• January 19, 2024

CORRUPTION STINKS AT AGRICULTURE MINISTRY

CORRUPTION STINKS AT AGRICULTURE MINISTRY
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By Alusine Fullah

This medium, FORUM NEWSPAPER has the belief that No country in the world has industrialised without an agricultural revolution. So, when we talk about industrialization, the basic has to be there, which is agriculture. This is not just about food security; it borders on economic growth. During the launch of the Feed Salone Project at PDEC Field in Pujehun Town, President Bio noted: ““In the next five years, the aim is to harness Sierra Leone’s full agricultural potential to feed ourselves and sell food to others, by improving on the quality of the lives of our people, by engaging citizens especially the farmers…”

However, as corruption continues to stench at the Ministry of Agriculture, the general public have raised a lot of questions about the success of the Feed Salone Project. The uncertainty for the success of the foregoing project hits hard just after the release of the Audit Service Sierra Leone. A report exposes a lot of excesses and corrupt scandals against many projects that were assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In a bid to transform the Agricultural Sector, MAFS embarked on a landmark policy initiative. Two of the four key landmark initiatives included the private sector led farm mechanisation through the establishment of machine rings and farmer service centres and the e–wallet system to foster efficiency, transparency as well as cost reduction in the Government’s input delivery. In view of the above, the report conducted a verification exercise on beneficiary farmers on the list submitted by the Ministry with respect to the e-voucher system in which 12,000 farmers were to benefit from fertilisers, seed rice, herbicides and tools from agro-dealers and machine rings operators for a contract cost of SLE5,616.25 for each beneficiary farmer. Below are our observations from the verification exercise conducted by the Audit Service Sierra Leone.Western Area and Bombali: Telephone calls were made to 21 farmers in the Western Area and 14 in Bombali District, but they were unreachable, despite several attempts made before, during and after the verification exercise. Furthermore, the telephone numbers of 12 individuals in the Western Area whose names were among the list of beneficiaries alleged to have benefitted from amounts totalling SLE67,395 were serially numbered from 030-906362 to 030-906373. This sequential order in which these numbers appeared raised suspicion. Ten farmers in the Western Area and seven in the Bombali District contacted and informed the auditors that they did not receive any of the e-voucher items such as fertilizers, seed rice, herbicides, and tools worth SLE 95,476.25. The team also observed that the names of seven pin-coded staff of the Ministry in Bombali District including the District Agriculture Officer were found on the list of farmers and benefitted SLE39,313.75 from the scheme.  Twenty-one of the farmers visited or contacted via phone informed us that they did not receive the full package of the e-voucher scheme.

Kenema District: Telephone discussion with farmers revealed that they did not receive e-voucher regarding the cash transfers. However, they did receive seed rice and fertiliser.

Kono District: farmers reported that they were not aware of any e-voucher transfers, nor did they receive seed rice, herbicides, fertilisers and tools.

Bo District: we observed that the procedure for the selection of the beneficiary farmers regarding the Agrofarmers’ subsidy (e-voucher scheme) by MAFS was unclear. No documentary evidence was submitted in respect of the criteria used for the selection of farmers. As a result, we could neither verify whether the beneficiary farmers were selected based on merits, nor could we confirm whether all the beneficiaries were actually engaged in farming. We verified the phone numbers submitted by the beneficiary farmers and made direct calls to 30 farmers who were on the list of beneficiaries. We observed that 29 of the phone numbers we contacted were either switched off or not registered. The one beneficiary number that rang confirmed that she did not receive any subsidy whether in the form of cash or farm inputs. This is an indication that the funds were not used for their intended purposes but were diverted to personal use.  We compared the list of farmers submitted by the Ministry in Bo, to the list received from the headquarters in Freetown and observed that the total number of farmers submitted by Bo was 700, whilst the list sent from headquarters stated 947 farmers as beneficiaries. No explanation was provided by headquarters for the excess 247 farmers. The total value of funds paid to the excess 247 farmers amounted to SLE1, 387,213.75.

Shockingly, it is a surprise to note that the names of staff members were mentioned as beneficiaries for 2022 e-voucher scheme in Bombali district. While the many farmers frown at such act, investigations have been instituted and findings so far revealed that the seven mentioned staff below were not the farmers whose names were on that list as alleged.

Zainab Sesay – 077-047-202

Musa Kalokoh – 076-706-539

Alhaji Kamara – 079-570-866

Hawanatu Kamara – 075-837-054

5.Samuel Foenah – 080-435-970

Abu Bakar Koroma – 077-722-170

7.Mohamed Kamara – 077-047-202

The report also revealed that there were several rehabilitation works that was not done. According to the report, total amounts of SLE148,550 on PV00148, and SLE148,600 on PV00150, dated 27th December 2022 were expended in respect of the rehabilitation of staff quarters and the Teko Training Centre in the Bombali District respectively. Efforts by the team of auditors to physically inspect the sites claimed to have been rehabilitated however proved futile. An interview with the District Agricultural Officer (DAO) revealed that he had no idea of such work done. Similarly, an amount of SLE147,900 on PV00142 dated 20th October, 2022 in respect of payment for the rehabilitation of the Ministry’s guest house and staff accommodation in Kenema was expended. Efforts to physically inspect the rehabilitation site however proved futile. An interview with the DAO in Kenema revealed that he was not aware of any rehabilitation work done. As a result, we did not ascertain whether government resources were being prudently managed.

Going through the just release Audit Report, it seems that the Ministry of Agriculture is the Hub of Corruption. According to the report, the Ministry of Agriculture made several payments without adequate supporting evidence. The report states: “Payments without Adequate Supporting Documents: Contrary to Section 100(1) of the PFMRs of 2018, documents such as receipts, signed beneficiary list, delivery note, reports in respect of various activities amounting to SLE5,835,142.99 were not available for inspection…”

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