At the Commissions of Inquiry, interesting revelations keep coming out that are mind boggling.
At Commission 64 presided by Justice Biobele Georgewill, an earlier statement made by Commission Witness Thomas Jonjo Senior Accountant at the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources that some proceeds from mining activities in the country were invested in Treasury Bearer Bonds between 2012 to 2016, was debunked by Permanent Secretary Mrs. Fatmata Mustapha who denied knowledge of such investment.
Led in evidence by State Counsel Mrs. Khadija Zainab Bangura, the Senior Accountant Mr. Thomas Jonjo disclosed that some remittances were made into some MMR accounts that were interests from Treasury Bearer Bonds that they had invested in. The MMR he disclosed has several accounts that it manages like the Diamond Area Community Development Fund or DACDF, the Rehabilitation Account, the Rutile Account and Agriculture Account. He disclosed that at some point the sum of Le 105,000,000 (one hundred and five million Leones) was paid as interest from Treasury Bearer Bonds into the Rehabilitation Account. Also, he revealed that on 17th December 2012 Le 12, 750, 000 (twelve million seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones) was paid as interest from Treasury Bearer Bond; 7th January 2014, the sum of Le 300,000,000 (three hundred million Leones) was also paid as interest to the Rehabilitation Account of the MMR. On the 8th January 2018, just a day after Le 300m was paid as TBB mature interest, the same money was paid as bid amount on TBB.
Asked by the sole Commissioner Justice Biobele Georgewill who authorizes such investments, he replied that it was the Permanent Secretary. When the Permanent Secretary eventually entered the witness box, she denied knowledge of any investment in TBB using funds from any mining proceeds. Mrs. Fatmata Mustapha denied ever authorizing investment of mining proceeds on Treasury Bearer Bonds. The commissioner then asked for the witness to be re-summoned to clarify the issue of investment of TBB.
Other disclosure made at the Commission is that the Rehabilitation Account which the Senior Accountant had earlier said they don’t touch was heavily withdrawn from, as records showed later. Also, top up allowances for senior geologists and engineers was a loan request made by the NMA to the MMR and that funds from DACDF account were used for such purpose as indicated, but that the loan was to be repaid later by the NMA, which no record proved they did.
The DACDF account had as much as Le 32, 032,534,101.20 (thirty two billion, and thirty two million, five hundred and thirty four thousand, one hundred and one Leone, twenty cents), but withdrawals from it amounted to Le 18, 212, 036, 007.47 (eighteen billion, two hundred and two million, and thirty six thousand and seven Leones, forty seven cents).
Of the said withdrawal from the DACDF account the sum of Le 11, 499,110,000 (eleven billion, four hundred and ninety-nine million, one hundred and ten thousand Leones) was paid as community development funds from the sale of the 709 carat diamond that was discovered in Kono in 2017.
The Senior Accountant said the payments for development of communities as intended by the creation of the DACDF account is made directly to the communities, and that they monitor the development projects in the communities. Justice Biobele Georgewill has promised to visit the areas especially Koryadu where the 709 carat diamond was found to verify the judicious use of the funds disbursed for community development.
In her testimony, the former Permanent Secretary in the MMR expounded on the different accounts in the ministry and how they are funded. Mrs. Fatmata Mustapha who now serves as PS in the MAF said the Rehabilitation Account draws funds from the import and export licenses for gold and diamond, whilst the DACDF sources its funds from artisanal mining licenses issued by the NMA, adding that the percentage from the fees is worked out by the NMA and paid into the said account which the MMR supervises.
On the Rutile Account, she said its funds are drawn mostly from the company after consultations with the community and agreeing on what to pay to them through the MMR.
At Commission 65 chaired by Justice Bankole Thompson, State Prosecutor Lawyer R.B. Kowa delved into the Direct Cash Transfer project which was initiated by the former Minister of Agriculture Professor Monty Jones between 2015 to 2018.
The Direct Cash Transfer scheme was intended to boost agricultural activities by paying monies directly to farmers but was fraught by many problems that left room for doubt and possible corruption.
State Witness Mr. Henry Kargbo who is the Director of Crops in the MAF was led in evidence by Lawyer Kowa who explained how the anomalies in the scheme left room for malpractices. It was alleged by the State Prosecutor that although the sum of Le 3,000,000,000 (three billion Leones) was approved by the Ministry of Finance for the Direct Cash Transfer scheme, the former Minister of Agriculture Prof. Monty Jones and team ended up expending Le 3,225,000,000 (three billion two hundred and twenty five thousand Leones), which is in excess of what was approved by the finance ministry. It was revealed that the finance ministry approved an initial Le1,500,000,000 (one billion five hundred million) but the MAF’s officials ostensibly acting on the instructions of the former minister withdrew another Le 1,755,000,000 (one billion seven hundred and fifty five million Leones). The said amount was withdrawn from the Forestry Development Account, without approval from the finance ministry.
Also exposed by the State Counsel Lawyer Kowa was that the former agriculture minister Prof. Monty Jones was given blank cheques to go to the field and pay cash directly to the farmers, but that he never gave account of the monies he expended. It was also disclosed that these direct cash transfers to farmers was never properly monitored and evaluated but huge sums of money were pumped into it.
The counsel for the defense Lawyer Lansana Dumbuya will cross examine the witness at the next adjourned date which is Monday May 27.