Independent experts clear hurdles on Adesina’s re-election

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Independent experts clear hurdles on Adesina’s re-election

An independent panel of experts, headed by a former Irish President, Mary Robinson, has finally cleared African Development Bank (AfDB) President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina of alleged corruption and unethical conduct, Assistant Editor Bola Olajuwon writes.

For the African Development Bank (AfDB) President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, his desire to stand for reelection for a second five-year term during the annual meetings of the bank scheduled for August 25-27 is now assured.

This followed the release of a much-awaited report by an Independent Review Panel, which completely exonerated him of ethical wrongdoings levelled against him.

Adesina, 60, became the first Nigerian to lead the AfDB in 2015, but a 15-page report earlier this year claimed that under his watch, the bank had been affected by alleged poor governance, impunity, personal enrichment and favouritism.

A clean record before ethical dust

Since taking over the leadership of the bank, the highly honoured, global technocrat and respected development economist has introduced several innovative reforms, including a High-Five development strategy; a restructuring of the bank, including setting up offices in several African nations to get closer to its investors and customers; an Africa Investment Forum that has attracted $79 billion in investment interests into projects in Africa between 2018 and 2019.

He successfully led a historic General Capital Increase campaign that culminated in the Bank’s shareholders raising the institution’s capital from $93 billion to $208 billion, in October 2019.

He was awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2017 and the Sunhak Peace Prize in 2019 for global leadership in agriculture and good governance.

Despite his predicaments, in June and July, global credit ratings agencies – Standard and Poors and Fitch Ratings – both affirmed the ‘AAA’ rating of the bank, with a stable outlook.

Also, under Adesina’s leadership, the AfDB launched a $10 billion crisis response facility to boost African nations’ ability to tackle the health and economic effects of COVID-19.

The petition, board reviews and the U.S. angle

The petition claimed that Adesina breached 16 of the bank’s code of conduct, including “unethical conduct, private gain, an impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, involvement in political activities, impunity and bad governance”.

The African banking institution and Adesina, who is the sole candidate for the bank’s August’s presidential elections, had been battered by the rollercoaster of allegations after the whistleblowers’ complaints were leaked to the media in April.

But, the former Nigerian Minister for Agriculture vigorously denied the allegations and defended his integrity.

The whistleblowers also sent copies of the petition to both the Director of the Integrity & Anti-Corruption office (PIAC) of the Bank, and the Chairperson of the Audit & Finance Committee (AUFI) in line with the bank’s “Whistleblowing and Complaints Handling Policy”.

Between February 4 and April 9, 2020, the ethics committee held series of meetings to review documents and presentations as it conducted “preliminary examination” of the allegations against Adesina to establish whether they were “based on any objective and solid facts” under Resolution No. B/BG/2008/11.

Resolution No. B/BG/2008/11 adopted at the bank’s 43rd Annual Meeting of the Board on May 14, 2008.

African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina

The resolution, which lists the code of conduct for its executive directors and those of the African Development Fund (ADF), also apply to the AfDB President.

Apart from the petition, other documents reviewed during the series of meetings by the committee included the confidential memo submitted by Adesina detailing his defence of the allegations against him.

On May 5, the ethics committee of the bank’s board of directors headed by the institution’s Japan Executive Director, Takuji Yano, found that Adesina was not guilty of any of the allegations.

Yano, who led the investigation, described as “spurious and unfounded” claims that Adesina violated the bank’s code of conduct.

The ethic committee’s verdict cleared the way for Adesina, 60, to firm up his second term bid for election.

But, two weeks later, the United States Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, rejected the ethics committee result and called for an independent probe into the allegations.

In a May 22 letter addressed to Niale Kaba, chairwoman of the bank’s board of governors, Mnuchin said the Treasury disagrees with findings by the bank’s ethics committee that “totally exonerated” Adesina.

But the confidential memo submitted by Adesina to the committee on April 8 gave a point-by-point response to all the 16 allegations.

The memo suggests that the allegations by the “Group of Concerned Staff” may be connected with scuttling Adesina’s presidential re-election bid.

He accused the petitioners of disclosing their allegations beyond the committee “by acting in concert with others outside the AfDB system”.

Adesina, in his memo to the committee, said: “The point about others acting in concert with the whistle-blowers is not speculation.

A group of independent Bank staff members apparently wrote a ‘Disassociation Note’ on March 9, 2020, in which they explained that they had been members of a group called ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members,’ namely the whistle-blowers behind the disclosure, but that they had been ‘manipulated’ by a group of non-regional Executive Directors behind Mr Steven Dowd, not for the good governance of the African Bank of Development, but to discredit the candidacy of the current President for his re-election.”

Dowd is the U.S. government representative at the bank.

Experts, Obasanjo, AU, ECOWAS vouch support for AfDB President

A plethora of support came on the way of Adesina following the U.S. call for an independent panel, with experts saying that it was wrong changing the rule of the game in the middle on the probe of the allegations.

One of the international relations experts, who frowned at America’s move was former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Ambassador Bulus Lolo.

He said the United States must be resisted, insisting that AfDB’s internal mechanism should be allowed to endure.

Similarly, the former emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II urged Africans and friends of the continent to stand up and ensure that laid-down rules are respected in the AfDB Group.

“The excellent letter written by the finance minister says it all and I am pleased that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has weighed in on the matter. Every well-meaning African or friend of Africa should speak up on this matter,” he said.

Sanusi, who is a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), said the support being shown for Adesina should not be viewed as “defending a Nigerian or a friend”.

“I have watched him at AfDB and his stellar performance is there for all to see. This is not about defending a Nigerian or a friend,” he added.

Also, Obasanjo criticised the U.S. for insisting on “independent investigation” into the allegations. In a letter to the board, Obasanjo and 13 African former leaders said the clearance granted Akinwunmi by the laid down institutions should have put the matter to rest.

He questioned the insistence of the U.S. on “independent investigation”, declaring “it is outside of the rules, laws, procedures and governance systems of the bank.”

African Union, ECOWAS endorsement

As the crisis was brewing, the Executive Council of the African Union on February 25 announced its support for Adesina’s candidacy for a second term.

The decision was taken during the thirty-sixth Ordinary Session of the AU Executive Council, held during the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

On June 11, the Heads of State and Governments of the 15 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states restated their “full confidence” in Adesina as the AfDB President.

The West African leaders made their position known in a statement signed by President of Niger, who is also ECOWAS President, Mahamadou Issoufou, dated June 5, 2020. The ECOWAS leaders also welcomed “the excellent achievements of the AfDB under Adesina’s leadership.”

Independent panel’s final clearance

The report of the Independent Review Panel, set up by the bank’s Bureau of Governors, following the U.S. complaint, has now put to rest the complaints against Adesina.

The distinguished three-member Independent Review Panel include Robinson, who is a former President of the Republic of Ireland, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Chairperson of the Elders, a global body of wise persons concerned with the world’s wellbeing; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gambia, Mr. Hassan B. Jallow; and Mr. Leonard F. McCarthy, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, a former Director for the Office of Serious Economic Offences, and a former Head of the Directorate of Special Operations of South Africa. He also served as the Vice President of Integrity for the World Bank for nine years.

The report states that 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.”

The panel once again vindicates Adesina and states, “It has considered the President’s submissions on their face and finds them consistent with his innocence and to be persuasive.”

The panel, in its conclusion, said it was mindful of the fact that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

Robinson, in the report, writes: “At the same time, it appears to us to be an undue burden to expect a holder of high office in an international organisation, 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.

“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 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 publicised 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.”

Some members of the bank’s senior management yesterday said the conclusions of the Independent Review Panel are decisive and now clear the way for the bank’s governors to re-elect Adesina to a second five-year term as president during its annual meetings.

Independent experts clear hurdles on Adesina’s re-election

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