On July 28, an independent panel led by former Irish president Mary Robinson tasked with reviewing the process by which the African Development Bank exonerated president Akinwumi Adesina of allegations of ethical misconduct delivered its verdict. Whistleblowers made 16 allegations against the president in January, including that he had granted contracts to acquaintances and appointed relatives to strategic positions at the Bank.
The independent panel, which also included Hasson Jallow, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Gambia, and Leonard McCarthy, a former South African director of public prosecutions and former vice president of integrity at the World Bank, concluded 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”.
It further concluded that “it has considered the President’s submissions on their face and finds them consistent with his innocence and to be persuasive”.
The independent panel was established after complaints from the US, the Bank’s largest non-African shareholder, that the original findings of the ethics committee of the Bank’s board, which dismissed the allegations as “frivolous and without merit”, had been flawed. Those findings were upheld by the Bank’s bureau of the board of governors.
Demanding an independent probe in May, US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said “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. 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 that the Bank’s president has broad support, confidence, and a clear mandate from shareholders.”
It is right that both the 16 allegations against Adesina and the decision to clear him have been comprehensively investigated. Multilateral institutions and their leaders, who are responsible for the disbursal of billions of dollars of development loans on the continent, must be of the highest integrity and beyond reproach. The conclusions of the independent panel clear the way for the governors of the Bank to re-elect Adesina, the sole candidate, to a second five-year term as president in late August.
Now that the independent panel has upheld the decision to clear Adesina, the African Development Bank must be allowed to continue its work unhindered at this crucial time. As Africa reels under the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the supportive role of multilateral institutions has never been more critical.
The Bank has played a crucial role in disbursing financial support to economically stricken countries struggling under lockdowns and trade barriers. It has launched a $10bn crisis response facility to boost African nations’ ability to tackle the health and economic effects of Covid-19, and has been a strong African voice in the demands for temporary debt relief. The Bank must now be allowed to turn all of its focus to helping the continent defeat and recover from the pandemic.