The United States has rejected the report of the ethics committee on the ground that it lacked confidence in the committee.
In a letter dated May 22, the US Department of the Treasury called for an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing. Steven Mnuchin, secretary of the treasury, said the allegations raised significant issues that all relevant governing bodies of the Bank must handle with the utmost care, using all tools available to them.
“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. We emphasize that undertaking an independent evaluation of facts, at any stage, is not at odds with a presumption of innocence.
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/2008/11, 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. This is a serious risk when we need strong confidence in the AfDB to play an influential role in the current global economic and health crisis, and when many shareholders are seeking legislative support for payments under the recently-concluded General Capital Increase.
“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. We thus request that you take steps to initiate an impartial, independent investigation into these allegations. Whatever the outcome, the AfDB will emerge stronger for having taken seriously its obligations to uphold good governance.
“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,” he said.
Adesina’s travails began when a group of anonymous concerned staff of the bank, riding on the whistle-blowing policy, had in an 18-page petition titled ‘Communication relating to alleged breach of the Code of Ethics by the President of the African Development Bank Group,’ addressed to the Board of Governors of the AfDB, accused Adesina of breaching the code of ethics of the bank. He is facing a 20-count allegation bordering on recruitments, awarding contracts to friends and associates, alleged preferential treatment for Nigeria and Nigerians, using resources of the bank to receive awards and political lobbying for his re-election.
In the petition written in April 2020, the complainants said they had previously filed a complaint on January 19, regarding cases of alleged breach of the said code of ethics by the AfDB President. The complaint was filed with the ethics committee of the board of directors through the chair of the committee, ED Yano (Japan), the chair of the audit committee, ED Dowd (USA), and the director for the integrity and anti-corruption department, Bacarese.
“We feel it has become our duty to alert you directly about the very serious situation that the bank faces, which could in the short term threaten its very existence if no action is taken. “Our complaint illustrates various cases of alleged breaches of the code of conduct: unethical conduct, private gain, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the bank and involvement in political activity,” the petitioners said.
The group further alleged that the ethics committee failed to act within reasonable time hence the need to escalate it to the governors of the bank. “On March 3, six weeks after our initial complaint, we came to the conclusion that the ethics committee was unable or unwilling to proceed with their preliminary examination of the complaint and that we should not have trusted it.
“The committee could not give us reassurances of any progress, on the contrary, attempts were made to uncover our identities, which should have been protected under the whistle-blowing policy. We fear that if a stronger scrutiny is not placed by the board of directors and the board of governors on these two aspects, and that if politics or scare tactics prevent staff, executive directors and governors from requesting accountability and integrity from the top or if they allow for double standards, the bank might not survive as staff will leave, trust in the institution will deteriorate, shareholders will question their support.”
In his response to the allegations, Adesina in a statement made available to Realnews on Wednesday, May 27, debunked the claims by the whistleblowers. He said he would continue to work with the Board of the AfDB to resolve all issues contained in the petition. “An article in Le Monde has come to my attention. Following its publication, I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support and solidarity I have continued to receive.
“The African Development Bank has a very high reputation of good governance. The bank was rated as the 4th most transparent institution in the world by Publish What You Fund. I have strong confidence in the governance systems of the bank put in place by the board of governors of the bank. The ethics committee of the board of directors is following its internal review systems and should be allowed to complete its review and work without interference from anyone or the media.
“I am 100 percent confident that due process and transparency, based on facts and evidence, will indicate that these are all nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations. I would like all our highly dedicated bank staff, shareholders, and partners not to be moved or shaken by any of these blatantly false allegations. I will stay calm and resolute. I will not be distracted. No amount of lies can ever cover up the truth. Soon the truth will come out,” he said.
But in the face of these allegations, there are reports in the media that the US is after Adesina because he is an unapologetic Pan-Africanist, who more than any other president, has moved the development agenda of the bank and Africa forward. For instance, in 2019, he successfully led the Bank’s shareholder, General Capital Increase, from $93 billion to $208 billion. In the process, he became the first Bank President to take the risk of championing a case for increasing capital for Africa’s development during the first term in office. It was a gambit that paid off in spite of initial strong American opposition.
In 2018, Adesina championed and helped create the Bank-sponsored Africa Investment Forum which in 2018 and 2019 attracted more than $80 billion in infrastructure investment interests into the continent. This was an unprecedented initiative. The US representative was said to have considered the Forum a departure from the Bank’s original mandate. Some also saw this as an attempt by Adesina to help wean African nations off of a dependency on foreign aid. Some critics also suggested that Adesina was attempting to burnish his credentials among African Heads of State via the investment forum.