens and donors whose monies are being utilized.