/ /For Voice, Accountability and Women's Empowerment
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Head Office in Freetown

8 King Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone

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    Head Office in Freetown

    8 King Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone

    Get In Touch With Us

    Have a question or comments? Contact us via the contact form and we will be sure to reach out asap!

    * Please Fill Required Fields *
    img

    Telephone Number

    +232-22-230-716

    Working Hours

    We are happy to meet you during our working hours. Please make an appointment by sending an email or calling our office today.

    AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT:

    Uncategorized / January 20, 2021

     

    PARLIAMENT AS THE BEACON OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY AND THE URGENT

    NEED TO PROTECT AND SUPPORT THE AUDIT SERVICE SIERRA LEONE AS AN

    INDEPENDENT INSTITUTION

    Dear Mr. Speaker,

    It is with considerable disquiet and concern that we, the undersigned organizations, have decided to

    write you this open letter. Transparency and public sector accountability are fundamental principles

    of democracy across the world. They offer a pathway for economic empowerment and political

    advancement for countries big and small.

    Mr. Speaker, since the mid-1990s, civil society, including Campaign for Good Governance (CGG),

    has collaborated with the government across a range of issues to promote a more effective, responsive,

    accountable, open, ethical, and gender-inclusive governance system at both local and central

    government settings. In order to further our collaboration in promoting an inclusive, accountable and

    transparent democracy and support the work of parliament especially in its trinity function of

    representation, law-making, and oversight as provided for by Chapter six of the 1991 Constitution of

    Sierra Leone, CGG, and its partners would like to draw your attention to the ongoing debacle

    surrounding the Audit Service – Sierra Leone.

    Mr. Speaker, you will recall and indeed agree with us that the Audit Service – Sierra Leone (ASSL) has

    and continues to raise (from its annual public sector audits) recurring issues of public sector financial

    and managerial impropriety leading to loss of billions of Leones from the Consolidated Fund for

    over a decade now. Throughout these years, the ASSL has not only raised issues of mismanagement

    and allegations resulting in financial loss to the state, it has also proffered recommendations to

    improve on public sector management and accountability which the executive arm of government has

    not effectively implemented. We bring these issues before you Mr. Speaker as we see Parliament as

    the seat of accountability where MPs as representatives of the people – have sworn oaths to respect

    the constitution and promote the welfare of their constituents.

    Mr. Speaker, we wish to re-emphasize that the role of the Auditor General is a constitutional provision

    enshrined in section 119. Specifically, subsection 119(6) provides for the independence of the office

    1of Auditor General in the discharge of its functions. It is our firm belief that those provisions vest in

    the ASSL political, financial, and administrative independence from the executive arm of government

    and any other person or authority within that branch of government. Therefore, we see the office as

    not only sacred but one that promotes accountability and shines a light on public sector transparency

    and the promotion of our democracy. The constitutional grant and assertion of this independence is

    at the foundation of our entire governance and accountability processes. We must therefore guard it

    delicately and ferociously.

    But even outside the Constitutional provisions, we are of the view that this Parliament recognizes that

    such independence is a critical attribute for certain national institutions like the ASSL. So though the

    Constitution may have given the ASSL some level of autonomy from the executive arm of

    government, we expect that the leadership in those institutions should be allowed to assert their

    independence and authority whenever it is challenged. Without that, the legal provisions that grant

    institutional independence would be meaningless, the functions of the Audit Service would be

    surrendered to government control, and Sierra Leone would be the ultimate loser for it.

    This is why we are particularly disturbed by recent utterances and actions directed at the ASSL. Mr.

    Speaker, since the publication of the 2019 Audit Report and Special Audit into the COVID-19

    Response Funds, CGG, and its partners have seen deliberate actions from segments of society, that

    if not immediately curbed, will undermine decades of hard work of the ASSL. Most concerning is the

    direct attack on the personality of the Auditor General. It is our conviction, Mr. Speaker, that if the

    leadership of Parliament does not act swiftly, the ongoing unwarranted and unprecedented attacks on

    the persona of the Auditor General – mostly by social media vigilantes and other media platforms- will

    undermine genuine efforts towards public accountability, protection of our democratic institutions

    and women’s leadership in the public service. We, therefore, urge Parliament to fast track the debate

    on the reports presented by the ASSL, in accordance with the law with a view to protecting the

    integrity of the institution. Mr. Speaker, we cannot overstate the need to protect the independence of

    the office of the Auditor-General both on state fiduciary issues and the strengthening of systems for

    checks and balances in our budding democracy.

    The ASSL must be supported to remain politically neutral in the conduct of its duties and to exercise

    professional judgment at all times. The attack on the ASSL and its leadership is a disservice to our

    democracy and a diversionary approach to the problems of accountability and poor service delivery

    across the country. This must be condemned in no uncertain terms, and we call on the leadership of

    Parliament through your office to take the lead in not only condemning the attacks on the Auditor

    General but also to protect and guarantee the independence of her office and the institution.

    Mr. Speaker, we are also gravely concerned about the on-going public perception on the decisions to

    summon the office of the ASSL to Parliament. Whilst we see no immediate issues with parliament

    seeking clarification on a number of concerns in the report and recognizing that ASSL has been giving

    technical support to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), we believe that it is not the role of

    external auditors like ASSL to help the Auditees, whether from Parliament, Ministries, Departments

    and Agencies (MDAs) to answer questions raised in the audit reports. The burden of proof, we believe,

    lies with the MPs or MDAs to explain how public funds were utilized and they must respond to queries

    issued. Failing to do this, begs the question about the level of accountability of public servants. It also

    risks surrendering the independence of the ASSL to the whims of the very people and institutions

    whose fiscal mismanagement and lack of respect for the due process it should be exposing.

    2Mr. Speaker, we are further convinced that in order to ensure the appropriate level of independence

    provided for in section 119(6) of the Constitution, the ASSL must be both operational and financially

    independent from the executive arm of government. To achieve this, CGG and its partners call on

    Parliament to ring-fence the budget of ASSL so that there are enough resources to deliver on its

    mandate. Drawing from best practices around the world, the Office of the Auditor-General should

    not submit the budget to the Ministry responsible for finance but directly to Parliament. It is our

    considered view that where genuine independence exists, the ASSL cannot be auditing the executive

    and at the same be answerable to the same executive for its resources. The purpose behind all of these

    independent institutions under the law is to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power.

    In conclusion Mr. Speaker, we would like to state that if Sierra Leone is serious about fighting

    corruption and shining a light on public sector accountability and productivity, Parliament as

    representatives of the people, have to protect public officers like the Auditor General and her team,

    not because they are infallible but because they show us that the accountable governance and society

    we clamour for is possible. For decades, Sierra Leoneans have complained about the lack of

    accountability, the lack of leaders with integrity, and the dearth of a good example and effectiveness in

    the way the country’s public sector is managed. But the stewardship of the current Auditor General

    has been exemplary. Her consistency of approach and institutional achievements are there for all to

    see. The recurrent issues consistently highlighted in the last 10 years from the Annual or Special Audit

    reports are testaments to the institution’s loyalty to best practice. If anything, the findings of the audits

    ought to compel the need for an urgent review of the systems and procedures obtaining within our MDAs

    and Parliament. It cannot be the norm that audit recommendations are not implemented. Rather than

    attempting to denigrate the personality and integrity of the Auditor General and her team, we expect

    everyone with good intentions for the country to rally around the institution and protect it from being

    attacked by social media vigilantes. Let us as a country focus on the message and not shoot the

    messenger.

    Mr. Speaker, allow us to ask through you, to encourage MDAs to cooperate and be ready to provide

    answers to the questions raised during the audit period. We are wary that, documents and other

    evidence that were not produced at the time of audit are now suddenly appearing for the attention of

    Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and eventually Parliament. This, we believe is creating a lot of

    confusion and such explanations after the facts have been established by the audits will only

    undermine efforts towards instituting accountability and good governance in Sierra Leone.

    We thank you for your anticipated cooperation.

    Yours faithfully,

    Campaign for Good Governance (CGG)

    African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) SL

    West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) SL

    Women’s Forum Sierra Leone

    Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN)

    Amnesty International SL

    Transparency International (SL Chapter)

    Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ)

    For further information and clarification please contact Marcella Samba-Sesay, +23276984590, Sahr Kendema

    +23276356691 and Valnora Edwin +23276620700.

     

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