Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce has unmasked four fictitious buyers whose names appeared on the disposal documents of government vehicles by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA). She made this revelation in her Performance Audit Report on the Management of Government Vehicles between the period 2014 and 2017. According to the report, the disposal records showed that 104 military vehicles were sold to four private individuals at a total amount of Le96,600,000.
As part of their audit engagement, it was uncovered that these four individuals did not have any dealings with the Ministry regarding the buying of the said vehicles. The auditors physically contacted two (i.e. Mamadu S. Bah and Ibrahim Sow) who did management representations on 12th July, 2019, certifying (and witnessed by their representatives) that they have never bought military vehicles at any point in time during the period under review. Furthermore, the auditors stated that the other two individuals (i.e. Mohamed A. Kabia and Alusine D. Williams), who could only be reached via telephone, outrightly denied having vehicle dealings with any government department during the review period.
There was also no documentary evidence like technical examination reports from the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), clearances from the National Assets and Government’s Property Commission (NAGPC), advertisements, bidding documents, and release letters to justify that disposal procedures as specified in the NMVP, 2016, the Public Procurement Act, 2004, and the NAGPC Act, 1990 were followed by the MTA.
Several requests and efforts were made by the audit team through telephone calls, to interview the former Permanent Secretary and the Procurement Officer who oversaw those disposal actions at the MTA at the time, but these proved futile. “The disposal of government vehicles to fictitious buyers could mean that government officers within the MTA falsified the disposal records for them to look as if private individuals were the beneficiaries of those vehicles when in fact those vehicles were procured by personnel of the MTA for meagre sums” the Auditor General said.
In accordance with Section 36 (1b) of the Audit Service Act, 2014, the officers that were involved in the disposal of those vehicles she said may have committed an offence which could be liable, on conviction, to a fine or a term of imprisonment or both. From the review of the NRA receipts and cashbook, her auditors noted that the 104 military vehicles were grossly undervalued by the SLRSA to the extent that Land Rovers, Steyrs, Mercedes Benz Ategos and Pinzgaurs were disposed for as little as Le50,000 and Le100,000 each.
A review of National Revenue Authority (NRA) receipt number 658662 and pay-in-slip number 35361 (First International Bank) revealed that a government vehicle with registration number UN 135, and specification, Nissan Patrol Jeep was sold to one Bintu Massaquoi of 9 Hagan Street Freetown on 7th January 2015 at a cost of Le1,500,000.
Upon further investigations, the auditors noted that the telephone/contact number on the pay-in slip (i.e. 077-87-88-20) belonged to the former Procurement Officer at MTA who oversaw the disposal action. The audit team tried to reach the former Procurement Officer on many occasions via the same telephone number, for him to clarify the issue but he never turned up, even though he made several promises over the phone. “This is a clear manifestation of government’s continued loss of revenue from the disposal of its unserviceable vehicles.”
MTA’s management response stated that following an allegation of corrupt practice in the disposal of government vehicles by the Ministry, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) requested for all documents on the disposal of vehicles for the period 2014 to 2016. “The Procurement Unit responded by submitting the necessary documents to aid the investigation and was unable to make photocopies due to the prompt request. The investigation is ongoing, and the Ministry cannot provide the required documents for audit verification since they are with the ACC” they said.
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque