Millions in Limbo: ‘Weak Accountability’ in Salone Parliament

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By Aruna Turay

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has exposed a high level of what it refers to as a “Weak Accountability Regime,” in the country’s current House of Parliament.

It can be recalled that on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd November 2019, Honourable Ibrahim Tawa Conteh of Constituency 132, on the “Good Morning show” at Radio Democracy 98.1 made wide ranging corruption allegations against the Clerk of Parliament, Umarr Paran Tarawallie and on the same show, Paran also made similar allegations against Hon. Tawa.

The ACC opened an investigation on the gentlemen’s allegations and counter allegations and key activities including Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Leadership Imprest (LI), Office Imprest (OI), Donor Funds (DF), Sitting Fees for MPs (SFs), Procurement of Goods and Services (PG&S), Travel and Air tickets and Oversight Funds amongst others were probed into.

The issues were carefully, comprehensively and dispassionately investigated and the ACC was able to uncover that Constituency Development Fund of Sixty-Nine Million Leones (Le.69,000,000.00) was given to each Member of Parliament (MP), for 2019.

Many MPs had offices in their homes instead and there was, and remains no established system in place to ensure specific use; and MPs could not agree on the strict understanding of the intended use.

With respect to the Leadership Imprest, ACC revealed that Leadership imprest was not static as it varied from time to time and it is determined by the Parliamentary Service Commission.

From this, the ACC note the absence of a system of accountability or justification by all Leaders who received such funds and recommended that this needs to be corrected accordingly to ensure proper accountability.

In 2019, Constituency Facilitation Fee (CFF) was credited on a quarterly basis into each MPs personal accounts as Constituency Facilitation Fee/allowance, in order for MPs to meet assessed needs of their respective Constituencies.

For this, no supporting document was produced and submitted to the Commission on how the said money was expended by the respective MPs. Again, there is no system in place for retirement by MPs in this regard.

With respect to the procurement undertaken for the period 2018 and 2019, processes and procedures for the acquisition of goods and services were not fully followed, most of the Procurements done did not go through the complete procurement cycle.

This signals a serious lack of proper procurement and accountability regime in the financing structures of Parliament; which the ACC again recommended, need to be immediately and properly addressed.

In 2019, the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Technical and Higher Education; and the Committee on Basic and Senior Secondary Education received the sum of Three Hundred and Five Million Leones (Le305,000,000) from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for monitoring activities to be undertaken by the said Committees. The sum of, Two Hundred and Seventy-Five Million, Fifty Thousand Leones (Le275,050,000) was expended for the two oversight activities, and the remaining amount of Twenty-nine Million, Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Leones (Le29,950,000) meant for post monitoring seminar, is yet to be expended. The said balance is in the imprest account of Parliament.

The ACC confirmed Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh’s claim that, apart from the above-mentioned activities using the UNICEF Funds, no other oversight activity was carried out in 2018.

One key allegation by Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh was, the Ministry of Finance (MoF), as part of their budgetary allocation for 2018, allocated to Parliament, Two Hundred and Eighteen Million Leones (Le218,000,000.00) for Oversight Activities (taking Parliament to the People).

After due consideration of the statements recorded in the matter and documents obtained from the Finance Department of Parliament and the Accountant General’s Department, after reviewing all factors relevant to the investigation, the Commission has concluded that though the actions of some MPs and members of the Finance Department are not in accordance with prudent financial management systems, the necessary evidential threshold required to proceed with criminal prosecution under the Anti-Corruption Act (ACA) 2008 (as amended in 2019), has not been attained.

The issue therefore will be dealt with using the prevention approach within ACC’s mandate and the Commission will therefore work with Parliament for a policy review to give clear guidelines and directives in that regard.

This, the ACC hopes will ensure prudent financial policies that could prevent the re-occurrence of the lapses outlined above, in subsequent financial years. See page 9 for more on this.