Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – The Acting Auditor General’s report for 2022 has brought to light a concerning revelation involving seven staff members from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Bombali Office, who improperly benefited from e-voucher payments designated for local farmers.
A meticulous verification exercise aimed at ensuring farmers received fertilizers, seed rice, herbicides, and tools from agro-dealers and machine rings operators, each costing SLE5,616.25 per beneficiary, exposed this misconduct. The seven pin-coded Ministry staff in Bombali District, including the District Agriculture Officer, were identified on the list of beneficiaries, collectively receiving SLE39,313.75 from the scheme.
In Bombali, auditors attempted to reach 14 farmers but found them unreachable despite multiple attempts before, during, and after the verification exercise. Additionally, seven farmers in Bombali District confirmed to auditors that they did not receive any of the e-voucher items, totalling SLE 95,476.25.
Further discrepancies emerged as some farmers reported not receiving the full package of the e-voucher scheme. The head of a 15-member farmer group in Kamaranka Town disclosed that, instead of receiving tools worth SLE84,244, they were given cash totalling SLE12,000.
In response to the audit findings, the Ministry distanced itself from the alleged involvement of its staff in the e-voucher scheme. Internal investigations, according to the Ministry, revealed that the seven staff mentioned were not the farmers listed.
The Ministry disputed the claims made by Joseph Benson Sesay, head of the 15-member farmer group, who asserted receiving money on behalf of the farmers instead of the promised inputs, deeming it a violation of the policy shift initiative and a crime punishable by law. The Ministry called on Mr. Sesay to provide evidence for further engagement, asserting that both the agro dealer and the recipient were equally culpable.
The e-voucher support system for smallholder farmers encompasses land preparation, seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals, with a cash equivalent of SLE5,616.25 per farmer. The Ministry expressed bewilderment at the notion that a farmer could receive one item without the others.
During the audit verification, auditors noted that the official response did not adequately address the raised issues. Furthermore, no evidence of recovery and refund of e-voucher payments allegedly made to farmers was submitted for verification, leaving the matter unresolved. ZIJ/18/1/2024