Sierra Leone Alert: Journalists warned against reporting on the audit of the Ebola Fund

The Majority Leader in the House of Parliament in Sierra Leone, Ibrahim Bundu, representing Constituency 52 in the Port Loko district in northern Sierra Leone has warned journalists to desist from further discussing the country’s Auditor General’s Report on the management of the Ebola Fund.

The MFWA’s correspondent in Sierra Leone reported that Bundu presented a statement to the House of Parliament on February 17, 2015, which said the Auditor General’s Report on the management of the Ebola Fund falls within the provisions of the country’s constitution and Standing Order 75 of the House of Parliament, which states that such reports cannot be discussed in public or published.

“Any attempt therefore to discuss the Auditor General’s opinion on the management of the Ebola Fund in any media will be tantamount to undermining the relevant provisions of the Constitution and those of the Standing Order,” Bundu said.

He also advised the press and public against assigning guilt before Parliament concludes its work.

“Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, we therefore appeal to all concerned to allow Parliament to do its work and wait for the action that the Executive will take from the report of the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) than to prejudice the general public with statements that will only kill the morale of our vigilantes in the fight against the Ebola, and create a bad impression on our donor partners”.

Bundu said the report attracted wide publicity in both print and electronic media, including social media, on issues bordering on accountability, transparency, probity and disregard for procedures.

He noted that Parliament, as a legislature, therefore needs to clarify its position to guide the general public on matters of procedure regarding the audit report and the role of Parliament.

Meanwhile the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) said the statement by Bundu is an attempt to curtail freedom of speech in Sierra Leone. In a release issued on February 19, SLAJ said “the opinion expressed by the Majority Leader out rightly conflicts with the spirit and letter of Section 11 of the 1991 Constitution, which provides that ‘the press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Constitution and highlight the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.’”

“There were no such restrictions placed on discussing the 2012 and 2013 reports by the Auditor General, so why is the report on the use of Ebola funds being treated differently?” the statement asked.

The MFWA remains concerned at government attempts to silence press coverage of Ebola and related issues such as the Ebola Fund. The MFWA calls on the government of Sierra Leone to respect the media’s watchdog role by allowing journalists to investigate and report on the management of funds in order to promote the democratic values of accountability and transparency in the country.

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