The United States Department of Treasury has called for an independent probe of allegations levelled against the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina.
The Street Journal has learnt that the U.S Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin rejected the proposed plans by AfDB’s board to end an investigation into its President, Akinwunmi Adeshina.
In a letter dated May 22 and addressed to Niale Kaba, Chairwoman of the bank’s board of Governors, Mnuchin said the Treasury disagrees with findings that “totally exonerated” Adesina.
The letter as seen by The Street Journal read in part:
“The United States received your letter of May 5, in which you share your view that the board of governors of the African Development Bank should adopt the conclusions of the bank’s ethics committee and declare that the president is “totally exonerated of all the allegations made against him.
“Our constituency cannot make such a declaration at this time. We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process.
”Instead, we urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing…
”The allegations set out in the whistleblower complaint submitted on January 19, 2020, raise significant issues that all relevant governing bodies of the bank must handle with the utmost care, using all tools available to them.
”Had the ethics committee undertaken a proper preliminary examination that was in line with the board of governors resolution B/BG/2008/l 1, standard practices at other international financial institutions, and the bank’s own rules and procedures, it would have reviewed available facts that could be gathered by external counsel and found in internal bank records.
”We fear that wholesale dismissal of all allegations without appropriate investigation will tarnish the reputation of this institution as one that does not uphold high standards of ethics and governance…
”Therefore, the United States cannot support dismissing the allegations at this stage. We believe the board of governors must demonstrate that this institution takes governance, anti-corruption, and transparency seriously.
”The United States sincerely wishes the AfDB to remain a high-quality institution with the capability to address the needs of the African continent, particularly at this critical time.
”Considering the scope, seriousness and detail of these allegations against the sole candidate for bank leadership over the next five years, we believe that further inquiry is necessary to ensure the AfDB’s president has broad support, confidence, and a clear mandate from shareholders.”
This development comes after unidentified whistleblowers made a report available to the United States
The Whistleblowers’ Allegations
The 60-year-old AfDB President, Akinwunmi Adeshina was accused by unidentified whistleblowers of handing contracts to acquaintances and appointing relatives to strategic positions in the Development Bank.
Mr. Adeshina was also accused of filling top positions in the African Development Bank with Nigerians and others who the whistleblowers describe as either childhood friends, inlaws or former colleagues.
According to the whistleblowers’ report made available to The Street Journal, Dr. Adesina is accused of a number of practices which breaches the code of conduct and ethics of AfDB. The allegations are itemized below.
1. Non-respect of internal rules and regulations in recruitment (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, political activity, private gain).
Mr Adesina is alleged to have been using his position as a de facto HR Manager to recruit candidates of his choice for top positions as well as excluding the names of top-rated candidates from shortlists and cancelling shortlists drawn up by independent recruitment panels. This, according to the whistleblowers is against the rules and regulations of AfDB operations.
2. Appointment of Mrs. Chinelo ANOHU-AMAZU (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the Bank).
Mr Adesina was alleged to have confirmed the appointment Mrs ANOHU-AMAZU, a Nigerian citizen on the 1st of September 2019, as a Senior Director in charge of the African Investment Forum (AIF). According to the whistleblowers, she was placed on the same salary level as vice-presidents, despite not having the same responsibility level.
Reports say Adesina hired her despite being dismissed from office by President Muhammadu Buhari when she was the DG and CEO of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in Nigeria from 2014 to 2017, on allegations of abuse of office.
3. Appointment and promotions of Mr. Martin FREGENE (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment).
Nigerian-born Mr FREGENE, alleged to be the President’s brother-in-law joined the Bank in September 2015 as Adviser in the Office of the President, after having already served in his office when he was Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria.
The whistleblowers allege that through the influence of Mr. Adesina as president, Mr FREGENE has enjoyed numerous favours and promotions without having to compete with anyone.
4. Mismanagement of the TAAT programme (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the Bank).
TAAT, Technologies for African Agriculture Transformation, is a USD $120M programme designed to speed up the adoption of agricultural technologies through CGIAR agricultural research institutes.
It is alleged that the first phase of the programme, a USD $40M ADF-14 grant was awarded to IITA, Nigeria, because Mr. Adesina used his political influence to defend the transaction and lift the board’s doubt. This, they describe as an act of preferential treatment because Mr. Adeshina once was worked for IITA and AfricaRice, and both institutions were to benefit from the grant.
5. Appointments and promotions of Mrs. Maria MULUNDI (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, private gain).
It is alleged that Mrs. MULINDI, a Kenyan national, has long-lasting professional ties with the President, as she was already working for him when he was the Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria. She first joined the Bank as a consultant and Adviser to the President. She was then promoted to Senior adviser to the President in 2016 and
again appointed, without competition, to Director of Cabinet, Office of the President in April 2017, with a 32.7% increase in salary.
Other allegations and breach of ethics include:
6. Direct contracting and appointment of Mr. Victor OLADOKUN, a childhood friend of Mr Adesina (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, private gain, preferential treatment).
7. Contracting of Mr. Kapil KAPOOR, a retired employee who continues to enjoy the privilege of a full-time employee (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment).
8. Appointment of Mr. Emmanuel EZINWA, a Nigerian National who was found guilty of sexually harassing a colleague during his probation period (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the Bank).
9. Preferential treatment for Nigeria and Nigerians (unethical conduct, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the Bank).
The whistleblowers allege that since Adesina assumed office, Nigerians have gained favour in almost all recruitment processes. They argue that Nigeria being the largest shareholder of the AfDB with 9% does not justify the preferential treatment the country and its citizens enjoy.
All of these and more are the allegations levelled against Akinwunmi Adesina.
Why the United States is Concerned
The U.S. has a 6.5% stake with the AfDB, which happens to be the largest after Nigeria. The U.S. has continued to criticize the lender’s internal process following comments by the World Bank President, David Malpass that multilateral lenders, including AfDB, tend to provide loans too quickly, thus adding to Africa’s debt crisis. However, the AfDB has refuted the claim, describing it as “inaccurate and not fact-based”.
In March alone, AfDB issued a $3 billion social bond to help African countries deal with the hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is There Any Hope for Adesina?
At this point, we do not know if there are any hopes for Mr. Adesina now that the U.S. Treasury has called for a fresh investigation, even suggesting that the management employ the services of trusted independent investigators. Currently, Mr. Adesina is the only candidate participating in the elections scheduled for August 2020, when the annual general meeting will be held.