The independent panel set up by the Bureau of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to review the report of its Ethics Committee clearing its President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, of all the 16 allegations preferred against him by whistleblowers, has further absolved him.
In 33-paged report, the panel headed by Ms. Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland, says it “concurs with the (Ethics) Committee in its findings in respect of all the allegations against the President and finds that they were properly considered and dismissed by the Committee”.
With the position of the Independent panel, the coast is clear for Adesina run a second term as president of the bank, being the sole candidate for the office.
Link to the full report: AfDB Panel Report 27 July 2020
The United States government in opposition to his candidacy called for an Independent enquiry on a whistleblower petition that levelled 16 allegations against Adesina, even after the AfDB Ethics Committee had cleared him.
In the closing part of its report, the panel reviewed Adesina’s response to the complaints and wrote:
• The Terms of Reference of the Panel as laid down by the Bureau of the Board of Governors on 4 June 2020, require it to conduct an assessment or review of the submissions made by the President of the Bank Group in the interest of due process in response to the allegations levelled against him and to have regard to the documents, emails, annexes, and letters supporting his submission. The goal described by the Bureau of the Bank’s Board of Governors is to establish the propriety or otherwise of the process undertaken by the Ethics Committee.
• On 8 April 2020, Dr. Adesina, (hereinafter “the President”), having been notified by the Committee of the complaints, submitted a detailed document to the Ethics Committee, contending that the specific facts contained in his submissions demonstrate that the complaints made in the Disclosure by the Unidentified Concerned Staff, did not meet the requirements of the Whistleblowing and Complaints Handling Policy of the Bank and that they were frivolous, and not based on objective and solid facts. Under the Terms of Reference, the Bureau of the Board of Governors directed this submission to the Panel, to assess and address in its Report to the Bureau (in the interest of due process).
• This is, therefore, a review of the submissions of the President, based on what is contained in the papers submitted by him. It is an unusual procedure. It is not a judgement, as the process does not lend itself to the reaching of any conclusions by the Panel. The Panel’s approach is to assess the President’s memorandum on the face of his submissions, bearing in mind that the Ethics Committee did not deem it necessary to review its contents in conducting the preliminary examination of the complaints, as it was required by Article 3 of the Resolution. Our opinion is based on the common sense and prudence of a reasonable person looking at the facts. We have also considered two letters by an attorney on the President’s behalf.
• In essence, the President contends that the complaints are based on bad faith, that they are not informed by a reasonable belief but by ulterior motive, that some were carelessly or illogically made and some plain dishonest, untrue, and vexatious.
• As a preliminary matter, the Panel notes that it appears that the confidentiality of the Bank’s procedures was compromised by virtue of the fact that both the allegations made by the whistleblowers (the anonymous “Group of concerned Staff Members) in their complaints and the response of the President have found their way into the public domain. This is unfortunate. Under the Whistle Blowing and Complaints Handling Policy of the Bank, public disclosure of fraud, corruption or misconduct is prohibited prior to use of the procedures set out in the policy (see Section 6). It is notable that the whistle-blowers were themselves careful to protect their anonymity. The Ethics Committee carefully maintained the confidentiality of their procedures.
• The Panel has already considered each of the sixteen complaints of the whistle-blowers in detail in the first part of this Report. At this point, it is required to consider the response of the President, which does not require it to engage in a corresponding case-by-case analysis. For ease of reading and interpretation, the Panel groups together complaints which share common elements.
• Complaint No 1: The first complaint is a general and sweeping allegation that the President regards human resource matters as his personal fiefdom, inserts himself in shortlisting processes, is actively involved in recruitment and implies that the delays, vacancies and lack of succession planning may be part of a “strategy to reward countries for the support to the President’s reelection”. The President does not directly deal with this allegation. As noted earlier it is not supported by specific examples. The thrust of the President’s response throughout his submission, though, is that he has always acted in accordance with his powers as President of the Bank, in its best interest, that human resource management is conducted in an orderly fashion, employing standard recruitment practice and that some of the decisions complained of are taken under delegated authority.
Article 37 of the Agreement empowers the President as the chief of the staff of the Bank, responsible for the organization of its officers and staff, and requires him/her to secure the highest levels of efficiency, technical competence and integrity, in appointing officers and staff.
• Furthermore, as was determined by the Ethics Committee in its Report, Staff Rule 33.00 confers authority upon the President in respect of all staff. Staff Regulation 6.1 gives him powers of appointment and promotion of staff. The Committee expressly found, correctly, in the view of the Panel that Rule 62.01 on staff appointments and promotions clearly implies that all structures of the Bank on appointment and promotion are advisory to the President.
• Complaints Numbers 4,9,10 and 16: We here group together the President’s explanations about non-staff related matters and distinguish them from other claims regarding personnel actions. As regards a decision by Bank management, (which included a Board discussion), to honour a contract under the TAAT program (complaint number 4), and the President’s directives to pay a global supplier who delivered seed-coated technology used in the SADC region to prevent spread and infestation of Fall Army worms, he explained that he acted within the confines of the Bank’s articles of agreement, in the best interests of the Bank, and that there was nothing irregular about its handling. He did this to ward off a possible civil suit against the Bank for violating contractual obligations, and to protect its reputation, privileges, and immunities. The Panel considers the President’s account of his actions to be reasonable.
In respect of complaint number 9, it should fall within the knowledge of the Board of Directors and the Board of Governors who initiated, updated, and approved the Bank’s organizational structure when the country office was established. It is alleged that the President promoted Nigeria to a fullyfledged region, giving preferential treatment to its nationals. In response to the allegation that this was done at his behest, the President replies that these decisions were made under his predecessor’s watch. He protests that these are frivolous charges, as he could not have violated the Code of Ethics by a Board decision taken before he assumed office. On that basis, he is clearly correct.
In respect of complaint number 10, the President goes on to declare that he donated the two cash awards he received for the World Food Prize and the Sunhak Peace prize (for a lifetime of accomplishments) in 2017 and 2019 respectively, to the World Hunger Fighters Foundation, in order to support young African Agribusiness innovators. He explains that these facts were disclosed at the award ceremonies which were held in Iowa and Seoul, which are mentioned in complaint Number 10, as well as to the Bank’s Board. He says that the allegation that there was any impropriety smacks of false accusations maliciously made. He concludes by arguing that the attempt to portray the World Food Prize event as being for his personal benefit, is ill-founded and that Bank staff who attended it, went there to launch properly authorized TAAT initiatives. The complainants did not, of course have access to the President’s responses. However, their complaints, as advanced, contain nothing to counter these points. In response to the allegation of political lobbying of heads of State, (number 16) ostensibly to support his candidature in his re-election bid shortly after he gave a speech at its meeting, the President says that it implies that he basically bribed and corrupted 16 African Heads of State. He professes that these fanciful and baseless allegations impugn the integrity of those persons. In all the circumstances, the Panel accepts the responses of the President.
• Complaints Numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15: These cover a range of human resource administration breaches, alleged preferential treatment being the most common thread. They contain accusations of questionable and rushed promotions, irregular contracting of consultants, biased confirmation of probationary periods, irregular settlements for staff separations, and disregard of rules regarding senior management travel and leave of absence. The Panel has already considered Number 8 and found it to be entirely lacking in substance. The danger with this type of accusation is that it later appears to be based on lopsided reasoning. The President says that he performed his role in the ordinary course of duties (i.e. confirming staff appraisals in each case), that he did not know the staff member in question, was entirely unaware of the alleged disqualification, and that the whistle blowers got the chronology wrong. All of this stands uncontradicted. The Complaints appear to be no more than conjecture. There also appears to be little merit in the allegation (7) of impropriety in the President’s granting of a waiver for the shortterm recruitment of a retired Director-General who led the work, to support him in his capacity as Chairman of the Multi-Lateral Development Banks.
• Complaint Numbers 2, 3, 5 and 6: These relate to senior appointments, as (i) the senior director of the Africa Investment Forum, (ii) director of Agriculture; (iii) director of the Cabinet Office; and (iv) the director of Communications. Except for (iii), the President states that all these were global recruitments handled by a renowned HR firm based in London, underpinned by a transparent, competitive process, international advertisement, rigorous shortlisting, an independent panel review, objective interview processes, and effective personnel vetting. The President’s role was to give a final stamp of approval. He executed this fairly and equitably, informed by the fact that all these candidates came with excellent credentials and were highly recommended by the sitting interview panels. The President has denied a familial relationship with one candidate as alleged, denied that one was redeployed to take care of his spouse, falsely alleged to be receiving medical treatment in South Africa, and that responsibilities and decisions were attributed to him, that ignored completely the Bank’s delegation of authority matrix, and or that were just devoid of truth.
In the absence of supporting material, these allegations are simply not substantiated.
• The President says that there is a standing and accepted practice in the Bank that an incoming president can bring along his or her own Chief of Staff. The Panel is unable to pass judgment on this and has to accept that this is what was conveyed to, or understood by the President, during the transition and while he was taking up his duties. Equally, he rejects the insinuation that a friendship per se amounts to a conflict of interest when it comes to recruitment. The second leg of complaint number 6 implies that the President inserted himself in a direct contracting and sole source procurement that has given rise to suspicion on the part of the complainants. He counters however, that the decision in question was that of the relevant VicePresident. Therefore, the insinuation is based entirely on speculation. An example of his account of events that presently stands uncontested based on the papers is that an audit of the engagement of the relevant communications consultant to steer the Bank’s communications plan through the Annual Meetings in India, was conducted by the Auditor General and given a clean bill of health.
This, in addition to the fact that the decision was not his, and was resorted to, to avert a crisis.
• Complaints Numbers 11, 12 and 13: There appears to be either a disconnect, a misunderstanding, or mischief in the conflicting averments about staff separations. The President contends that anyone is entitled to leave at any time and is entitled to full emoluments. This is an accepted practice under the HR rules and dispute resolution mechanisms of international organizations. As regards count 11 he points to what he regards as the utter illogic of the whistleblowers for blaming him for not acting on an investigation that was only initiated after the relevant staff member had left the Bank, the outcome of which was only reported to him (the President) 4 months ago, and was in any event found to be without substance. Similarly, he lays the blame for disinformation with the whistle blowers in what is advocated in count 12. He says this was not a case of dismissal of staff and that there was absolutely no improper payment involved. All that happened was that the relevant Vice-President departed with his entitlements (separation benefits) intact. With regard to complaint number 13, the President convincingly states that, while he does not run country offices, he took action to protect the Bank and reverse decisions improperly arrived at. There is no counterargument on record.
• Complaints Numbers 14 and 15: The whistle-blowers describe Number 14 as a “perplexing case of impunity.” Complaint Number 15 questions the economic use of resources through unregulated travel and absences by senior staff of the Bank. On Number 14, the President explains why he took up the cudgels and intervened to stop an ongoing ostracization of a man who has long suffered through the vagaries of a flawed investigation, which was probably characterized by malicious intent. While he does not know the staff member in question and holds no brief for him, after a comprehensive review off the files, he engaged with the former head of PIAC and the General Counsel. He was unpersuaded about the merits of the case, an instinct that was borne out by the result in a Sanctions hearing against the company allegedly involved in the collusive scheme. (It is not clear what he means when he says the Bank had to pay a huge penalty.) He felt so strongly that he had twice briefed the Board about the matter, inviting them to come to his office to review the files. Suffice to say that zeal is not equal to dishonesty. As a practical matter, the Bank should provide strong support around its president to avoid this type of scenario. As regards Number 15, the President explains that he does not monitor or manage time off for staff, as that is done by HR and in the one instance the Health Department. There are private medical reasons that he respects. On the second averment he counters that he does not sign travel authorizations of the directors and managers; and repudiates the version of the whistle-blowers, which, he says, was borne out of malice and was demonstrably false.
Concluding Observations of the Panel on the President’s Response
The Panel is mindful of the fact that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. At the same time, it appears to us to be an undue burden to expect a holder of high office in an international organization, to prove a negative, in the absence of sufficient grounds. An attorney writing on behalf of the President, also argues quite correctly in our view, that a distinction should be drawn between alleged institutional failure at the Bank and the conduct of the president. We have not attached any value to the Dissociation Note in our deliberations. The President has also as part of his detailed submission enclosed 18 annexes, which he believed might be relevant and necessary to make his case and assert his right to due process.
The Panel explained at the outset that it was dividing its Report into two parts. In the first part, it considered the complaints provided to the Ethics Committee by the whistle-blowers and found that they had been properly considered and dismissed by the Committee. In its second part, it considered, in the interests of due process, the responses of the President. While the Committee was not required to consider and did not, in fact consider, the President’s responses, it was in the interests of fairness and of due process that the Panel be required to do so. As it has explained, the Panel has not passed judgment on the President’s evidence. It has also borne in mind that the whistle-blowers’ complaints were wrongly publicized and that fairness required that the President be heard. It has considered the President’s submissions on their face and finds them consistent with his innocence and to be persuasive.