SIERRA LEONE’S Finance Minister says over a billion dollars of state funds cannot be accounted for following a technical audit into government transactions over a three-year period.
Local media reports that minister Jacob Jusu Saffa used the term ‘stolen’ for the unaccounted for funds siphoned between 2015 and 2018.
The audit looked into the affairs of eleven state run entities including the national telecoms outfit and the ministry of works and public assets.
Audit experts pooled from across the continent – Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya – were invited to join their Sierra Leonean counterparts in the special assignment whose mandate straddled the telecoms, roads, energy and security sectors.
President Julius Maada Bio has since coming into office last year promised to step up the fight against corruption. He has promised to retrieve stolen monies and to also strictly deal with any incidents that may arise in his administration.
In another development, the authorities on Monday started implementing a one-month ban on fishing in the country’s territorial waters, in addition to halting of exports by major fishing companies, in a bid to shore up stocks.
The government also decreed an April 1-30 halt to exports by major fishing companies ‘to protect our fish stock from depletion,’ said a statement from the fisheries ministry.
‘All industrial fishing companies should stock their fish in cold rooms … during the period of closure,’ Minister of Fisheries Emma Kowa Jalloh told AFP.
How serious is the problem?
The West African states of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone lost about $2.3bn a year from 2010 to 2016 due to illegal and undeclared fishing, according to the Greenpeace environmental group.
Many coastal communities in Sierra Leone depend on fishing for food and their livelihood, said Steve Trent, executive director at Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
‘We applaud the ban but the long answer is for legal, equitable and sustainable fishing industry management to be introduced.
‘We are working towards helping Sierra Leone with surveillance boats and regulatory framework for sustainable fishing methods,’ Trent said.
Who is to blame?
Sierra Leone National Fishermen Consortium chairman Alpha Sheku Kamara accused China and Korea of destroying stocks.
‘We are happy that the government has declared fishing period closure after series of complaints,’ he told AFP at the bustling Tombo fishing community outside the capital Freetown.
‘Industrial fishing boats from China and Korea are destroying our nets and also depleting the fish stock,’ he said.
‘We are calling on the government to effectively enforce the ban with surveillance.’
Illegal fishing accounts for about 30 percent of catches by industrial foreign fleets in Sierra Leone, according to the 2017 Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley and five other organisations.
It found that in the past decade industrial foreign vessels have increased illegal activities off Sierra Leone either on their own or by enticing small-scale fishers into illicit partnerships.
Reduced monitoring and surveillance resulting from the withdrawal of development aid encouraged unlicensed operations, researchers said, noting an estimated 42,000 tonnes caught by illegal fishing in 2015.