In one of the worst cases, £1.2million given to Sierra Leone by the Department for International Development (DfID) to “support peacekeeping” was stolen by the country’s “top brass” and spent on plasma television sets, hunting rifles and other consumer items.
Other examples include £16.5million allegedly stolen by ministers in Uganda and £800,000 intended for schools in Kenya stolen by education ministers.
DfID is said to be fully aware of the thefts, but regards the losses as being “within reason”. Details of the embezzlement will reopen the debate over the Government’s decision to increase DfID’s £7.3billion budget at a time of cuts.
In August, 2009, a secret cable from the US embassy in Freetown reported “deep corruption” within Sierra Leone’s defence ministry, “primarily through pocketing of enlisted members’ salaries”.
June Carter Perry, the US ambassador, wrote: “The British envoy revealed that the GoSL (Government of Sierra Leone) demanded a $4 million [£2.46million] contribution from the UK for the Ministry of Defense to support peacekeeping.
“Upon examination, the British discovered that half of the funds were for the personal use of the minister [Palo Conteh] and top brass. Items such as 36 plasma TVs and hunting rifles for the minister’s own use were included.”
Two months later, the US embassy in Nairobi reported that £800,000 from two educational support programmes funded by DfID and the World Bank had been “misappropriated” by officials working for Kenya’s education ministry, leading to the suspension of 25 staff. Separately,textbooks valued at £10.6million had been “lost” to “fraud, theft, and destruction” over the previous four years.
The embassy noted: “The primary donor, DfID, is reviewing the issue but is not expected to pull funding from the program. DfID considers the Free Education Program to be a major success and the level of losses to be within reason.”
In January last year, senior Ugandan officials were accused of “misusing” £16.5 million allocated to help pay for the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. US diplomats in Kampala noted that Britain was “deeply angered” by the scandal and was “seriously considering visa restrictions” on the men in question to punish them.