Indications have emerged that there was a mild disagreement between a group of whistleblowers and the ethics committee of the board of directors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) during the probe of its embattled president, Akinwunmi Adesina.
Documents obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES showed that both parties clashed when demands were made by the whistleblowers on the progress made in the course of the investigations into allegations levelled against Mr Adesina.
Both parties also disagreed when evidences were demanded to support the allegations against the president.
Mr Adesina, who seeks a second term in office as head of the AfDB, has been in the eye of the storm lately over sundry allegations of misconduct.
In a petition by the group of whistleblowers, Mr Adesina was accused of 20 breaches of the bank’s code of conduct. The bank, however, found the allegations to be “frivolous”.
But in a fresh move, ostensibly done in deference to the demands of the United States, the Board of Governors of the bank approved an independent review of the findings of the ethics committee.
Email exchanges and documents recently obtained by PREMIUM TIMES show that the ethics committee and the whistleblowers clashed in the middle of the investigations into allegations leveled against Mr Adesina.
In an email exchange dated January 9, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, the whistleblower group, which identified itself as “a Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AFDB”, called for a probe of the president.
The email was addressed to the ethics committee of the bank.
“Please find attached a document transmitted in accordance to the Whistle-blowing and Complaints Handling Policy of the African Development Bank and to Resolution of the Board of Governors B/BG/2008/11 regarding the Application of the Code of Conduct for Executive Directors of the African Development Bank to the President of the Bank Group,” the email reads.
“We are a group of staff members concerned by the current perceived state of impunity and bad governance at the Bank. Through this communication, we wish to bring to your attention what we believe to be serious and repeated breaches of the Code of Conduct by the President.
“We hope that in compliance with the adequate procedures, all the necessary clarity will be made. We also hope that in accordance to the Whistle-blowing Policy, our anonymity will be safeguarded and that no attempt will be made to uncover us.”
In a response dated February 14, Takuji Yano, Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors, assured the whistleblowers that the allegations will be looked into.
“As Chairperson of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors, I can assure you that the Committee takes your allegations seriously and is proceeding with the duty assigned to it pursuant to Resolution B/BG/2008/11 at this stage of the process to “conduct a preliminary
examination of the complaint or allegation to determine whether it is based on apparently solid justifications with a view to submitting it to the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Board of Governors” under the precise conditions defined in Article 3 of Resolution B/BG/2008/11,” the committee chair said.
However, the committee declined a request by the whistleblowers to be updated with details of the investigations into the allegations against Mr Adesina, saying it would be in violation of the bank’s rules.
“In response to your request for the Committee to provide you with clear and credible indication of the progress being made by the Committee,” the email reads, “I regret to inform you that pursuant to Paragraph 5.4 of the Bank Group’s Whistle Blowing and Complaints Handling Policy, providing you with such a progress report will be in violation of the Bank Group’s rules governing the handling of whistle blowing complaints.
“In effect Paragraph 5.4 of the Whistle Blowing Policy provides as follows: “It should be noted that whistleblowers and complainants are reporting parties. They are neither investigators nor finders of fact; they do not determine if corrective measures are necessary; and they do not determine the appropriate corrective or remedial action that may be warranted.”
“In addition, there is no other provision of the Whistle Blowing Policy or Resolution B/BG/2008/11 that permits the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors to share any information of any type with you regarding what is being done concerning your allegations. Thank you very much for your understanding of the ethical dilemma in which the Committee finds itself and is unable to share any information with your group.”
In a subsequent February 15 email addressed to the committee chair in response to the refusal to provide updates, the whistleblowers disagreed with the committee over their refusal to disclose updates of the investigation to them.
“We are fully aware of our position as whistleblowers and that we have no say in the course of action of the Ethics Committee,” the group said in its response. “If we thought that anyone could influence the decisions of the Committee, you can be sure that we would have chosen a different strategy. We do not want to interfere in that process, otherwise we would not have started it.
“However, it is not because something is not explicitly permitted by a regulation or a policy that it is prohibited. Article 5 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, which forms the basis of our modern legal systems, states: Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.
“In our view, as parties to the cause, our respectful request for information on what was being done with our contribution does not seem ludicrous nor impossible to meet. We do understand the ethical dilemma in which you find yourself and we commend your dedication to protect the process from interference, which we share. The discretion we have demonstrated so far should be a sufficient proof of our own dedication to due process.”
The whistleblowers also added that some of them were “becoming more nervous than others” that the choice to work with the ethics committee might not have been the right strategy and that they should switch approaches.
“Any indication that you would be willing to provide will help clear these doubts and calm the nervousness.
“We do not think it is useful to debate any longer on this subject, we leave it up to you to choose the best course of action,” the group added.
As part of its preliminary examination of the complaint, the ECBD said it also requested the whistleblowers to provide any further information or evidence that they had to sustain the allegations made against the President, “but the whistleblowers declined to provide any such further information because not doing so will assist in preserving their anonymity.”
This point of disagreements perhaps played a role in the investigation and subsequent dismissal of the allegations against Mr Adesina.
In dismissing the allegations against Mr Adesina, the ethics committee noted that if its preliminary examination of the complaint or allegation reveals it was “frivolous or not based on any objective and solid facts”, the resolution empowered the committee to dismiss it.
In a petition by the group of whistleblowers, Mr Adesina was accused of 20 breaches of the bank’s code of conduct, including “unethical conduct, private gain, an impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, and involvement in political activities.”
The group, which noted their allegations were in line with AfDB’s whistleblowing policy, said these activities adversely affected the confidence and integrity of the bank.
The bank, however, found the allegations to be “frivolous” and thus cleared Mr Adesina.
Regardless, the United States government expressed “deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process” and called for a fresh “in-depth investigation of the allegations.”
In a letter dated May 22, 2020 to Ms Kaba, the U.S. government, through the Secretary, Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C., Steven Mnuchin, faulted the decision of the committee to totally exonerate Mr Adesina of all allegations, saying it was not yet time to make such a declaration.
On June 5, PREMIUM TIMES reported how the board of governors of the bank approved an independent review of the ethics committee’s work.
The decision, taken at the meeting of the bureau regarding the whistleblowers’ complaints against Mr Adesina, was obviously in deference to the demand by the U.S. government
Mr Adesina has consistently insisted that he is innocent amid the crisis.
In a recent visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Adesina, a former Nigerian minister for agriculture, said the allegations raised against him were trumped up, “and without facts, evidence, and documents, as required by the rules and regulations of the bank.”
Earlier, he had said that he is confident that a fair and just process of investigation would establish that he is innocent of all the allegations leveled against him.
“I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the Bank, and the rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the Code of Ethics of this extraordinary institution,” he said.
He also promised to work with other stakeholders of the bank in its drive to fulfil the mandate of transforming and accelerating Africa’s development.
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