A recent publication by U.S.-based media platform, Africanist Press has accused President Julius Maada Bio and First Lady Fatima Bio of cumulatively withdrawing over SLL 71.4 billion as international travel per diem in 2022.
According to the report, Africanist Press claimed to have accessed the financial records of the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) that includes transactions of direct cash withdrawals by the president and the first lady which were processed as travel imprest for international trips made by the President Bio and his wife between January and December 2022.
They also claimed that the records include a selected amount of funds diversely transferred to various Sierra Leonean embassies during the same period to meet the alleged travel and accommodation costs of the president. In total, the Africanist Press found out that SLL 71,409,752,124 was cumulatively withdrawn by the president and first lady from the Local and Overseas Travel Account alone in FY2022.
These aggregated amounts do not include funds transferred directly to air charter companies, event planning groups, and travel agencies as separate payments for chartered flights, travel tickets, and event planning and promotions associated with the president’s international travels.
The publications further revealed that on average President Bio took nearly SLL 7 billion each month as travel per diem while travelling out of the country in FY2022, stating that they aggregated 22 financial transactions totalling SLL 27,852,438,031 that were processed on diverse dates between May 27, 2022, and September 14, 2022, as travel imprest for the President’s trips to Nairobi, London, and New York respectively.
The media house claimed that on each trip, President Bio and First Lady Fatima Bio jointly transported a minimum of SLL 7.2 billion in corresponding foreign currencies abroad and they made no refund of unused amounts on their return to Freetown after each trip.
In November 2021, President Bio controversially suspended the head of Sierra Leone’s national auditing agency, Lara Taylor-Pearce, after the agency highlighted financial and procurement irregularities while investigating the president and the first lady’s travel expenditures. It is stated in the report that withdrawals for travel per diem in FY2022 alone nearly equalled the aggregated SLL 93.6 billion in presidential per diem that was cumulatively withdrawn between April 2018 and December 2020.
This concludes that cumulative per diem withdrawals from the president’s Local and Overseas Travel Accounts have tripled since the suspension of the country’s Auditor General.
Since assuming office in April 2018, President Bio, his wife, and senior officials have conducted nearly 150 overseas trips to Europe and Asia; a record that exceeds that of any sitting president of Sierra Leone since the end of the country’s civil war in 2002.