f. Sale of GoSL Properties
For the purposes of this Report, GoSL properties are limited to the houses and villas constructed for government officials, including civil servants; property belonging to the defunct Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST, subsequently National Diamond Mining Company); property belonging to the defunct Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB); villas constructed by the GoSL to accommodate foreign officials during the hosting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU villas); and Government land, particularly those around these properties – on Hill Station, Spur Road, Spur Loop, Signal Hill, Wilkinson Road and a few other places.
With respect to those buildings, which the GoSL has across the country to serve as quarters for its employees, their allocation to serving officials, including ministers, had always posed a problem, chiefly because they were too few to sufficiently go around.
A few of these quarters specifically assigned or ‘pegged’ to certain public officers but many are available on application by eligible government officials.
The Ministry of Works and Public Assets, which has overall responsibility for the provision and management of government residential quarters and for establishing policies and procedures to ensure that the allocation, occupation, and maintenance of quarters has not established clear and specific eligibility criteria for the allocation of quarters to occupants.
A performance audit by the ASSL in 2016 found in five locations visited 787 quarters that were occupied across the country.
Because the available Government quarters are not enough to be allocated to the over 3000 senior officials on the GoSL’s payroll, and because a large number of the quarters are in a state of disrepair, Government has had to rent private houses to accommodate officials rather than invest in the repairs of these Government quarters.
Audit Service Sierra Leone calculated that at the end of, Government was renting 27 such private houses at an estimated cost of Le293,900,890 in 2014 and that Government was owning landlords Le145 million for financial year 2014.
ASSL analysis, however, found that some of the rental arrears recorded were fraudulent, and that Government’s “records were out of date and contained numerous and significant errors”. For example, one property in Makeni ceased to be rented in 2010 and the landlord advised us that there was no amount owing by the Government’s tenant. However, the Ministry’s 2014 listing of rental amount showed that the Ministry owed Le14,000,000 rent arrears to the landlord.”
The insufficiency of Government quarters has often caused acrimony. As a result, the Government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah made a Cabinet Conclusion – circulated as memo by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Works, Housing and Technical Management – that all Government quarters should be sold at market value, “with priority to be given to present occupants” with right of first refusal.
The Cabinet Conclusion, however, stated that “some Government quarters in the Western Area and the Provinces should be rehabilitated to house” top officials such as Ministers and “visitors from abroad.” Quarters used by Judges at Bellair Park, guest houses at Brookfields in Freetown, security posts at Hill Station and Government quarters in the Provinces were also exempted from sale.
Funds from the sale were to be invested in NASSIT so that they “will be used to finance the building of additional houses which will be sold or mortgaged to both civil servants and members of the public.”
Significantly for this Report, the Cabinet Conclusion prohibited all properties belonging to the defunct SLST (NDMC) and the SLPMB from being sold, mandating that they should instead be “added to the stock of houses and properties to be reserved.”
No sale of Government houses was recorded during the President Kabbah administration.
In 2010, the Government of President Koroma revisited the issue with a view to carrying out the sale. A memorandum from the Minister of Works dated 28 September 2010 urged the sale of Government houses in the Western Area by February 2011. The memo this time exempted from sale only the quarters for Judges at Bellair Park and in the provinces. It is not difficult to understand why.
The GTT requested, from the Ministry of Works and Public Assets, documentation relating to the status of the SLST properties, SLPMB properties, and the Cabinet Conclusion or authority relating to the sale or offer of Government quarters to Mohamed Wanza, a notorious Lebanese businessman who was stripped of his Sierra Leonean citizenship and deported because of his dangerous and nefarious activities.
In a letter to the GTT dated 13 June 2018, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry J.T Kanu stated that he was “unable to
provide” information of the aforementioned properties and sale because “they do not fall within our mandate.”
Twelve houses belonging to the defunct SLST/NDMC on Spur Road and elsewhere in Freetown were quietly sold to John Sisay, who the GTT understands was acting on behalf of President Koroma, for sums way below the market value that had been set by an independent valuator contracted by President Koroma’s Government itself.
The GTT was informed that the houses were bought for around US $1.3 million, though the valuator had prized them at over US $12 million. The Koroma Government also sold some SLPMB properties, as well as two Ministerial quarter to Wanza for undisclosed amounts.
These transactions raise enough legal, ethical and moral questions for them to be reviewed, and the GTT recommends an immediate review.
The GTT reviewed documentation it got elsewhere relating to many of the extensive assets, including houses, land and other properties, belonging to the defunct SLPMB; 80 such assets all over the country are listed in the Government Gazette, though it appears that only 53 were repossessed by Government.
They show that some of the assets were bought, clandestinely, by former President Koroma and his relatives, and all at below market prices.
The Government furtively sold three SLPMB buildings on Hill Cot Road to an undisclosed buyer, presumably Mohamed Wanza. Note that a Cabinet Conclusion had explicitly stated that the SLPMB properties, like those of SLST/NDMC, must not be sold, and must be kept in reserve.
Mr. J.T. Kanu did submit a list of Government quarters approved and sold at the time, apparently in great haste, beginning in early January 2018 and ending, incredibly, on indecency of making such controversial transactions when the APC knew it was at the point of being replaced, the sales were simply fraudulent.
The list records the sale of 29 houses, many to top APC officials and their relatives. The purchases by Sisay/Koroma are not
included on this official list, for reasons that are not hard to fathom.
The last sale on 29 March 2018, of IRO Villa B 49 at Contonment Road, Freetown, was to one Ibrahim Conteh, for a mere Le.80 million (US $10,000). It should be noted that a plot of land in that area cost several times more than that money.
One house on Spur Road is recorded ‘sold’ to Fanny Koroma, the daughter of then Minister of Works Alimamy Petito Koroma, on 9 January 2018. Described as medical doctor, she is recorded to have paid Le.100 million (about US $12,000), even though the market value for a plot of land in the area is more than ten times that amount.
A special letter from the Minister of Works, Housing and Infrastructure, Alhaji Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay (Photo: left with president Koroma), to President Koroma, dated 5 December 2017, preceded the sale of the house to Ms. Koroma.
It praised Ms. Koroma for her willingness to work “at very, very low salary” [sic], and that this willingness should not cause her to be “disenfranchised in any way.”
This letter does not make clear why Ms. Koroma was singled out among the hundreds of young medical doctors and other professionals working for the Government for the same or lower pay for this privilege, or why not selling Government property at giveaway prices might be considered disenfranchisement.
Chief Justice Abdulai Charm is also recorded to have paid Le.100 million for a house at Hill Station, and Bockarie M. Foh is recorded as paying Le.135 million.
Four other (suspiciously) unnamed buyers are recorded as buying two houses for Le. 50 million each, one for Le.80 million, and another for Le.100 million – all on 28 March 2018, two days before the runoff election that President Bio won.
A ministerial quarter, expressly prohibited from being sold, on Hill Station was sold to Mrs. Vicky Jusu, who is not a civil servant and is therefore unqualified to purchase any Government quarter, for Le.135 million.
Another ministerial quarter at Spur Loop was sold, for a measly Le.65 million (about US$9,000), to Mrs. K.O Seisay, though she is not a civil servant and is, therefore, unqualified to buy any of the properties.
Mr. J.T. Kanu also submitted the “executive summary” of an assessment of the value of many of Government’s properties by Yema Yeliba Property Agency of 9 Off Kingharman Road, Freetown. The assessment, it should be noted, was done in 2001, before the civil war was officially declared over.
It was shortly after the devastation of parts of Freetown by the Revolutionary United Front and the Armed Forces Ruling Council, including of many Government properties.
Property prices were at their lowest at the time, and the valuations provided for the housing were apparently rejected by President Kabbah’s Government because even for that time they were considered to be too low.
Seventeen years later, when property prices in Freetown and elsewhere in Sierra Leone had appreciated more than twenty-fold, President Koroma’s Government dug out this assessment and apparently used it to sell, with frantic urgency, Government houses and properties.
This is the type of organised criminal racketeering that permeated the APC Government of President.
These transactions, where not illegal, but certainly unethical and unacceptable. All such transactions made by the former APC Government in the three months leading to the March 2018 elections must be reviewed. The Government should appoint an independent valuator to make an assessment of the current market prices of the fraudulent purchased houses.
Property that was inappropriately sold, like those of the defunct SLST and SLPMB, must be returned to the State. The GTT strongly recommends that the sale of GOSL’s property by the government of former President Koroma be immediately investigated with a view to prosecute for any wrongdoing.