Sierra Leone News: Financial Sector Stinks of Corruption & Human Rights Abuses -CHRDI

Abdul Fatoma-CHRDI

There is widespread and systematic corruption within the banking sector in Sierra Leone. There is evidence to suggest that regular and widespread criminality has been committed by the financial services industry for several years, chiefly amongst which is lack of due diligence on politically exposed persons. Accountability and transparency need to be restored to the financial services industry, as confidence in the economy is built on the essential pillar of trust. The financial industry must not be able to commit and profit from controlled fraud and money laundering, despite this is becoming a way of life for some bankers. Financial sector firms should ensure that any engagement in high-corruption contexts proceed according to international norms of transparency and accountability.

Corruption and bribery profoundly affect vulnerable communities, either by misdirecting funds that could be spent on healthcare, education, or other public goods, or by preventing participation in the democratic process.

The most disturbing information reaching us is that the banks have been engaged in shady activities, for which the Central Bank, Bank of Sierra Leone is yet to provide satisfactory explanations for. There is a strong public suspicion that the Banks are in the habit of diverting state revenues into private ownership.  According to several evidences we have, it is alleged that the UBA Bank in Sierra Leone engaged in similar activities. This is a serious dent on the financial sector’s already battered image.

CHRDI’s investigation of both National Social Security Trust (NASSIT) and the National Revenue Authority (NRA) has further evidence pointing to criminality in lending by the UBA Bank in Sierra Leone. At one point, a highly suspicious movement of state money took place within a separate account operated at the bank and the NRA, named SLL54012527004

(Account name- Account payable). The amount involved is Le. 754,969,279.66. However, this sum was diverted from Account payable A/C with a debited narration (Additional Tax Assessment Yr 2012 and 2013) and credited Transit account at Charlotte Street.

Evidence we have gathered from staff and victims of human rights abuses in the banking sector confirms that corruption disproportionately impacts the poor more than the rich in Sierra Leone.

Increasing risks of fraud and corruption should serve as a wake-up call that even the best run financial institutions can be victims to. It is an established fact that cunning employees and third parties bent on criminal intent can cause irreparable harm to the financial sector. This will damage public confidence in the government, slow down the delivery of services and the provision of public goods. It can also divert public funds to unlawful ends and reduce political competition, democratic and economic development, social equality and the rule of law.

A catalogue of failures in the design and enforcement of anti-money laundering laws has been enabling banks to help politicians from some of the most corrupt political parties to use government money to fund lavish lifestyles, while their constituents and the general population live in poverty.

Many of the direct human rights risks and issues faced by the finance sector are generic to all businesses, such as those relating to the treatment of employees, example as alleged in a particular case at the UBA Bank, Sierra Leone where staff were reported to have been subjected to inhuman treatment.

We have evidence that a former staff who was alleged to have been involved in fraudulent activities and was taken to the CID for further investigation and put in detention for two weeks but he continued to provide service to the bank whilst in detention. In another incident, a female staff was arrested and locked up for 24 hours and later sacked for non-valid reasons.

Several Sierra Leonean citizens who work in the financial sector continue to face human rights abuses. We have recorded a high number of these alleged abuses which can qualify for possible legal actions against the banks and we are calling on more people to come forward with their stories. For example, the Ecobank has been recently updating their customer details and the banks software system. After working a full week (Monday to Friday) the bank has been forcing its staff to also work on Saturday and Sunday throughout the months of May and June without any additional pay and rest. Young mothers are forced to abandon their children and families over the weekend. Some can’t even attend church. We believe that this is nothing short of inhumane.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), the first international instrument to assign companies the responsibility to respect human rights. The responsibility to respect human rights, as defined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the Guiding Principles”), requires that business enterprises adhere to the following:

(a) avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur

(b) seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the responsibility to protect human rights has primarily fallen on governments. In the early 2000s however, it became increasingly clear that the freedoms enshrined in the framework could also be violated—and promoted—by the private sector.

CHRDI is more committed than ever to continue the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone, wherever it occurs and it shall continue to be a critical part of our organisation’s work to end extreme poverty.





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