Top officials trade accusations of alleged collusion and abuse of privileged information
One of Liberia’s anti-graft institutions, the Internal Audit Agency (IAA), is said to be engulfed in an internal wrangling between two of its top executives, Deputy Director-General Robert Neal and Director-General, Emmanuel B. Nyeswa.
Mr. Neal alleged that Mr. Nyeswa has been involved into personal use of employees’ fractional stoppage of salaries and allowances instead of remitting it into Consolidated Account in line with law. Neal, also leveled allegations of conflict of interest in the acquisition of the IAA Congo Town office, the which was previously occupied by the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), with a price tag of over US$80,000 annually.
But IAA’s Director-General, Emmanuel B. Nyeswa, described Mr. Neal’s allegations as a ‘smear campaign’ against the government and is intended to taint the imagery government and the IAA in particular.
According to Mr. Nyeswa, in keeping with the practice of Internal Auditing, information gathered while executing an audit function should not be used by an audit practitioner for any form of emoluments or personal benefits against any institution, individual, or group.
“Robert Neal recently released fake information pointing accusing fingers of corruption to the management of JFK Hospital without the conduct of an audit. These unprofessional acts are only intended to damage the government’s image. The IAA wants to inform the public that at no point in time a full audit was conducted generating said report,” Mr. Nyeswa indicated.
The matter concerning JFK was disclosed in an email written by Neal and addressed Nyeswa, dated October 2, 2019, in which Neal accuses Nyeswa of turning a “blind eye” on an alleged scam in which the hospital’s management reportedly inflated prices on a bid submitted by local pharmaceutical vendor.
Neal wrote: “IAA’s Sector Director, Forkpa Kamara, by then assigned at the JFK Memorial Medical Center, wrote Dr. Jerry F. Brown, the Chief Medical Officer and flagged a purported scam of over 100% rise in the quoted bid price for the supply of drugs to the JFK Hospital in the tone of US$39,039.50 (Thirty Nine Thousand, Thirty Nine Dollars & Fifty Cents).” According to him, the auditor cited a series of vouchers reviewed “revealed that there was no expressed consent of JFK Management, neither was there any material justification to support the astronomical price increase, thereby [costing] Government almost US$40,000.00 for unsupplied drugs to the Hospital.”
Neal’s email to Nyeswa did not say what was Dr. Brown’s response to the concern raised by Kamara.
“Auditor Kamara, just under three months of assignment at the JFK Hospital, was able to discover this purported scam. As such, I saw that maintaining him at the Hospital for some time was very necessary. By that I pled with you for him to be retained. Unfortunately, you immediately transferred him on grounds that he was a Sector Director at the JFK Medical Center, an entity which falls within the Health Sector, supervised by another Sector Director. And you didn’t want for more than one sector director to be assigned in one sector. If this was without any hidden intent, then it was granted and logical,” Neal said in his email to Nyeswa.
However, according to Nyeswa, “we did not conduct audit at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Health Center, but Mr. Neal took an auditor’s inquiry to JFK management to Henry Costa because of his campaign to taint this administration.”
Neal went on to reference other instances in which more than one Sector Director served concomitantly at public institutions, including the Civil Service Agency and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, suggesting that the alleged inconsistency with which Director-General Nyeswa assigned and re-assigned IAA Sector Directors pointed to suspicions of collusion between Nyeswa and the heads of the public institutions in question.
Neal said he also brought to Nyeswa’s attention similar instance of alleged impropriety discovered at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA). According to Neal, the Sector Directors assigned at the two agencies, respectively, were also recalled by Nyeswa and later transferred, against Neal’s advice.
“Hon. Director General, I think the IAA is drifting away from its statutory mandate in such a critical time when Central government expects a whole lot from the IAA in the fight against corruption,” Neal told Nyeswa in the email. “And it is no doubt that the IAA is failing Government under your guardianship.”
The allegations traded between Neal and Nyeswa, albeit via their official IAA email addresses, could not be independently verified.
In an earlier email, dated September 16, 2019 and addressed to IAA “Senior Management”, which include Director-General Nyeswa and other senior officials of the Agency, copy of which is in possession of Daily Observer, Neal told the IAA team of his decision to take a backseat from active duty, while still apparently enjoying the emoluments of his position. He described his action as “disengaging myself” from all IAA operations.
“Again, for the sake of peace and to ensure that the IAA remains a ‘one family’ institution,” Neal wrote, “I am accepting to be the sacrificial lamb, as has been the case in other instances.”
“And by this,” Neal continued, “I wish to inform you all that I am formally disengaging myself from all operations, although my operations have been hindered since my appointment in September of 2018 of the Department of Audit with immediate effect… My disengagement will include me not attending any Senior Staff meetings commencing today, September 16, 2019. Notwithstanding, as usual, I will report to the office by 8:00am/9:00am and leave by 4:00pm/5:00pm, holding all factors constant.”
Neal was appointed as Deputy Director-General of the IAA in September 2018 by President George Weah and confirmed by the Senate.
In response to Neal’s email “disengaging” himself from the IAA’s operations, Nyeswa told the Daily Observer: “I responded that the letter was considered as ‘resignation letter’ because you (Neal) should be taking instruction from me and now you are disengaging from all operations of the IAA and will not attend staff meetings commencing September 16, 2019.”
Neal also complained that the tenure of Clarence Williams, the IAA’s Deputy Director-General for Administration, head expired since June of this year. Williams was appointed in April of 2015 and confirmed by the Liberian Senate in June of 2015.
To this, Mr. Nyeswa explained: “We have informed the President’s office on Mr. Williams’ tenure expiration and we were assured of a decision shortly. Only the President can make decision on Mr. Williams issue and, as head, I have informed the President’s office.”
The IAA, being an autonomous agency, was established by the Internal Audit Agency Act of September 2013 to minimize corruption, abuse of public trust and to ensure fiscal probity. Amongst the many anti-graft agencies in the public sector, the IAA offers the first line of defense in the fight against corruption.
According to the act, the IAA Director-General and two deputies are appointed by the President of Liberia, either by a competitive vetting process or through a direct appointment by the President. All three of these positions are tenured for a period of four years each.
On the issue of the lease on the IAA’s Congo Town headquarters, Nyeswa said: “We first paid US$70,000, which is below the amount paid by INCHR and now, we are negotiating to pay US$50,000 annually just to help save government money. This facility has no conflict of interest because everything is done through the General Service Agency (GSA),” Mr. Williams indicated.
According to Mr. Nyeswa, Mr. Neal has failed to execute his responsibilities as Deputy Director-General of IAA due to his lack of knowledge in auditing, for a position he holds due to political appointment.
Mr. Nyeswa said that, upon confirmation of Mr. Neal as IAA Deputy Director-General for Audit, Mr. Neal abandoned the job from December 2018 to February 2019.
“We spent over US$4,000 to allow Mr. Neal to undergo training in the US in auditing, but he abandoned the training which was scheduled for a couple of weeks and stayed in the US for months. We are all young people and planned to have cordial working relationships. We thought that if Mr. Neal’s capacity is built, it will help everyone, hence our decision to send him for training,” Mr. Nyeswah said.
When confronted by his boss, Neal admitted to not attending the training was made to restitute up to 50 percent of the cost of the training to the IAA.
According to Nyeswah, it is unfortunate for a young man who has been welcomed and embraced by employees of the entity will go contrary in a quest to destroy the government, individuals of IAA and the IAA in particular.
The Internal Audit Agency encourages the public and all media outlets interested in the facts to proceed to its headquarters in Congo Town/ Tubman Boulevard to authenticate.