Sierra Leone President Maada Bio’s Nephew Received Public Funds on Alleged Education Expenses

Financial documents and bank records of Sierra Leone’s Petroleum Directorate reviewed by the Africanist Press show that a nephew of President Julius Maada Bio used nearly Le400 million (over US$40,000) from public funds on payments for an alleged master’s degree program in the United Kingdom, in direct violation of the country’s employment and finance laws.

While Sierra Leonean law allows for specialized training to enhance employee skills, the law also requires that the recipient complete the training and remain in employment at the same department or agency for three years in return for the training scholarship.

The Petroleum Directorate is the national regulatory agency responsible for the general management and monitoring of Sierra Leone’s petroleum resources. Led by a director general appointed by the President, the institution, created in 2003, operates under the direct supervision of the President’s Office.

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James Bio became an employee of the Petroleum Directorate in June 2018, a few months after the elections that brought his uncle, Julius Maada Bio, to power in April 2018. Documents reviewed by Africanist Press state that James Bio was admitted into Robert Gordon University’s master’s program on 17th April 2019, less than a year after his appointment by the President to join the Petroleum Directorate’s management staff. The Petroleum Directorate reportedly paid for the master’s program on behalf of James Bio without following the agency’s employment regulations.

The Petroleum Directorate’s 2019 and 2020 financial records show that a cumulative total of Le211,857,671 (about US$23,000) was drawn directly from the agency’s account in 2019, purportedly to sponsor James Bagie Bio, a nephew of President Julius Maada Bio, to pursue a master’s degree in Oil and Gas Accounting at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Public funds were also used to fund alleged living allowances and travel-related costs, which amounted to Le162,754,555 (about US$17,000). In total, we discovered that Le393,620,740 (about US$41,653) was cumulatively withdrawn from the Petroleum Directorate Account in 2019 and 2020 for James Bio.

In addition, the Petroleum Directorate’s bank statements for both FY2019 and FY2020 examined by the Africanist Press show that regular monthly salaries amounting to Le160,035,127.00 (about US$17,000) were also paid to James Bio between 23 May 2019 and 3 June 2020, despite the notion that he was on study leave in the UK, and for which daily subsistence allowances of Le45,556,360 (about USD$4,400) were also paid to him on August 30, 2019. We discovered that on 3 April 2020, for example, James Bio was paid a rent allowance of Le56,056,000 (US$5,707.87) even though he was already on supposed study leave and for which living allowances had already been paid.

James Bio became an employee of the Petroleum Directorate in June 2018, a few months after the elections that brought his uncle, Julius Maada Bio, to power in April 2018. Documents reviewed by Africanist Press state that James Bio was admitted into Robert Gordon University’s master’s program on 17th April 2019, less than a year after his appointment by the President to join the Petroleum Directorate’s management staff. The Petroleum Directorate reportedly paid for the master’s program on behalf of James Bio without following the agency’s employment regulations.

The Petroleum Directorate’s 2019 and 2020 financial records show that a cumulative total of Le211,857,671 (about US$23,000) was drawn directly from the agency’s account in 2019, purportedly to sponsor James Bagie Bio, a nephew of President Julius Maada Bio, to pursue a master’s degree in Oil and Gas Accounting at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Section 1401(5) of the Petroleum Directorate’s Terms and Conditions of Service provides that “employees receiving training at the expense of the Petroleum Directorate shall be bonded and continue to serve in the employ of the Directorate for at least three years from the date of the last course.”

Africanist Press discovered that James Bio did not sign a bond with the Petroleum Directorate in advance of the start of the alleged master’s training program in Aberdeen and that he resigned from the Petroleum Directorate on 20 May 2020, sooner than the three years bonding period required. In the course of our investigation, we discovered that an internal government audit had also questioned the procedures used to select James Bio for training, and questioned why a bond was never signed between James Bio and the Directorate before the supposed start of the UK training.

“There was no evidence that James Bio signed a bond with the Directorate prior to the start of the M.Sc. program even though a letter of recommendation from the Senior Administrative Manager to Robert Gordon University mentioned that the staff had signed the bond with the Directorate,” an audit query addressed to the Petroleum Directorate in early March 2021 stated. The internal audit could also not determine whether James Bio actually completed the alleged master’s training program in the UK.

An internal audit into the matter had already asked the management of the Petroleum Directorate to submit the certificate showing successful completion of the master’s degree by James Bio and for the Le211,857,671 (over USD$25,000, not including salary) spent on tuition and other costs related to the training by the Directorate be refunded.

“The course certificate to justify successful completion was also not seen in his file or submitted for verification,” an audit had earlier noted in a query to the Petroleum Directorate.

Africanist Press discovered that James Bio instead left the Petroleum Directorate on 20 May 2020 on a presidential appointment as deputy director of the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA), the agency responsible for regulating

Sierra Leone’s road transport industry, including the registration and licensing of vehicles and drivers.

We found that an internal audit into the matter had already asked the management of the Petroleum Directorate to submit the certificate showing successful completion of the master’s degree by James Bio and for the Le211,857,671 (over USD$25,000, not including salary) spent on tuition and other costs related to the training by the Directorate be refunded. The auditors demanded that the expenses be recouped from James Bio for failing to comply with Section 1401(5) relating to the bonding period.

Officials from the Petroleum Directorate and the President’s Office had not responded to the management letter sent in early March 2021 to the agency by auditors who had earlier investigated the issue.

James Bio did not comment on the issue when contacted by Africanist Press, instead stating, “Please contact the senior administrative head regarding staff matters. He is the right person that should answer all staff matters.”

The Petroleum Directorate’s head of finance, Zainu Deen Karim, insisted that a letter from the Africanist Press must be sent by post to their office in Freetown, otherwise they would not comment on the issue.

Africanist Press also contacted the former head of the Petroleum Directorate, Timothy Kabba, who also refused to comment despite having made promises to do so. Kabba was the director general of the Petroleum Directorate when the transactions relating to James Bio were made. He had since been appointed Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources by President Bio, within the same time James Bio was appointed by the president as deputy director of the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority (SLRSA).

You can download from here the details of transactions from the Petroleum Directorate Account paid out in the name of James Bio in FY2019 and FY2020.

Source: Africanist Press

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