Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) has finally spoken out about a probe by Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) saying that the Malaysian media had implied corruption involving the university, when in fact it was merely assisting in investigations.
"It is unfortunate that the Malaysian media chose to sensationalise the issue by making allusions of corruption involving the University, primarily by the fact that the probe was conducted by the ACC.
"In actual fact, the university was assisting the government of the day and had earlier undergone a formal audit giving credibility to the legal standing on the institution," said LUCT's senior vice-president of corporate development, Gail Phung, in a statement dated Aug 21.
She said LUCT has been pioneering Malaysian education in Africa.
"The woes have been many, the uncertainties tremendous, but it has prevailed (by) overcoming issues that would have crippled many others."
Phung said the challenges included an outbreak of Ebola in 2014, just when the university was ready to begin its first semester with over 1,000 students. This resulted in a two-year delay, following which the university dropped fees by half.
She indicated that a change in government in April 2018, when president Ernest Bai Koroma was replaced by current leader Julius Maada Bio, proved to be a factor in triggering the probe.
"Eventually a new government took over and probes began to identify abuse of power of the previous government. Naturally, the university, as a foreign investor came under scrutiny, and funding for sponsored students came to a halt while the university underwent an audit in May 2018," she said.
Phung said the probe upheld the memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed between the university and the Sierra Leone government with recommendations to review the fee structure.
She also highlighted that the LUCT Freetown campus has been approved to reopen in a post-Covid-19 scenario.
Probe identifies deceased minister as culpable
The ACC ended the probe earlier this month confirming that the country's former education, science, and technology minister Minkailu Bah, since deceased, had enabled a campus to be set up without following due processes.
In a tweet on Aug 6, the ACC's chief commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala said "the ACC had completed investigating the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology Malaysia in Sierra Leone and the former minister of education, science, and technology, the late Dr Minkailu Bah, for alleged misappropriation of public property and revenue, abuse of office, and abuse of position; all contrary to Sections 42, 43 and 48 of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2008, respectively.
"The investigations confirmed that Dr Minkailu Bah single-handedly agreed with the LUCT for its establishment as a private university in Sierra Leone in 2013, without following the due process as provided in the laws that govern tertiary public education in Sierra Leone; which resulted in committing the government of Sierra Leone to serious financial obligations," it said.
According to the probe's report, a key stipulation of the MOA was that the Sierra Leone government would provide campus space for the university and scholarships for 1,200 students per annum.
The ACC said in the course of its five-month investigations, Bah had passed away on May 18.
The investigations revealed that the agreement did not mention the fees each student was required to pay for each academic year although Bah had claimed that the fee structure had already been discussed with former financial secretary Edmund Koroma.
Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance, however, denied any involvement in the agreement.
The fees later amounted to US$3,000 per degree student and US$2,500 per diploma student, per annum, which was substantially higher than the tuition fees set by other universities within the nation, said to be between US$1,000 and US$1,500, said the report.
The ACC also found that the Sierra Leone government owes US$3 million (RM12.5 million) to LUCT, US$2 million (RM8.4 million) of which were revenues for one academic year and were paid in 2018.
It claimed that this was a “huge variance,” although the number of students currently enrolled at the Freetown campus cannot be confirmed.
Ben Kaifala said following the conclusion of the investigations, the ACC had made a number of recommendations to the Sierra Leone government stakeholders.
This included the recommendation that the Sierra Leone Ministry of Higher and Technical Education and Ministry of Finance engages LUCT for a thorough review of the MOA, especially on the fee structure, and seek ratification on the agreement from its Parliament.