Audit Service could not ascertain 185 diplomatic passport holders

A review of the passport production list and diplomatic passport jackets revealed that a total of 830 diplomatic passports were produced and issued for the period under review (2015 and 2018). Out of this total, application records (jackets) were submitted for 672 diplomatic passports, leaving 158 outstanding. The auditors could therefore not ascertain whether the outstanding diplomatic passports were issued to eligible persons, this is according to the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) Performance Audit Report on the Management of Passports and Other Travelling Documents Between the period 2015 and 2018.

A further review of the 672 diplomatic passports with jackets or application records showed that 185 of same were issued to persons whose eligibility could not be ascertained. A Cabinet Conclusion (CP) of 15th July, 1998 specified the under mentioned categories of persons and their spouses to be eligible to possess diplomatic passports: The Head of State,  The Vice President, The Speaker of Parliament, The Chief Justice, All Cabinet Ministers and Deputies and all Representatives of Sierra Leone viz-a-viz Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Diplomatic staff including special envoys in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. The Cabinet Conclusion further stated that the President can expand on the list of holders above.

Investigations further revealed that there were instances in which diplomatic passports were issued by the Sierra Leone Immigration Department (SLID) without any request/approval from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).

Similarly, applications were approved by (MoFAIC) without any form of executive clearance from the Office of the President. These applications the auditors wrote were then forwarded to SLID for the production and issuance of diplomatic passports without any evidence of vetting for eligibility of the applicants based on the requirements as stated in the cabinet conclusion.

“These anomalies may have created room for personal gains by some public officials and at the same time discredited the image of the country in the eyes of the international world.” It was recommended that the Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) make available the application records/jackets in respect of the 158 diplomatic passports to the ASSL for verification within 15 days upon receipt of the report; otherwise the holders of these passports will be considered ineligible.

In their Management’s Response, SLID said that there is a strict management oversight on the application and issuance of diplomatic passports. In terms of the requested record for the 158 diplomatic passports, a number of them are with the Anti-Corruption Commission who was also investigating this matter.

Following their response, the Auditor’s commented that the 158 diplomatic passports jackets were still not made available for verification. The CIO mentioned that a good number of those jackets were with the ACC and even though he had requested same through a letter to the Commissioner on 4th April 2019, it has proved futile.

The auditors also noted that efforts had not been made by the Immigration Department to retrieve the 185 Diplomatic passports from ineligible persons.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque