February 24, 2021

New audit report unearths institutional corruption, sex abuse at AU Commission

New audit report unearths institutional corruption, sex abuse at AU Commission

By Victoria Ojeme

The report of an independent forensic and performance audit carried out last year at the African Union Commission has shown massive corruption and abuse of office ravaging the AU.

The report, which was obtained by Devex revealed anomalies in staff remuneration and allowances — including irregular issuance of spousal allowances and double housing allowances issued to spouses working at AUC.

The audit, which was initiated by the AU Executive Council and was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, was tasked with investigating “possible wrong-doing, misuse, and/or mismanagement of the AUC’s resources” in several areas, including the staff recruitment and contract renewal process.

In many ways, the report confirmed the extensive allegations of nepotism, corruption, financial mismanagement, power abuse, and sexual harassment which have consistently plagued the commission.

Sabelo Mbokazi, president of the AU Staff Association confirmed that the report was discussed by the AU policy organs, and said a decision was made at the AU Summit this month, demanding that immediate action should be taken against those who were implicated in the report.

“We as the Staff Association Executive Committee will not support our staff members who were involved in any form of malfeasance and corrupt acts,” he said.

Auditors found a high number of staff were on short-term contracts and noted that such contracts can encourage abuse of staff members “whose jobs rely on ‘goodwill’/’favour.’”

During the review period, which covered 2012-2018, 71% of the 3,328 staff members were on short-term contracts, and the contracts of 382 fixed-term staff — one to two-year contracts renewable three times — were renewed at least once beyond the stipulated terms.

In addition, 212 staff members were working at the AUC despite being past the retirement age of 62.

Désiré Assogbavi, a political scientist and former resident representative to the AU for the U.N. Population Fund and Oxfam said these discrepancies create a breeding ground for abuse.

“This is where sexual harassment can come up, this is where all abuses can come,” he said. “Because if you know your contract is only three months you will be begging the person that supervises you and ready to give anything for your contract to be renewed.”

In 2018, an internal investigation found that incidents of sexual harassment were rife in the commission. The report found that harassment was mostly “perpetuated by supervisors over female employees in their charge” and that “short-term staff, youth volunteers and interns were the most vulnerable and exposed.” Senior departmental staff were identified as the main perpetrators.

At the time, Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat vowed to take immediate action to address the issues raised. However, so far it appears not much has changed.

“Our view is that very little was done,” Mbokazi said. The latest audit also found numerous recruitment anomalies that included irregular shortlisting of interview candidates, candidates interviewed and appointed without having applied for positions, uncompetitive recruitment processes, and failure to appoint the best candidate.

“If you know your contract is only three months you will be begging the person that supervises you and ready to give anything for your contract to be renewed.”

In addition, the report noted that more than 100 staff members within the commission were directly related to another person within the organization. Auditors were also unable to verify qualifications of some staff members.

“You find people whose qualifications could not be established by the audit. They are in the position and they could not justify if they qualify or not,” Assogbavi said. “Things like that happen in the commission.”

Leaked internal AU documents including a 2020 memo from Mbokazi and a 2018 letter from previous Deputy Chairperson Thomas Kwesi-Quartey to Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo have implicated Faki, the AUC’s chairperson, in acts of cronyism.

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Though the audit report does not refer to any specific examples of wrongdoing by Faki, it does state that auditors did provide questionable “examples on the recruitment of staff and on the renewal of staff contracts” where the offices of the chairperson and former deputy chairperson were directly responsible.

“As the staff association, we feel vindicated most of the issues that we raised have been also raised by the forensic audit report, that there was some abuse of authority,” Mbokazi said.

Though leaders at the AU Summit ordered the chairperson of the commission “to take immediate disciplinary action,” the administrative and financial management of the commission lie within the mandate of the deputy chairperson’s office.

Speaking at a webinar, Shewit Woldemichael, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies explained that as part of her mandate, the new Deputy Chairperson Monique Nsanzabaganwa is “likely to undertake the discharge and retirement of many” staff members and “deal with the extensive allegations of nepotism, corruption, financial mismanagement, power abuse, and sexual harassment.”

Both Commission staff and analysts have high hopes that Nsanzabaganwa may be the right person to finally clean up the AUC.

“We have been informed that the incoming deputy chairperson is someone who is known for sound leadership, is someone who carries that stature, having dignity and takes leadership very seriously,” Mbokazi said. “So we are optimistic that using the mandate that is accorded to her office, she should be able to make a difference.”

He also warned that in order for Nsanzabaganwa to succeed, there should be no interference with the activities of her office.

“Our understanding is that these two offices [the chairperson and deputy] have been assigned different mandates by the constitutive act of the African Union. If each office is able to take its mandate seriously that it’s given by the constitutive act then there should be no problem,” he said.

Assogbavi added that in addition to her professional background, as a Rwandan national Nsanzabaganwa is also obligated to carry out reforms of the AU as they were largely championed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

“Her president is the one that championed the reform, that was insisting on better management, a more transparent management, a more serious management of the AU Commission,” Assogbavi said.

As part of the reform process, the AUC is expected to become “leaner, more professional and effective as well as more accountable and transparent,” which may result in retrenchments.

Mbokazi confirmed that during last month’s summit, heads of state adopted a transition plan to implement the reforms within the commission’s staff structure and that reforms will be implemented in phases, affecting different categories of staff.

“It [the transition plan] gives an opportunity for those who qualify and want to take a package to do so,” he said.

This year — phase one — will affect the directors and heads of divisions, but all staff will be taken through a skills audit and competency assessment, carried out by an independent private firm.

Though Mbokazi said the staff association is lobbying to minimize layoffs, Assogbavi believes that the process will ultimately result in layoffs and that this will pave the way for merit-based recruitment.

“I think [layoffs are] going to happen for sure,” he said. “What we heard is that most of the current leaders will have to reapply for the new jobs, because jobs have changed titles,” he said. “That creates a hope that the new leadership will probably be serious, [and] things will be better than before.”