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02.04.2019 Africa

Former S. Leone Authorities Accused Of Siphoning Off $1 Billion

Ernest Bai Koroma was president of Sierra Leone from 2007 to 2018.  By SEYLLOU (AFP/File)
APR 2, 2019 AFRICA
Ernest Bai Koroma was president of Sierra Leone from 2007 to 2018. By SEYLLOU (AFP/File)

An audit released by Sierra Leone's finance ministry has accused the administration of former president Ernest Bai Koroma of siphoning off more than $1 billion, officials said Tuesday.

Finance Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa vowed to "recover all stolen monies to provide basic amenities for our people" after the audit found the hole in public finances during Koroma's decade in office from September 2007 to April 2018.

"The audit uncovered grave violations of procurement process in awarding of contracts in energy, roads, and pension and telecom sectors amounting to $1.036bn," the minister said.

In all, 50 auditors from Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone conducted the technical audit with funding from UK Aid to investigate widespread corruption in Sierra Leone's public sectors between 2015 and 2018.

More than $500 million was unaccounted for in the awards of road contracts by the Sierra Leone Roads Authority, the report said.

Julius Maada Bio took over as president last year following a tumultuous campaign in which he vowed to clamp down on corruption.

"People found wanting in the audit report are to repay the monies before end of June 2019 or face the law," Jusu Saffa said.

"The money is three times more than health and five times greater than education funding," Abubakr Kamara, coordinator of a local NGO Budget Advocacy Network, told AFP.

"Government should utilise recovered monies from corrupt officials to improve health, water and education funding," Kamara said.

AFP contacted several of the individuals named in the report but they denied any wrongdoing and refused to comment further.

A commission of inquiry began work in February after the earlier publication of a damning report which alleged that "rampant corruption" under the Koroma administration had led to the "near collapse" of the West African nation's economy.

Although Sierra Leone boasts huge mineral and diamond deposits, the former British colony remains one of the world's poorest nations and is only gradually recovering from a 1991-2000 civil war which left some 120,000 dead.

A 2014-2016 outbreak of Ebola and falls in the price of raw materials also dealt the country further major blows.