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Sierra Leone's Chief Minister Lavishes US$3.4 Million in Less Than Three Years  

Financial records obtained by the Africanist Press show how the Office of the Chief Minister of Sierra Leone (David John Francis) spent over Le34.2 billion Leones (more than US$3.4 million) in less than three years despite the fact that President Maada Bio was elected into office under the guise of ending the corrupt practices of his predecessor. This money was spent on travel per diems (expenses listed do not include airfares) and for procurement of goods and services that did not undergo an official competitive bidding process with open requests. The Chief Minister’s Office financial records indicate that several wire transfers of hundreds of millions of Leones were sent to foreign media agencies and technology companies in Europe, China, and the United States. These transfers were purportedly for consultancy services, public relations operations, and information technology products. None of these services or products were ever advertised or put on an open bid. Records of these large monetary transactions and wire transfer payments reveal that these transactions were non-compliant with Sierra Leone’s public finance laws and the public procurement regulations.

Sierra Leone’s public finance laws and public procurement regulations require that all expenditures from the country’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) – the government’s central treasury accounts – must be based on each procuring agency or department’s approved budgetary and procurement plan, as approved by the Parliament for each specific year. Section 18 of the Public Procurement Act of 2016, one of the laws that regulates public procurement in Sierra Leone, specifically provides that all goods and services procured by a ministry or department must be included in the prior approved annual procurement plan for that entity and that a procurement committee must be in charge of a procurement process.

Evidence obtained by the Africanist Press shows that procurements for goods and services were mostly undertaken on an ad hoc basis and in ways that openly violated public procurement regulations. These procurements included, for example, a total of Le1,876,061,250 (about US$185,000) that was paid directly during the last quarter of 2018 to Salman Motors in Freetown. These funds included the alleged purchase of three Toyota Land Cruiser Prado vehicles for the newly established Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). We found no evidence in the records of the Office of the Chief Minister to indicate that Salman Motors was awarded the said procurement contract from an open bidding process. 

In fact, the evidence we reviewed shows that an unusually high advance payment (transaction ID FT1833061004) of Le 1,200,000,000 (about US$120,000) – more than 70% of the contract value – was made to Salman Motors on November 26, 2018, ahead of the supply of the three vehicles that were supposedly purchased for DSTI staff. Apart from the lack of evidence of a bidding and tender process, there is also no evidence that an advertisement notice inviting other suppliers to compete for this contract was ever made by the Chief Minister’s Office. Evidence shows that the remaining balance of Le223,878,750 (about US$22,000) (FT1833849422) was paid on December 4, 2018, to Salman Motors to complete the payment of more than Le1.4 billion spent on the purchase of the DSTI Prado vehicles. We have found no evidence that the vendor actually delivered all of the three vehicles that were paid for. Moreover, the 1.2 billion Leones in payments to Salman Motors do not include two earlier payments (FT1829170875 and FT1829709495) of Le200,000,000 (about US$20,000) and Le252,182,500 (about US$25,000) made on October 18, 2018, and October 24, 2018, respectively, for unstated purposes. In fact, there is no records to indicate the purposes of the other earlier combined payments totaling Le452,182,500 ($44,288) made to Salman Motors by the Chief Minister’s Office.

We also discovered that several other payments for electronic equipment amounting to Le657,001,800 (about US$64,000) were paid in 2018 to the House of Electronics, a local electronic supplier located in Freetown, with no evidence of bidding or open tender. We also found that at least Le188,801,550 (about US$18,500) was paid to Fialiette Enterprises in Freetown for the supposed refurbishment of the Chief Minister’s Office, also without open tender or competitive bidding. We again discovered a total payment of Le171,306,765 (about US$17,000) that was split into seven smaller payments ranging from Le12,686,625 (about US$1200) to Le42,525,000 each (about US$4000) paid on a single day (October 16, 2019) to Fialette Enterprises in Freetown for similar services without any evidence of tender.

We report that, for the most part, a split invoicing process indicates a deliberate pattern of payments used to avoid the required thresholds of Le60,000,000 and to justify the lack of competitive bidding. For example, we found evidence of transactions conducted on December 27, 2018, where multiple wire transfers of smaller payments ranging between Le15,120,000 (about US$1500) and Le49,896,000 (about US$4000), all totaling Le137,035,000 (about US$13,700) were made on a single business day to a company listed as Index Enterprises. Our investigation reveals that Index Enterprises is a US-based real estate company located in California. There are no clearly specified purposes for which these payments were made to Index Enterprises. There was also no clear indication whether the listed Index Enterprises, we tracked, was the actual company that was repeatedly receiving these wired transferred amounts.

We found a similar pattern of SWIFT wire transactions to a Washington-based technology company, IMO Tech Solutions LLC, for consultancy services. An outgoing SWIFT payment (FT1835466631) on December 20, 2018, of Le171,538,184.42 (about US$1700) and on December 21, 2018 (FTT1835550645), of Le65,142,803.60 (about US$6300) were sent to IMO Tech Solutions LLC without any evidence of an open bid or tender.

Africanist Press also discovered an outgoing SWIFT payment (FT1835295645) of Le212,720,750 (about US$21,000) to the London-based media group, Beyond Words Studio Limited, to help arrange international public relations and an image building campaign for the Bio administration. Beyond Words Studio describes itself as a multi-disciplinary team of journalists and researchers that use data visualization to create stories that connect people across countries. Part of Beyond Words Studio’s portfolio of work includes the alleged design of convincing reports that convey powerful stories of progress at the United Nations Goalkeepers events. The group purportedly created both the 2018 and 2019 motion graphic data visualizations that supported Bill Gates’ annual speech on reducing global poverty. The public relations provided by Beyond Words appears to have the goal of legitimizing and building a positive image for the Bio administration.

Additional examination of the Office of the Chief Minister’s financial records shows that an outgoing SWIFT payment (FT1916205040) of Le223,076,000 (about US$22,000) was made to Beyond Words Studio again on 11 June 2019, for public relations purposes. A third outgoing SWIFT payment (Ft1923989071) of Le371,200,000 (about US$36,000) was also made to Beyond Words Studio on August 27, 2019, for the creation of an education data hub for Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). There is no evidence that Beyond Words Studio went through the required competitive bidding process for any of the services it was contracted to provide since 2018.

The Chief Minister’s Office financial records show multiple additional wire transfers to similar media and communication companies including Telerivet Inc, Universal Communications, Café Art Science, PC World.Com, and a host of other foreign-based companies. Africanist Press was unable to confirm the ownership, headquarters location, or legitimacy of these companies. We aggregated the expenditure details of the Chief Minister’s Office, and we discovered that in 2019 alone, a total of Le11,324,370,670.62 (over US$1 million) was spent on travel per diems, payments for consultancies, and procurements that were never advertised nor placed on a bidding process. As of 30 December 2019, for example, we discovered that of the Le11,965,770,103.16 (about US$1.2 million) disbursed from the CRF into the Chief Minister’s Imprest Account, only Le697,603,982.82 (about US$68,000) remained unspent by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Documents we reviewed also show that a total of Le3,330,412,548.33 (about US$326,000) was spent on travel per diems (amounts listed do not include airfare) between August and December 2018 alone, in the first four months after the appointment of David Francis as the Chief Minister. These travel per diems included Le47,011,133.04 (US$5662) paid to David Sengeh as per diem allowance to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting on September 21, 2018; another Le72,455,595.25 (US$8,675) (TT1828440049) also paid on October 11, 2018, to David Sengeh and Donald Kopoi for an official travel to the USA to the World Frontier Forum; a Le18,992,162.00 (US$2250) paid to Dr. John Tambi as per diem for participation at the African Infrastructural Conference, a further payment of Le30,089,880 (US$3552) again to David Sengeh, and another payment of Le 44,253,810 (US$5224) (TT1832009428) made on November 16, 2018, to Joe Lahai Somana as travel per diem on official visit to the Hunan Gold and International Investment Limited Company in China.

The long list of per diem payments also includes Le57,465,929.71 (US$6751) paid to David Sengeh to attend the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program and Goalkeeper Event in the USA; a further payment of Le25,865,241.45 (US$3,023) made to David Sengeh as per diem allowance to attend the Islamic Development Bank Summit; and a payment of Le159,027,060 (about US$15,000) to Kadie Enterprises to cover air tickets for three officers for an official trip to Estonia, and the sum of Le 174,272,049.00 (US$18,270) as per diem for David Francis and Moinina D. Sengeh for a trip to the UNGA meeting on September 26, 2019.

Thus, we conclude that well-documented evidence on the financial operations of the Chief Minister’s Office obtained by the Africanist Press shows that the total expenditure of Le34,290,264,178.23 (about US$3.4 million) in the two-and-a-half years of the Bio administration were used primarily on travel and media and IT consultancy services, mostly paid to media and data processing firms in Europe and the USA. We discovered that 40% of the budgetary allocation to the Office of the Chief Minister between 2018 and 2020 went into travel per diems for the Chief Minister David Francis and David Moinina Sengeh, the director of a newly established DSTI. Many of the procurement activities for goods and services of the Chief Minister’s Office, including wire transfer payments to European and American companies, were closed without open bids or tender. Contracts for the supply of goods and provision of services were awarded to companies owned or managed by friends and business associates without the required processes stipulated in the public finance laws and public procurement regulations.

Source/credit: Africanist Press