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Sierra Leone Business: Agriculture Ministry transfers Le1.7bn without authority

Auditor General- Lara Taylor-Pearce

Under the Presidential Initiative Programme of the past APC government, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) was allocated Le1.5 billion for a cash transfer program to Farm Based Organisations (FBOs) but ended up transferring a total cash of Le3.2 billion (Le3,255,000,000) in 2017. As a result, the Auditor General in her 2017 audit report says they were unable to ascertain the sources for the additional Le1.7 billion (Le1,755,000,000 – Le3,255,000,000 – Le1,500,000,000), in spite of several requests from the audit team. The team were unable to verify any evidence submitted from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) authorising the excess payments. They recommended that the Permanent Secretary and Director of Crops, with the relevant authority, should provide an explanation or reasons for the excess payments. The Permanent Secretary (PS) responded that the objectives of the Cash Transfer Program as stated in the cash transfer operational framework are to support interventions that would promote increased agricultural production and productivity of targeted crops and livestock and enhance commercialised agricultural development. In line with the Cash Transfer Programme, the amount provided for the 2017 approved budget the PS said was Le3 billion which is distributed as follows, firstly, cash for field work to increase agricultural production and productivity of targeted crops and livestock was estimated for Le2billion. Support to marketing of agricultural products for the enhancement of commercialised agricultural development valued at Le1billion. However, the amount disbursed from MoFED was Le1.5billion under the Presidential Recovery Priorities Initiatives. The balance of Le1.5billion was still outstanding. “Given that agricultural activities are time bound and the funds were not forthcoming; it was decided that the Ministry use the Forestry Development Account with the hope that when the balance is made available from MoFED, it will be refunded into the Forestry Development Account” the PS explained. The audit team reviewed the submitted Minutes of a meeting held by the Executive Management Committee (EMC) of the Ministry which arrived at the decision to use the Forestry Development Funds in the Forestry Development Account to finance the cash transfer program. Nonetheless, there was no evidence of the approval of MoFED in respect of those funds. The issue is therefore unresolved and the audit team had earlier cautioned MAFFS that failing which, the total excess payments should be refunded and paid back into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) and evidence of the payment forwarded to ASSL for verification.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Monday January 14, 2019.

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