And so last Thursday when President Sirleaf proclaimed to the nation of an ongoing audit process of the Private Sector Development Initiative at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, which revealed shocking financial irregularities about MFDP officials making loans to themselves in serious contravention of the law, many Liberians took the president’s proclamation with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.
In a special statement read on state radio last Thursday, President Sirleaf acknowledged that an ongoing audit process of the Private Sector Development Initiative at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, commissioned by the Minister of Finance had revealed some shocking initial results which show that officials at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning were making loans to themselves.
In that proclamation, President Sirleaf ordered current Commissioner of Maritime, Dr. James Kollie, to return to Liberia from his official trip to assist in the audit and answer all of the issues associated with it.
“The audit, which covers the period of 2014 to current and is being executed by the Internal Audit Agency. While the process is still ongoing, we can say with a high degree of confidence that such a scheme set up at the PDSI is clearly a conflict of interest and will be dealt with by the full weight of the law. Therefore, I have ordered the principal administrator of the program during the audit period, Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, Hon. James Kollie to return to Liberia from his official trip to assist in the audit and answer all of the issues associated with it. The Minister of Finance is to have a full audit report on my desk within two weeks for further action. We remain seized of this matter and will leave no stone unturned in the interest of the nation,” Sirleaf said.
Responding to the president’s proclamation and what he perceived as a “politically motivated” scheme perpetrated apparently by the auditors, Kollie the auditee had this to say:
My attention is being drawn to an ongoing audit of the Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) over which I provided general supervision when I served as Deputy Minister of Finance. I am grateful to the President for affording me the opportunity to respond fully to the claims, assertions and accusations made in the draft audit report.
Although I was the subject of the audit, contrary to best practice, and until only a few days ago, I was never notified or interviewed by the auditors. My first encounter with the auditors was on June 2, a day after the draft report was issued.
Of course, these are challenging political times for our country. As such, it is easier to pass public judgments before we hear all the facts, and or muddle what ought to be important professional engagements with political motivations. I fully understand that this is the country in which we live and these are ongoing consequences of a life in public service.
However, I wish to assure the country and our international partners that I served the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with dedication and professionalism, and conducted businesses there within the boundaries of the law and acceptable best practices. As such I intend to cooperate fully, as I have always done, to assist in satisfying this ongoing audit as well as reconfirm my continued commitment to financial probity and high standards of accountability in our country.
Without trying to further prejudice the draft audit report, I want to refrain from addressing specific claims or accusations made in the report at this time, and once again, assure Madam President and the entire country that I will fully cooperate with the audit and ensuing investigations for I am confident that I did nothing wrong.
As requested, I am returning to the country immediately.
Difficult as it may be, I urge all to keep an opened mind as we deal with this draft audit report which was leaked with obvious sinister motives and prejudicial intentions.
Flawed, Politically Motivated Audit Process?
Like Kollie, many feel that the PSDI audit procedure is politically motivated and flawed. Says Boakai Jalieba, a stalwart of the ruling Unity Party government and an Assistant Minister in President Sirleaf’s government:
“This is not even accounting. This is a simple bookkeeping rule: before commencing an audit, you inform the agency/person that will be audited. It is called engagement.
After that, you ask for all the available documents and then start your work. When your investigation is concluded, you write a draft report and share the contents with the agency or person audited for responses. You do so because you could just get something wrong that could be corrected.
Lastly, you issue your final report. If you fail to do so and release a draft report, you are viewed unprofessional and your actions will be qualified as political. Audit professionals are not politicians. Don't be used to do witch-hunting! Sad!”
Also, Rufus Jackson Looh seriously doubts the true intention of the audit. “This was not an independent audit commission to fight corruption… This is witch-hunting... If you can record, Dr. Kollie’s previous resignation letter to the president from the MFDP was heavily loaded with words. The old lady regarded it as an act of disloyalty, kept her calm and cleverly set up her Maritime trap for the dude. Now he’s into it and maybe nothing can get him out now! He’s finished; even the procedure errors alone can tell you that the reason here is to damage the young man. No one publicizes someone’s name just for the purpose of responding. I have been in situation like this before and I still remember.
This was a setup. At times you need to hide the trap from the target. Trust me; no one will want to refuse a Maritime job with fix term of office. Do you know that James refused the Finance Ministry to become Minister when Amara left and even resigned and went to the States before the president called him back? He fell out with the old lady during his resignation. The content of his letter was very alarming and the only way to get hold of him was to bring him back in government to some lucrative area and check behind his back at Finance. Those guys ran the economy of the state so they were very close to the president… These things were long awaiting his return. Look at the pace of the audit. This is pure politics,” Looh maintained.
Sethelo Mulbah on the other hand has a dissenting view about the whole MFDP loan saga. “Conventionally, no loan can be disbursed without the expressed approval of the functional head of that institution. Secondly, before any money is borrowed out as loan, there must be risk assessment backed by collateral in most cases, mode of repayment and systemic due diligence. Just from the IAA audit report, I am convinced that the former deputy Minister will be indicted and subsequently prosecuted period. I don't need to read rocket science,” Mulbah maintains.
Meanwhile, some MFDP staff who have asked not to be named in this publication seriously believe the President’s proclamation is meant to get back at the current head of Maritime who has openly thrown in his support for Vice President Joseph Boakai’s 2017 presidential bid, against the express objection of his boss Sirleaf who has been accused by even some Unity Party stalwarts of supporting Charles Brumskine’s bid for the presidency.
“This is the only way in which she can finally break Joe Boakai’s wing, because she was depending on Kollie to funnel her support to the Liberty Party through the Maritime fund at the appropriate time. As you know, cash cows like the Maritime, LPRC, NOCAL and NASSCORP help during the campaign season to oil the political machines of the incumbent,” our MFDP source confided, adding, “James Kollie will definitely be forced to resign, and he will be replaced by a confidant who will do the old mom’s dirty work.”
As the public awaits outcome of the two weeks ultimatum issued by the president for a full audit report, many pundits are left wondering, why didn’t the president pay similar urgency to the loot of NOCAL, the Executive Mansion renovation, and countless other reports.