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Sierra Leone News: On questions whether MAFFS store was renovated… Witness recants earlier testimony

The former Permanent Secretary Abdulai Koroma at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) has on Wednesday 6 March, 2019 recanted his earlier testimony to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) being presided over by Justice Bankole Thompson. The witness (SW-10) changed his testimony when he was being led in examination in chief on Wednesday after he had earlier testified on Monday 4 March, 2019; saying that measures were put in place to repair the damaged stores at Kissy. On Monday the witness testified also that even though the repairs were done he could not recollect the time and person contracted to do the repairs. On question as to whether a report was received from the acting Chief Storekeeper before the purchase of fertiliser in 2016, he said yes and it was reported to the Executive Management Committee (EMC). On Wednesday, Koroma’s testimony took a twist when another question was put to him by Lawyer R. B. Kowa stating that no renovation was done in respect of the store at Kissy as at September 2017 when the performance audit was being carried out. The witness then said “this is a complex issue, the one who should testify to this should be the Chief Storekeeper.” Lawyer Kowa then stressed that according to the Chief Storekeeper said that no renovation has been done as at the time he left office in December, 2017. Defense Counsel Lansana Dumbuya objected saying “we have not heard the Storekeeper here and his statement has not been disclosed to us. Is he testifying to what someone has said to him personally as Counsel outside the Commission and he is saying it in examination in chief” he quizzed. Lawyer Kowa retorted saying “I am leading my witness the way I deem it necessary. I need not be guided the way I lead my witness and this is a simple question. He was the head of the ministry administratively…” he said. The witness continued that renovations were done “I am putting it to him that the Chief Storekeeper ‘said’, I did not say that he told this tribunal that no renovation has been done at the time he left the ministry.” Defense Counsel then countered saying if somebody has said something it is not the duty of the State to use it during examination, “even if the COI is an investigation, where is this coming from, let him tender it, is it that he can just say anything be said to him outside the COI, without us knowing and have not received disclosure. He cannot under examination in chief” he said.Justice Thompson then asked him if he has any case law authority to support his objections, he replied “I do not have as at now as I want to be certain when I give you authority.” The Judge then  responded by saying he is also not inclined to give speculation as to what he has said. “I will overrule and allow the State to present their case and the right of the Defence to cross examine incisively and strenuously as possible on issues they feel may be prejudicial to their interest” he said. In addition, he cautioned both Counsel that they were not there when some of the alleged issues took place, “let the persons who were actors give us an overview or a comprehensive picture of what clearly happened, I will give leave for the State to continue to examine the witness.” Lawyer Dumbuya answered by saying since it is the position of the Bench let all the information be presented. At this point the Judge informed him that if it were in an ordinary court, some of the objections he has taken will clearly be tenable, but if he allows his objections to be the guide as to how they navigate the difficult terrain, they may end up frustrating the process. Koroma ended by saying that he received a draft report from the Auditor General on 8 December, 2017 at which point he was on the verge of leaving and he minuted it to the Principal Internal Auditor for him to circulate to all stakeholders. “I did not visit the stores before leaving office and I don’t know whether it has been renovated or not.”

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Thursday March 7, 2019.

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