African Development Bank President Cleared After Corruption Probe

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The probe came at the urging of the United States, which was dissatisfied with the internal investigation that had totally exonerated Adesina from serious accusations made by a group of “whistleblowers” such as “unethical behaviour, personal enrichment and favouritism”.

Abidjan – A Panel of High-Level Independent Experts Reviewing Report of the Ethics Committee of African Development Bank  and its President, Akinwumi Adesina says it has found no wrongdoing on the part of the AFDB’s boss.

In June, the AFDB announced the launch of an independent investigation into allegations of prevarication against its president, who is the only candidate up for re-election to a new term.

The probe came at the behest of the United States, which was dissatisfied with the internal investigation that had totally exonerated Adesina from serious accusations made by a group of “whistleblowers” such as “unethical behaviour, personal enrichment and favouritism”.


On 4 June 2020 the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank Group issued a communiqué stating that it had agreed to authorize an Independent Review of the Report of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors dated 26 April 2020 relative to allegations made against the President of the Bank Group. 

On 1 July 2020, the Chairperson announced the selection of a High-Level Panel of Independent Experts to conduct that Review. The members are: Mrs Mary Robinson, Chair, Justice Hassan B Jallow and Mr Leonard F McCarthy. 


The task of the Panel is to conduct an assessment or review of the Report dated 26 April 2020 of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors regarding allegations against the President of the Bank that the Committee received from anonymous whistle-blowers on 19 January 2020, how the Committee considered those allegations and its findings as well the submissions made by the President of the Bank in response to those allegations. 


The AFDB was established by an Agreement signed on 4 August 1963, which entered into force on 10 September 1964. It was thereafter amended on a number of occasions, as its membership was expanded.

The purpose of the Bank is to “contribute to the sustainable economic development and social progress of the regional members individually and jointly.” 

Pursuant to Article 29 (1) of the Agreement., the powers of the Bank are vested in the Board of Governors. The Board shall have the sole power to elect, suspend or remove the President from office.

Dr. Adesina is the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank. One of the functions of the Bank (and by extension the Board of Governors), is to “undertake such other activities and provide such other services as may advance its purpose.” The Bureau of the Board of Governors has, as an ancillary power that of selecting a panel to undertake an independent review.

The facts regarding the complaints

On 19 January 2020 the Ethics Committee received a document purporting to be signed by “A Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AFDB.” (hereinafter called the “whistle- blowers”). It claimed to relate to “serious and repeated breaches of the Code of Conduct by the President.” 


The allegation suggesting that awards received by the President and associated costs allegedly borne by the Bank were unsubstantiated and lacked support of any solid facts or information to back them up. 

The proceedings of the Ethics Committee are recorded in the Minutes of five lengthy meetings held on 27 February, 12 March, 27 March and 2 and 9 April 2020. The Minutes show that the Committee engaged in detailed analysis and debate on each of the sixteen complaints. It used an excel template provided to it by its Vice Chairperson to assist in a point-by-point examination. Firstly, it reached a consensus at its meeting on April 2nd that fourteen of the complaints were unfounded and should be dismissed. On 9 April, it considered the remaining two complaints and reached the conclusion that each of them was unsubstantiated and should also be dismissed. 

The Panel, in reporting on individual cases, has adopted a policy of preserving, so far as possible, the anonymity of individual persons named in the complaints. Those persons, in many, indeed most cases, were not the object of the complaints. The Complainants themselves carefully guarded their own anonymity. More importantly, in circumstances where the Ethics Committee did not uphold any of the complaints, it would be unfair to name individuals and would run the risk of exposing innocent persons to unfair exposure and potential reputational damage. 

The Complainants charged the President of the Bank with “playing a very active role in the recruitment of all managerial positions, acting as the de facto HR Manager………. he is known to have excluded top rated candidates from shortlists and to have cancelled shortlists drawn up by independent recruitment panels. The complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of this allegation.”

The Panel also noted that it does not necessarily follow from the dismissal of a complaint that there are not matters worthy of investigation. “This has prompted the Panel to make comments in some cases. These do not detract from the Panel’s conclusion that the complaints, which were all made against the President were correctly dismissed at the stage of preliminary examination.”


The whistleblowers alleged among other things that the AFDB President exhibited non –Respect of Internal Rules and Regulations in recruitment. 

The Complainants charged the President of the Bank with “playing a very active role in the recruitment of all managerial positions, acting as the de facto HR Manager………. he is known to have excluded top rated candidates from shortlists and to have cancelled shortlists drawn up by independent recruitment panels. The complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of this allegation.”

The ECBD concluded that the allegation was unfounded and should be dismissed on the grounds that the staff rules bestow authority on the President in respect of all staff, give him the power of appointment and promotion of staff and that all structures of the Bank on appointments and promotions are advisory to the President. This position of the ECBD appears to be based on an opinion of the General Legal Counsel of the Bank quoted by the complainants to wit:  “The President is better placed than any ad hoc interview panel to know which prospective candidate for employment by the Bank would be best suited in assisting him/her in delivering that vision (which he has been elected to deliver) ……….. he/she can recruit the person concerned without passing through an interview panel or any other formal process”. 


The AFDB President is also accused of appointment of a named staff member.”The petitioners allege that this staff member was appointed to the Bank despite having been dismissed from the National Pension Commission of Nigeria following allegations of improper conduct and that the President of the Bank must have been aware of these circumstances.”

It is also alleged that this staff member was appointed as a consultant at the request of the President for a fee considerably higher than the applicable standard and that, in protest, the head of Human Resources resigned. 


According to the panel, the complainants declined to provide any evidence to support any of these allegations. The complainants declined to proffer any evidence of the alleged dismissal of the staff member or of the personal involvement of the Bank President in her recruitment as a consultant to the Bank or of any protest or resignation by the head of HR of the Bank. The complaint was unsupported by any evidence. The Committee found the allegation to be unsubstantiated and dismissed them. The conclusion of the Committee is thus reasonable and correct. 


Additionally, the President was accused of appointment and promoting a named person.”The complaint is that: The staff member is alleged to be the President’s brother-in-law, that at the President’s request, he was appointed a lead expert to the VP Agriculture and promoted Adviser on both occasions without competition, then to a further senior position, while the incumbent was still in place as a result of which two salaries were being paid for the same position by the Bank in violation of the Bank Recruitment Manual.” 


The panel noted that the complainants once more declined to provide any evidence in support of any of the allegations. “The Committee held that the allegation was uncorroborated and should be dismissed. While it focused on an alleged familial relationship between the staff member and the President of the Bank, the existence of the alleged relationship was not supported by any evidence. Furthermore, the complainants themselves state that it is not clear if the alleged familial relationship played any part in the staff member’s recruitment and promotion. Far from supporting their allegations with evidence, the complainants seemed to be transmitting rumours/reports in respect of both the alleged familial relationship and the alleged request of the President for the recruitment of the staff member. This allegation was properly dismissed by the Committee.”

The whistleblowers alleged allege that a grant of $40 Million was made by the Bank to a particular named beneficiary “only after the President personally used all of his political weight to defend the transaction and lift” the doubts of the Board of Directors of the Bank. “It is further alleged that this was because the President was a former employee of the beneficiary and that the procurement rules were violated through direct procurement of $5.46 Million worth of pesticides when the grant contract specifically prohibited such a procurement method.”

According to the panel, the complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of the allegations. The Committee was right in dismissing this complaint as there was no evidence of personal responsibility of the President in any wrongdoing in this programme. The Committee was justified in dismissing the allegation. 

This, the panel asserts,  suffices to dismiss this complaint. “The Panel would add that, at its meeting of 26th March 2020 the PIAC Director disclosed to the Committee that in relation to the Agriculture cases its investigation “has uncovered elements of potential staff misconduct and potential sanctionable practices against certain companies.” However. PIAC had uncovered no evidence linking the subject of the complaints, in particular the President, under consideration to the agriculture cases. If it had, it would have reported the matter to the Committee.”

The whistleblowers also alleged that a named staff member who had long lasting professional ties with the President and worked for him when he was the Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria, was appointed Director of Cabinet Office of the President in April 2017 without competition at a salary which was increased in breach of staff rules and that in 2018, despite falling into disgrace. “This staff member was appointed by the President as a Director in a senior position to perform a function that does not exist in the current organizational chart; that almost no trace of actual work by her can be found and that according to the complainants information the “special duty” she was assigned by the President is to take care of his wife allegedly undergoing treatment in South Africa.”

Again, the panel said that the complainants declined to provide any evidence to support any of these allegations. “The Committee decided that the allegation was unsubstantiated and should be dismissed as it lacks credible evidence and was weakened by the inclusion of hearsay in it. The Panel finds this allegation to have been rightly dismissed by the Ethics Committee.”

The whistleblowers also alleged that the staff member, allegedly a childhood friend of the President was awarded a consultancy contract in 2017 which contract had been flagged by Internal Audit as being potentially subject to a conflict of interest. They suggest that the staff member’s close association should have been disclosed during the contracting or recruitment process. 


The panel noted that the complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of the allegations other than a photograph of the President in the company of the staff member. “The Committee dismissed this allegation as unsubstantiated. They point out that there was a failure by the complainants to report appearances of conflict of interest in the appointments of the consultants as required by the provisions of Presidential Directive No. 02/2012. The Panel is satisfied that the decision of the Ethics Committee was correct. The Panel considers the complaint to be without merit.”

The whistleblowers also alleged that a particular individual was appointed as a consultant by the President immediately upon his retirement and was kept in office with an allegedly comfortable monthly fee and that his continued appointment as a consultant is in disregard of the presence of the Deputy Director General in Pretoria. 


The Panel concurred with the Committee in dismissing the allegation on the grounds that the alleged facts do not disclose any wrong doing nor are any rules specified by the complainants as having been violated by the President for his role in the award of the contract of consultancy in question. 


Regarding the President’s appointment
of an individual who was found guilty of sexually harassing a colleague during the probation, the panel concluded that the complainants provided no evidence in support of this serious allegation. “This allegation, apart from being unsupported by evidence has, as it happens, been shown to be untrue. At the meeting of 26th March 2020 of the Ethics Committee, the Director of the PIAC disclosed that this allegation of sexual harassment had been investigated and found to be totally baseless and unfounded. Its discussions with the former Human Resource Director who had resigned also revealed, according to the minutes of that meeting, that she had absolutely no knowledge of the allegation of sexual harassment and that it was certainly not the reason for her resignation. The allegations made against the named individual in this respect and also the President are totally false and unfounded, and the Committee was right in dismissing them.”

The President is also accused of giving preferential treatment for Nigeria and Nigerians. “The complainants allege that under the current President, Nigeria was promoted to almost a fully-fledged Region of the Bank and that furthermore in the massive recruitment drive which followed his appointment, the President gave preferential treatment by recruiting a large and disproportionate number of Nigerians into the Bank. 


The panel said the complainants declined to provide any evidence beyond their bare allegations. The Committee looked into this allegation and found it to be unsubstantiated and that it should be dismissed. The decision of the Committee was correct. 

Allegation Number Ten 


The whistleblowers alleged that in 2017 and 2019, the President received two major awards, one being the World Food Prize of $250,000, and the other being the Sunhak Peace Prize of $500,000. The complainants state that the Bank supported associated costs of attendance of a large number of people at the award ceremonies. 


The panel however noted that the complainants did not state clearly whether these were awards made personally to the President or as President of the Bank. “They further allege that dozens of people- Bank staff, Directors, family members etc. attended these awards ceremonies at the Bank’s cost. They however failed to give any details of those who attended and the cost involved and to confirm that these costs were borne by the Bank itself. The complainants failed to provide any evidence to support their allegation or, indeed, any evidence of alleged impropriety.”

The Panel concurred with the Committee in the dismissal of this complaint. “There is no list of people who attended. There is no indication of the cost involved. There is no clarity as to whether those costs were undertaken by the Bank or not by the Bank. The Committee was accordingly right in finding that the allegations uncertain as they are, were not substantiated in any way and should be dismissed.”

The whistleblowers also alleged that some separation packages were negotiated by the Bank and that they seem to be unnecessarily and unreasonably costly or generous. 


The panel noted: “Only one specific instance is cited, namely a person who is alleged to have received a severance ackage of more than $400,000 just when his contract had been renewed. But even in relation to that specific instance, there are no specific allegations of wrongdoing or impropriety, only questions are raised by the complainants about that particular package. So far as the evidence goes, it would be perfectly consistent with the sums being based on accrued benefits based on years of service.”

Additionally, the panel concluded: “The complainants seem to be uncertain themselves as to whether it was proper or not proper and raise questions. Whereas, they should actually have been more categoric and provided supporting evidence to establish that it was an improper arrangement. The Panel therefore agrees with the Committee in dismissing this allegation. In addition to these considerations, the Committee itself has sufficiently explained the circumstances surrounding the departure of the staff member as well as the level of the severance package that he received and the Panel is satisfied with that and with the decision of the Committee to dismiss the allegation.”

The complainants also alleged that a staff member signed two service contracts through direct procurement amounting to $2.5 Million to the benefit of a Kenya recruitment firm in which he is alleged to have an interest and that he also exceeded his authority in that as a Director he could only sign contracts up to $100,000 whereas these two contracts amounted to $2.1 Million. 


Furthermore, the complainants allege that the President of the Bank, once he became aware of these improprieties and while the staff member was under investigation, allowed him to resign from the Bank and paid him a substantial separation package. 


But the panel said, the complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of the allegation. 


With regard to the first allegation, although the Committee did not refer to it in its report, the panel said, the PIAC Director did inform the Committee at its meeting of 26th March 2020, that that allegation had been the subject of investigation by the PIAC and that the President of the Bank had not been found to be in any way involved with that transaction and that if he had been the matter would have been reported to the Ethics Committee given that he is an elected official. The Panel therefore concurs with the decision of the Committee to dismiss this allegation against the President. 

The complainants also alleged that a staff member used his position and fraudulently awarded two contracts to companies for a total amount of more than $18 Million and that the matter had been investigated, the responsibility of the staff member established but that until now no action has been taken by the Bank against him and that instead in October 2019, he was appointed by the President to a senior position. 


The Committee held that this allegation is unsubstantiated and should be dismissed having regard to the briefing it received from PIAC to the effect that the staff member was not found to have been involved in any wrong doing following the outcome of the investigations on the award of the contracts. 


Along the same lines, the Board of Directors of the Bank in discussions with the President of the Bank and on the advice of the General Legal Counsel, came to the conclusion that it was not legally justified to punish the staff member because he was following professional advice provided to him by the Procurement Department of the Bank in the award of the contracts. Thus, there was no justification for him to be sanctioned. As a result, therefore, the award of these contracts was no impediment to his appointment to senior positions in the Bank. As a result, the allegation of the complainants in this matter was properly dismissed by the Committee. 

The complainants alleged that senior management abuse the travel policy without sanction. The complainants claim that they “cannot imagine that the absences of such staff have not been authorized by the President.” 


Again, the panel said there is no evidence provided by the complainants that the President de facto or de jure has the authority to grant leave of absence for such officers and to refrain from sanctioning them for unauthorized absences. “They provided no evidence, other than surmise, that the President in fact knew or authorized. For that reason, the Committee was right in dismissing the allegation against the President. 

It is true that the complainants are quite specific. They provide details of two named individuals allegedly taking excessive periods of leave.”

While the Panel agrees with the Ethics Committee’s conclusion that the allegation against the President should be dismissed in respect of these absences, the Panel nonetheless is of the view that these alleged abuses of travel policy by senior management particularly those specified by the complainants ought to be looked into to ensure that the Bank’s rules and regulations regarding travel and leave are fully complied with. This does not affect the Panel’s view that the complaint against the President was correctly dismissed. 

The complainants describe the President as “the unchallenged travel champion of the Bank”. They allege that he uses the opportunities of these travels to meet with Heads of State and make promises, effectively by-passing Bank management in order to secure support for his re-election to a second term and to stifle competition. 


The Committee found these allegations unsubstantiated and dismissed them. The Panel however finds these allegations frivolous. It has to be recognized that the President as the elected head of the Bank has to engage in diplomatic outreach. This does not necessarily relate to his own re-election but is necessary in order to secure the widest possible political and diplomatic support for the institution. The allegation was properly dismissed. 


Concluding Observations of the Panel 

The Panel, mindful of the fact that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, said it appears 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.

According to the panel, an attorney writing on behalf of the AFDB President, argued quite correctly 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.”

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