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By Abdul Suhood Komeh,
London, UK.

Maada Bio’s selling point for President was that for his military background, he will be disciplined. After almost three years, his presidency is the opposite. The cost alone for his travels, support such a conclusion - over 50, largely pointless escapades in three years. 

Easily, one of the most wasteful leaders in Sierra Leone’s history - draining substantial money his Anti Corruption Commission recovers.

If a president fails to account for $160,000 (USd) travel funds, it’s hardly dramatising to say he considers such a sum, chicken feed. But again that’s exactly what the Auditor General’s work points to.

Asked by the Auditor’s office, Bio’s staff nonchalantly explained a mere $33,000. Which they say was spent on tipping hotel porters, airport staff, waiters, etc. The rest, they promised to address as soon as they recall the spending. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Imagine, a president dwelling in generous emoluments, choosing not to use his own, but state money to tip people who serve him abroad - possibly in wealthier countries too. The cheek and lack of respect is astounding.

Pre-elections, having copied the NGC’s/Yumkella’s strategy of evidenced criticisms, Bio told the BBC he had identified ‘huge leakages’. He was going to plug those ‘leaks’, stem corruption, and advance the country. So far in his reign, apart from his supporters, you would be hard pressed finding anyone who believes much has changed. Now, the Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce’s report has confirmed that reality.

Sierra Leone is as corrupt as 1985: statutory deductions not paid to appropriate authorities; irregularities in salary disbursements; payments without adequate supporting documents; staff on leave without formal approval. In essence, departments and ministries are replete with evidence of poor administration, and the resulting corruption.

One would think such abuses, exposed on our behalf, would face collective condemnation. If only for accountability; in demand that those entrusted to govern do better. But no.

Predictably, the selfish pathology of defending the indefensible has kicked in. Some supporters of government want a world in which findings by oversight institutions only applied to past wrongs. The agenda is simple. To undermine the integrity of the Auditor General in the government’s favour.

Intoxicated by devotion, anything oriented to shedding light on wrongful activities of Bio/SLPP are invalid. In this (il)logic, pursuing former president, Ernest Koroma and the APC should be seen as inherent goodness in Bio/SLPP, qualified as corruption-free. This mindset is as preposterous as it is shortsighted. What framework can we use to hold the next administration to account, blind faith?

A most audacious abuse the auditors noted is, ‘funds totalling Le1.6 billion were withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund account at the Bank of Sierra Leone to defray the cost of funeral expenses of some senior government officials who had passed away’. This is wrong on so many levels. ‘These funds were without any regulation, policy or other legal instruments to justify the stated disbursements’, the auditors expanded.

People in government are not volunteers, but salaried workers. As sympathetic as we must be when they die, it cannot be right to use the national purse for their funerals. Especially when in hospitals ‘several patients who suffered from diverse ailments were concurrently using one oxygen canister at the same time’, as the auditors observed.

Setting up the Consolidated Fund was one of Maada Bio’s first acts as president. Apparently to reduce corruption. It turns out, the concern wasn’t fighting corruption. Making it convenient for officials to withdraw as they please is the thing. No way, are withdrawals possible without Bio’s knowledge. Or at least those close to him. Which begs the question: where is the supposed ‘discipline’, bequeathed our president by army service?

As if to confirm the accuracy of the Auditor General’s report, the president’s wife, Mrs Fatima Bio is starring in episode 102 of a Reality Show of her imagination. Unrestrained by responsibility of her role, she is using the bully pulpit of her office to attack a journalist, Chernor Bah - potentially endangering his life. Just for doing his job, real journalism: holding the powerful to account.

Bah is co-author of a reasonably-sourced report in the Africanist Press. They revealed that funds equivalent to a ministerial budget are allocated to the First Lay’s office. This riled Mrs Bio so much, she took to her incendiary tool, social media, for an ill-conceived rant that not only gave credence, but provided more interest in the article.

Now, the First Lady is free to promote any causes of her choosing. But if what Bah et al. revealed are true, any government funding for an unelected person, who’s unaccountable to parliament, is just corruption. Worse, the president’s wife hardly expresses neutral positions but the outright political. Using the Consolidated Fund to finance her causes is not remotely philanthropist, but political campaigning at the public’s expense. Equals corruption. The president’s wife should and must raise her own funds regardless of how urgent or important the cause.

Bio has not lived up to his billing as the ‘disciplined’ leader the SLPP waited for for nearly 25 years. Sadly, there are increasing numbers of people, who despite highly-publicised corruption, are beginning to resolve that Koroma is a better leader. For that, the SLPP have themselves to blame for lack of distinction. Especially having immediately dislodged Koroma’s APC.

Of the ceaseless derelictions, the one institution that actually stands out, patriotic enough in discharge of its purposes, is the Auditor General’s Office.

The Auditor General heads not a rival outfit, but a team of professionals, likely consisting most tribes, regions and political affiliations. Casting partisan aspersions at her for ensuring a vital arm of governance works, is deplorable. Exactly why progress is too scanty, too slow to keep up with population growth, making the task of meeting our social needs difficult.

In the end, fundamental to advancing Sierra Leone is collective honesty in accepting that we are the  poorest country in the world. Not the eighth, seventh, sixth or any meaningless grading that cannot alleviate the trauma of the operative fact: ‘Poorest Nation’. And it’s been like that for a very long time.

Without the courage to acknowledge that palpable reality, we can neither begin to understand the seriousness of task, nor the importance of electing qualified, serious and, compassionate leaders to move the country to a dignified place.

Candidate-Bio was only able to identify ‘leakeages’ because of the sterling, impartial work of the Auditor General. If he fails to execute her recommendations, the blame lies with him and no one else - lack of discipline.

So, More Lara Taylor-Pearces, please - people who do and stick to their oaths, for the people, no mendacity or empty sloganeering.