13 November 2012

Liberia: NOCAL Thwarts GAC Audit

Photo: James M. Garresen, II/Executive Mansion
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on an oil rig.

In the aftermath of the dismissal of over 42 employees of the General Auditing Commission (GAC), more information have emerged detailing why the employees were summarily dismissed.

Cogent documentary evidence sent to this paper indicated that the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) is alleged to have funded recent massive dismissal in an attempt for the company to thwart ongoing audit.

The document revealed that the move is intended for NOCAL to get sufficient time in fixing its financial records ahead of a pending audit to be conducted by the GAC.

Last week, the dismissal of more than 40 employees of the GAC ignited tension at the commission when the employees criticized AG Robert L. Kilby for his dismissal of the employees. However, GAC admitted that 42 persons were dismissed as part of the institution's redundancy exercise.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, some of the dismissed employees told this paper that Auditor General Kilby, knowingly and consciously halted the audit of NOCAL for no reason.

The dismissed employees said there was no genuine reason given for the abrupt delay into the audit of NOCAL. However, they now believe that their recent dismissal was intended to prevent the audit to allow NOCAL more time to fix their financial records before audit actually begins.

There have been mounting calls for a comprehensive audit of NOCAL, a suggestion which Mr. Sirleaf, Chairman of the company's board supports.

According to the documents, NOCAL has requested the GAC for what it termed "a temporary break in" in the audit process. No reason for this request was stated. In a letter dated October 4, 2012, addressed to GAC Boss Kilby which was signed by NOCAL Board Chairman Sirleaf, the oil company congratulated Mr. Kilby before making the request for the audit to be postponed.

In the letter, NOCAL requested the GAC to have a stay on the audit process to accordingly, examine its control process of transactions that have already taken place years back.

"Following an update of the proceedings from the President/CEO's office, and a review of the initial directive given by the Board of Directors, we realize that it is necessary for us to request a stay on the proceedings for the purpose of examining our internal control systems, ensuring that all of the necessary documentation is made available for the audit and implementing processes that will further assist the auditors in the performance of duty and enhance the secured method of documentation exchange", NOCAL stated in the communication to the GAC.

NOCAL has over the years indicated that it is willing and ready to submit to external audit; therefore, the new request for time will come as a surprise to many Liberians.

NOCAL Board Chairman Sirleaf called for an audit of NOCOL, stating that he has nothing to hide.

"At NOCAL, I have nothing to hide and, in the spirit of my commitment to transparency, I welcome the National Oil Company's commission of an independent audit of all expenditures related to my activities in my official capacity as Chairman. I also insist that the report of the audit be published in keeping with the Freedom of Information Law of Liberia," NOCAL Board Chairman Sirleaf stated at a press conference recently.

However, the African Standard website alleged that Auditor General Kilby held "secret meeting" with top NOCAL officials following which he began the massive 'forceful redundancy' exercise at the commission which affected nearly all auditors assigned on the NOCAL audit.

GAC did not have a budget line item in the 2012/2013 national budget to carry out a large redundancy plan of up to 196 employees with strong indications that NOCAL is funding the exercise by providing the GAC the resources to provide severance benefits for the 196 employees earmarked to be redundant.

According to sources, the money used to pay severance benefit to 43 dismissed employees did not come from the Ministry of Finance, instead, from NOCAL, a source said.

Alieu Konneh, who served as head of the previous audit of NOCAL during the administration of former Auditor General John S. Morlu, II., along with several other auditors knowledgeable in NOCAL's operations are all affected by the redundancy exercise by the GAC.

Most of the 43 employees dismissed include auditors and administrative staff at the GAC who have long years of experience in the work of the GAC and assisted former Auditor General Morlu in the audit of sensitive audits including the heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) audit that helped Liberia to reach debt relief.

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