The Local Government Finance Department in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has concluded a special investigation into an alleged financial impropriety of own source revenue at the Koidu New Sembehun City Council.

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The elected Mayor of the council, Saa Emerson Lamina, was controversially removed from office about a fortnight ago, ostensibly to make way for smooth investigation by the Directorate of Internal Audit, following a letter dated 19 December, 2015 by the Finance Officer of Council, alleging withdrawals without documentations and incorrect procedures.

However, the 30 page document completely exonerates the young mayor, although it stated that monies were withdrawn from council’s own source revenue bank account using co-signatories, adding that the accountant flouted direct instructions of the finance officer and interfered with fifty million Leones received from the leasing of council resources.

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The report further notes that the finance officer manifested financial improbity by deliberately and unlawfully taking from the office cheque books and other financial documents that belong to council’s finance office to his residence, which is contrary to financial regulations outlined in the Local Government Act of 2004.

“We recommend that the Procumbent Assistant and the Deputy Chief Administrator should give a full account of the undeclared, undisclosed proceeds of Le34,850,000 as they were deeply in the said disposals. Also the council should go to the drawing board and re-strategize with a view to beefing up own source revenue collection,” the report states.

It would be recalled that a letter written by the Secretary to the President, dated 26 February, 2016 stated that the president had “Graciously approved recommendation of the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Koidu New Sembehum City Council should be suspended from office pending the outcome of investigation into the internal Audit Report of the Koidu New Sembehun City Council conducted by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development”.

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Acting by the said presidential fiat, which is unprecedented since the former government restored local governance in the country, more than three decades after it was abolished by the All Peoples Congress, Minister Diana Konomanyi wrote a letter suspending the mayor.

The letter read: “Taking into considering the seriousness of the issues raised in the correspondences [between the mayor and Finance Officer], I requested the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to undertake a special audit of the Council’s fiduciary matters and proffer recommendations to my ministry for appropriate action.”

She added that the suspension of the mayor was to ensure the Investigation Committee’s work was “unhindered and not influenced”, although she failed to state how long the Committee would take to complete its work.

Civil society groups, especially Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, have condemned the minster’s action as ultra vires the Local Council Act, as it grants her or even the president any such powers to “suspend” an elected mayor.

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Notwithstanding though, a new mayor and deputy were hastily elected in Koidu to replace the suspended mayor.

The erstwhile minster, Diana Konomanyi, has since been transferred to the Lands Ministry, with her replacement being Mr. Maya Kaikai, following a major cabinet reshuffle by President Koroma.

Meanwhile, report has it that the Council of Mayors and Chairpersons of 19 Local Councils in the country are planning to meet with President Ernest Bai Koroma to lobby him to immediately reinstatement of the suspended Mayor.