US Treasury secretary demands independent probe of African Development Bank head

President of the African Development Bank, AkinwumI Adesina. (GETTY)
President of the African Development Bank, AkinwumI Adesina. (GETTY)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected plans by the African Development Bank’s board to end an investigation into its president, Akinwumi Adesina, and called for an independent probe into allegations against him.

In a letter dated May 22 and addressed to Niale Kaba, chairperson of the bank’s board of governors, Mnuchin said the Treasury disagrees with findings by the bank’s ethics committee that "totally exonerated" Adesina. Kaba confirmed receipt of the document and declined further comment.

The intervention by the Treasury, the AfDB’s biggest non-African shareholder, comes two weeks after the ethics committee found no evidence to support allegations of favouritism by Adesina. The 60-year-old bank chief, who has repeatedly refuted the allegations, is the only candidate up for election as president at an annual general meeting scheduled for August.

"We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process," Mnuchin said. "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."

The US Treasury didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Clear Mandate

Adesina was accused by a group of unidentified whistleblowers of handing contracts to acquaintances and appointing relatives to strategic positions at the Abidjan-based lender.

"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 AfDB’s president has broad support, confidence, and a clear mandate from shareholders," Mnuchin said.

The US has a 6.5% stake in the lender, the largest shareholding after Adesina’s home country of Nigeria as of November 2019, according to the AfDB’s website.

US criticism of the bank’s internal processes follows comments by World Bank President David Malpass in February that multilateral lenders including the AfDB tend to provide loans too quickly, and, in the process, add to African nations’ debt problems. The bank rebutted the statements as "inaccurate and not fact-based".

The AfDB is Africa’s biggest multilateral lender and has an AAA rating from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings. Its shareholders are Africa’s 54 nations and 27 countries in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia.

In March, the lender issued a $3 billion social bond to help African countries deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Bids for the securities on the London money market exceeded $4.6 billion. The bank also launched a $10 billion crisis-response facility for African nations.

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