One of the country’s indigenous banks, the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, with some 7 staff involved in a conspiracy to defraud, stealing the whopping sum of Le 1 Billion old notes and Forty-eight thousand US dollars ($48,000). To make matters worse, the Audit Report discovered issuance of huge sums of loans to certain customers without following the prescribed procedures, which included the provision of the relevant collateral by the customer to the bank, which will enable to bank to recover its loan in the event of default, a directive by the Central Bank and in consonance with international best banking practices.
According to investigation mounted by this medium, it was revealed that between Friday 13th to Monday 16th January 2023, some seven (7) staff at the Kissy Mess Mess Branch of the bank, conspired with some unknown persons and stole the whopping sum of Le 1 Billion old notes and Forty-eight thousand United States Dollars ($48,000) from the institution. This matter was reported to the police by the Branch Manager, and is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Unit at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters. Six of the suspects were arrested and the seventh is on the run. According to our investigation, the seven suspects are: Ishmail Sillah (the alleged ringleader, now on the run), John Kamara, Muctarr Balegun, Iye Bundu, Alice Luma Makieu, Elizabeth Kumba Kpatewa and Alusine Conteh. The six are helping the police in their investigation.
Policy analysts are of the view that there is problem with the system to block such actions by fraudulent staff, otherwise, the bank would have picked up the anomaly and stopped the suspects from withdrawing the said cash. They maintained that there is a weakness in the administration to implement laid down rules and procedures to monitor withdrawal of cash.
This absence of respect for or compromise of principles was discovered by the Auditor General’s team when they audited the bank. They discovered that the institution had issued huge loans to the tune of billions of Leones to customers, without receipt of any collateral from the customers. Even when this was brought up by the auditors to the management, the bank still failed to produce the necessary documentation for the loans, and the said issue remained unresolved (Audit Report of 2021 refers).
One would think that a prominent Commercial Bank as the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank will be adhering to directives of the Central Bank in the award of loans to customers, and not a system of friendly relations.
See report below:
5. SIERRA LEONE COMMERCIAL BANK LIMITED – 2020
3.5.1. No Collateral Valuation Reports:
Collateral property should be valued by a professional valuer in order for the bank to determine the maximum credit facilities they can grant a customer. During our review, we noted that the Bank had approved facilities for Whitepole Limited for Le2.4 billion without reassessing the value of the submitted collateral. We recommended that the Bank should obtain the valuation report regarding the collateral security provided by the customer; and to ensure that it is properly valued by a professional appraiser.
The revaluation report had been obtained and is available for verification.
194 Auditor’s Comment:
The valuation report for Whitepole Limited was not submitted. The issue is unresolved.
3.5.2. Non-compliance with the Bank’s Risk Acceptance Criteria:
We observed that a facility of Le17.8 billion was granted to Jolaks Manufacturing during the year. The required documentation (Financial Statement) for prior approval, was not submitted. We recommended that Management should strictly follow applicable preapproval documentation, as minimum standards, in the lending process.
The Bank maintains audited accounts for customers.
During the verification, the audited Financial Statement for Jolaks Manufacturing was not provided. The matter is therefore unresolved.
3.5.3. Non-Compliance with the Bank’s Lending Procedures:
During the course of our audit, we observed that the Bank was not in possession of original mortgage securities for customers who were granted the facilities. From review of customers’ files, we noted that these facilities had been secured with legal mortgage as indicated in the facility letter, but the Bank was not in possession of these legal mortgages for Bradcorp Global Development and International Construction. We recommended that Management should ensure adequate and tangible security is obtained to cover the exposures.
The two highlighted accounts are already collateralised with proper securing arrangements and documentation. Others had been sent for registration, but we do have a challenge with the slow pace of registration at the Registrar General’s Office. We will continue with our follow-up until we get the registration process of outstanding collaterals completed.
During the course of the verification, we noted that Bradcorp Global Development did not provide any collateral for the loan of Le10.2 billion; whereas, the International Construction did not provide collateral security for its loan. This issue is unresolved.