Auditor General launches investigation into human trafficking, high corruption in World Bank’s Somali energy projects

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In an investigation led by the Office of the Auditor General, issues of mismanagement, fraud, and potentially criminal activities have surfaced within World Bank-funded projects in Somalia. These projects were part of a broader effort to rebuild the country’s energy sector, receiving $257 million in grants ahead of debt-relief discussions between the Somali government, the IMF, and the World Bank Group. Now, one of these projects is under scrutiny for allegations of fraud and financial misappropriation.

One of several current and former employees of the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources who are the subject of the investigation is Mr. Abdisalam Abdullahi, who previously oversaw the Ministry’s Project Implementation Unit (PIU) for energy projects funded by the World Bank and is now a consultant working directly for the Bank.

Reliable sources indicate that Mr. Abdisalam Abdullahi, Mr. Patrick Balla, a World Bank Task Team Leader, and Mr. Liban Ibrahim, the Interim Project Coordinator and Procurement Officer, are under investigation. The focus is on their involvement with the Somali Electricity Access Project (SEAP) and the Somali Electricity Sector Recovery Project (SESRP), specifically regarding procurement processes and financial handling. Allegations also include nepotism, negatively impacting project results. According to the investigation, Mr. Abdullahi put family members in key positions in the PIU without considering their expertise and experience.

“This act of nepotism undermines the projects’ credibility, and it shows that there is a concerning lack of policy and administrative oversight,” said an official insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Muhyadin Abdullahi, a first cousin of the former project coordinator, Mr. Abdisalam Abdullahi, had direct oversight of the SEAP project, which came before SESRP. This arrangement ran counter to the principles of transparency and accountability outlined in the project agreement and resulted in a clear conflict of interest. A substantial portion of the SEAP project tenders was allegedly diverted into the personal accounts of these people, putting the funds’ integrity at risk.

Among the investigation’s most shocking revelations is the misuse of project funds to facilitate the UK travel of a former minister’s daughter, Hamdi Hassan Abdinur, under false pretenses, later leading her to seek asylum in Ireland. This incident, implicates the World Bank in grave integrity and moral violations, suggesting a misuse of funds approved by senior Bank officials who could be indicted for probable direct involvement in human trafficking.

Another official from the Ministry of Finance who knew about the report said, “This issue implicates the World Bank in serious integrity and moral breaches. It suggests a misuse of funds approved by senior Bank officials, which could be grounds for potential human trafficking.”  He added, “Before the money is given to pay for the trip, there must be a written Request for No Objection (RNO) from the Ministry outlining the costs and explaining why they are necessary in light of the approved Project Goals and Components. After this, the Bank Task Team Leader usually issues an official “No-Objection,” which means that the money can be spent.”

Additionally, Mr. Abdullahi is being investigated for ties to firms that received favorable, multimillion-dollar contracts through direct selection. This preferential treatment highlights the conflicts of interest that pervade across the project’s management and procurement processes.

Director-General (DG), Mr. Abdirizack Muhumed.

The inquiry has already led to dramatic fallout within the ministry, including the resignation and subsequent flight to Kenya of its Director-General (DG), Mr. Abdirizack Muhumed. Additionally, Mr. Liban Ibrahim, serving as the Interim Project Coordinator and Procurement Officer, fled the country two months ago amid concerns of facing indictment charges.

Multiple sources within the Ministry confirm that officials, including the Ministry’s immediate former Director General, Mr. Muhumed, were complicit in enabling the above, with reports claiming that he is currently building a palatial residence in Nairobi’s Langata suburb with the siphoned proceeds from the energy projects.

According to sources familiar with the case, a substantial bid worth 45 million USD is set to be awarded soon as part of the Somali Electricity Sector Recovery Project. The position of Project Coordinator/Manager has been vacant for over a year due to process manipulation perpetrated by the same individuals who were identified in the investigation.

The energy portfolio was under pressure, according to Bank and government officials involved. The issue emerged when the Bank Task Team aggressively campaigned for specific persons to key management and coordination posts inside the Implementation Unit, forcing the Ministry to submit a formal complaint to the Bank’s Country office. As part of crisis management, the Bank reassigned Mr. Balla to another region as task manager.

According to sources, Mr. Abdullahi, leveraging his advisory role on the Bank Task Team and with support from his accomplices in the Ministry led by the Interim Coordinator, is still pushing for the selection of a specific favorable member of the implementation unit, Mr. Ismail Bashir, a power engineer of the project and former monitoring and evaluation consultant who is also linked to several vendors who gained some unfair advantages from the proceeds of both SEAP and SESRP projects.

Despite multiple attempts to seek comment and clarification from the Ministry regarding the Audit investigation, Caasimadda Online has not received any response at the time of publishing.

There have been demands for supervision and the implementation of strict measures to avoid similar abuses in the wake of these preliminary findings. There is mounting pressure on the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources to deal with these claims directly, identify and punish individuals responsible, and protect the credibility of the development assistance.

Despite the investigation, the Office of the Auditor General is facing increased pressure from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), according to accounts within the OPM. The pressure is to end the inquiry and resolve the matter.

“The Prime Minister’s office could be rushing the investigation, and it’s obviously making things more complicated. But what we really need is for top officials to carefully look into this and take decisive action,” said Mr. Abdi Ali, a former government development advisor in Nairobi. He also added, “Without this, the Administration won’t solve the issues of corruption and nepotism which is becoming entrenched in some sectors more than others.”