Concerns Grow Over SLPP Government’s Use of The ACC to Ban Mayor Aki-Sawyerr From Politics

Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is being accused of leading government’s campaign to unseat the Mayor of Freetown, Mrs Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr from office, with a possibility of banning her for three years from politics.

This comes after the ACC published a notice last week, saying that it has concluded its investigations into corruption allegations against the Mayor and members of the Mayors Delivery Unit (MDU).

The ACC “therefore, had directed that, the Consultant Team Lead in the MDU, Manja Isata Kargbo and the Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr jointly pay back the sum of One Hundred and Eighty-seven Million, Nine Hundred and Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Thirty Leones (Le 187,904,830) in lieu of criminal prosecution”; and “That the Mayor and Madam Kargbo had through their lawyers communicated requesting that they do not repay the said amount; but the Commission has rejected same and they are now under obligation to pay while prosecution is being considered.”

But a statement received yesterday by the Sierra Leone Telegraph from sources close to the Mayor, says that lawyers acting for the Mayor responded to the ACC’s investigation on 4th March 2022, and that details of the Mayor’s legal response were not acknowledged by the ACC, instead the ACC issued a press release on social media on 11th May 2022 summarily rejecting the response without a fair opportunity to be heard.

The statement also says that the Mayor’s legal response clearly highlights inter alia:

that Manja Kargbo has been the Team Lead of the Mayors Delivery Unit (MDU) since 2018
• that the travel expenses paid in respect of air fares, hotel and per diem in respect of Manja Kargbo were done following council procedures and with the signatures of the Mayor, the Chief Administrator (vote controller) and the Finance Officer but only the Mayor and Manja were investigated
• that Manja’s travel expenses of Le187,904,830 (equivalent of $14,500) through her work on those 6 trips yielded for FCC investments of over $4m

The statement expresses serious concern that the ACC is trying to use Section 89, subsection 1.B of the 2008 ACC Act which states that re-payment of amounts would automatically result in the payer being barred from public office for a period of at least three years.

It is clear that the ACC’s insistence on repayment of “valid” and “legitimate” travel expenses of the MDU Team Lead by the Mayor will result in the Mayor being barred from holding public office for at least three years, the statement reads.

According to the statement, “Rather than allowing the issue of the procedural audit query to be addressed via the parliamentary process, the ACC instead sought criminal prosecution for the exact same issue raised in the same Audit Report in respect of the Office of the First Lady (see page 434 of the Audit Service Sierra Leone Audit Report 2019, audit query number 5.50.2). No action has been taken by the ACC about that audit query.

“This flagrantly selective and inappropriate use of powers is clearly a bid to remove the elected opposition Mayor through the misuse of the mandate and authority of the ACC.”

This is the public notice published by the ACC three days ago:

“ACC concludes investigation into issues relating to payments made to “non-staff personnel” in the Freetown city council by Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr.

“The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wishes to inform the general public that it has concluded investigation into the Freetown City Council (FCC), relating to issues highlighted on the Council in the 2019 Auditor General’s Report concerning payments of council funds to personal staff of the Mayor.

“The 2019 Audit Report stated inter alia that, the FCC made payments totalling Two Hundred Million Eight Hundred and Forty-two Thousand Three Hundred and Thirty-three Leones (Le 200,842,333) for travelling expenses (Air tickets and per diems) to one Manja Isata Kargbo, Head of the Mayor’s Delivery Unit (MDU) who is not an employee of the FCC. The Report further claimed that the said amounts paid were not budgeted for by the Council nor did they receive appropriate approval.

“The ACC comprehensively conducted the investigation into the issue, during which persons of interest were interviewed, including the Mayor of Freetown City Council, the Chief Administrator of the FCC, the Consultant Team Lead in the MDU, Manja Isata Kargbo, the Human Resource Officer of the FCC, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), among other staff of the FCC and the MLGRD. The investigation confirms the following:

“i. That the MDU was a private unit within the Office of the Mayor that did not go through normal administrative procedures for its set up and was entirely done by the Mayor without any approval from the Ordinary General Meeting of Council, and was done without any recourse to the MLGRD, and there was no legal basis under the Local Government Act of 2004 for such.

“ii. That Manja Isata Kargbo was not properly employed by the FCC. She started work as a volunteer in the Mayor’s Office and later was singlehandedly contracted by the Mayor as a Consultant Team Lead in the MDU on 1st November, 2018 without observing the Council’s normal recruitment procedures and without going through the administrative and Human Resource apparatus of Council.

“iii. That on various dates in 2019, Manja Isata Kargbo received the total sum of Two Hundred Million Eight Hundred and Forty-two Thousand Three Hundred and Thirty-three Leones (Le 200,842,333) as travelling expenses while accompanying the Mayor on her foreign trips: Fifty-two Million One Hundred and Fifty-eight Thousand One Hundred and Seventy-six Leones (Le 52,158,176) for a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark for the C40 World Mayors Summit; Fifteen Million Nine Hundred and Two Thousand Leones (Le 15,902,000) for a trip to the United States of America for the TED Women; Fifty-eight Million Nine Hundred and Forty Thousand Leones (Le 58,940,000) for a trip to Durban, South Africa for the Global Parliament of Mayors; Twenty-eight Million One Hundred and Forty-four Thousand One Hundred and Forty-eight Leones (Le 28,144,148) for a trip to South Carolina, United States of America for the Ground Breaking IAAM Charleston Structure and Bloomberg City Lab; Thirty-three Million Nine Hundred and Ninety-four Thousand Leones Six Hundred and Thirty-eight Cents (Le 33,994,638) for a trip to United States of America for the International African American Museum and Mayor’s Migration Council; and Sixteen Million and Thirty-three Thousand Leones (Le 16,033,000) for a trip to Paris, France for the C40 Women in Climate Change.

“Manja Isata Kargbo however refunded the sum of One Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($ 1,250) in its equivalent in Leones out of the One Thousand Four Hundred Dollars ($1,400) paid to her in Leones for the said trip.

“iv. That for the trip to Copenhagen, the Foreign and Protocol Officer mistakenly paid Manja Isata Kargbo the sum of Five Hundred Dollars ($500) instead of Four Hundred Dollars ($400) when a request for additional two days per diem was made.

“v. That these payments were improper payments as captured in the Auditor General’s Report.

“vi. That the Commission takes note of the Administrative Inquiry Report into the Management of the Freetown City Council commissioned by the MLGRD in November, 2021, which stated as follow;

“1) That the issue of the MDU is the greatest threat to peaceful coexistence at the FCC. The introduction of the Unit in the governance structure of the FCC has caused ill feelings in the minds of the FCC functionaries.

“2) That there is need to critically re-examine the position/status of the MDU within Council with a view of abolishing it and transferring roles and responsibilities to regular Council staff.

“3) That a cumulative sum of Two Hundred Million Leones (Le200,000,000) was paid from Council account to a non-Council staff (an MDU staff) for various overseas trips. These payments were not provided for a part of expected Council expenditure. Therefore, the payment contravenes the Local Government Act 2004.

“4) That the MDU staff who was paid a cumulative sum of Two Hundred Million Leones (Le200,000,000) for overseas trip be made to repay the amount within a period to be determined by Council.

“5) That these findings are consistent with our separate and independent investigation of the issue and similarly confirm the findings in the Audit Report aforesaid.

“The Commission, therefore, had directed that, the Consultant Team Lead in the MDU, Manja Isata Kargbo and the Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr jointly pay back the sum of One Hundred and Eighty-seven Million, Nine Hundred and Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Thirty Leones (Le 187,904,830) in lieu of criminal prosecution.

“That the Mayor and Madam Kargbo had through their lawyers communicated requesting that they do not repay the said amount; but the Commission has rejected same and they are now under obligation to pay while prosecution is being considered.”

You can read the Mayor’s legal response below:

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