Sierra Leone detains 3 Covid response officials over graft


Three top officials managing Sierra Leone’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been detained

Three top officials managing Sierra Leone’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been detained by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over alleged graft.

The officials, who haven’t been named, were detained after the publication of a damning audit report that has provoked nationwide outrage.

The report on funds allocated to the Covid-19 response is one of two released last week by the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), the independent agency tasked with auditing government accounts. They reveal massive looting of resources allocated to government ministries, departments and agencies.

The irregularities, according to the reports, include unauthorised spending, inflated prices, breach of contract, payroll violations, among others.

According to the ACC, the officials detained were helping in investigations relating to three of many issues captured in the audit report on the Covid response: about four dozen missing laptops, procurement of luxury vehicles for response officials, and a missing generator donated to the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NaCOVERC) by the Chinese government.

A spokesman for the ACC, Moriss Ibrahim Kanteh, said it expects to make more arrests as investigations progress.

“There is the possibility that more individuals might be brought in,” said Kanteh who declined to disclose the identities of those detained due to the potential of compromising ongoing investigations.

“All I can say is that those detained are staff [of NaCOVERC] who made decisions on the issues under investigations,” he added.

The audit report sparked outrage among Sierra Leoneans, many of whom took to social media to vent their frustrations.

It comes as the Commission struggles to deal with outstanding issues raised by the 2018 audit reports, which formed the basis of ongoing actions against officials who served in the administration of President Julius Maada Bio’s predecessor, Ernest Bai Koroma.

For accountability campaigners, the 2019 report is a sad reminder of the 2018 audit report, which exposed similar levels of corruption in government.