Africa pleads for $3 Billion to tackle malaria as officials in Sierra Leone embezzle over $1 Million

31 January 2013

alma_pic_1African leaders, led by Liberia’s president – Helen Sirleaf Johnson, are climbing a steep hill to raise much needed funds in order to tackle rising childhood mortality, especially caused by malaria and other deadly diseases. They are trying to raise over $3 billion.

But that task has today been made much harder, with reports of senior government officials in Sierra Leone embezzling funds donated to help combat early childhood deaths.

Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), yesterday released the names of unscrupulous officials at the top of the ministry of health, alleged to have swindled over $1 million from funds donated by the Geneva-based Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Some of the officials named by the Anti-graft Commissioner are not only close to the heart of government, but are said to be senior members of the ruling APC party, led by president Koroma.

“This has resulted in the freezing of the current GAVI grant of over $500,000 and a new two-year grant of $5,399,371,” the ACC said in a statement.

The allegations included “undocumented expenses, cash disbursements from bank accounts without documentation and overcharged procurement costs relating to the purchase of ambulances”.

Forced to make a public statement on the matter, the ACC Chief – Joseph Kamara said last week: “We are very determined to bring those involved to book, should we find any evidence of misappropriation.”

But it is understood that senior members of the ruling party had attempted to block the ACC from pursuing those involved, given their high profile role  within the government, and the prominent support some of them gave to the president in gaining his second term victory at the polls last November.

Included in the long list of those being investigated by the ACC are:

Mr. Edward Bai Kamara – Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, but previously Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Joseph Tekman Kanu – Senior Permanent Secretary
Dr. Kisito Sheku Daoh – the country’s Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Magnus Ken Gborie – Director of Planning & Information
Rev. Dr. Thomas Takpan Samba – Program Manager
Dr. Michael Amara – Principal Health Economist
Dr. Edward Magbity – Principal Officer
Mr. Amara Sanimeh Koroma – Principal Accountant
Mr. Mohammed Kallon – Procurement Manager
Osman Bangura – Assistant Accountant

All accused are senior officials in the country’s ministry of health.

alma2Funds provided by the GAVI and Bill Gates initiative are helping the government of Sierra Leone purchase much needed medicines and vaccines, such as the five-in-one shot, which helps to protect children against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza.

Anonymous source close to State House in Freetown, says that Tony Blair’s visit to the West African state a few weeks ago, was a deciding factor, which swayed president Koroma to give way to demands for investigation into the affair.

Bill Gates’ support for Sierra Leone had come through the offices of Tony Blair, who has been championing the country’s Free Health Programme aimed at young children and other vulnerable sections of the population.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, but with immense potential to earn tens of billions of dollars annually from the exporting of minerals, fishing and agricultural produce. But corruption is rife.

Cynics in the country say that very little will come out of this ACC investigation, as previous cases have shown that the president is just too eager to protect his sacred cows.  

The former health minister Sheku Koroma – in 2010 was convicted by the Courts, but paid pittance in fines.

So too is the former head of the country’s national insurance and pensions agency – NASSIT – Mr. Edmund Koroma, who is now the head of the country’s Treasury. He was also convicted of corruption, but got away with a mere slap on the wrist.

The case involving many others close to the seat of power, including Mr. William Conteh – the former Chairman of the 50 Years Independence Celebrations Committee, who have been charged with corruption, is believed to have been swept under the carpet for political reasons.

alma 1A group of African leaders – all members of the ‘African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA)’ met this week to discuss the need to maintain the significant gains made in the fight against malaria.

According to a statement from ALMA’s office; “a BIG PUSH is required to fill the US$3.6 billion gap to sustain universal coverage of key malaria control interventions to the end of 2015. “

But with corruption and mismanagement of public funds making the news, the image and credibility of those seeking international funds are being called into question, while the poor in Africa suffers. 

Thirteen African countries received awards. Cameroon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda received the 2013 ALMA Award for Excellence in Policy.

These countries have succeeded in removing tariffs on anti- malarial commodities, banned oral artemisinin-based mono-therapies, and introduced community case management of malaria.

Cape Verde, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zambia received the 2013 ALMA Award for Excellence in Impact and Implementation. They have reduced malaria incidence by over 75% and increased coverage of at-risk populations with mosquito nets and, or through the use of indoor residual spraying.

The United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki-moon and Mrs. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – President of the African Union Commission, presented the ALMA Awards for Excellence.

African heads of state and government are committed to increasing their domestic contributions to public health, including malaria control. This includes raising new revenues through innovative financing mechanisms, including introducing levies on financial transactions and airline tickets.

alma_pic_2“To address the malaria emergency threatening Africa, ALMA leaders will work with donors and development partners to explore emergency financing mechanisms that can bridge the financing gap, including the Global Fund, the World Bank, BRICS, United States, United Kingdom, UNITAID, African Development Bank, private sector, foundations, and others” – says the press statement released by ALMA.

“Ministers of Finance will convene a meeting alongside the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings in April 2013 to discuss mechanisms to fill outstanding gaps.”

All partners that have supported the funding of Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) and Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), over the past five years in ALMA countries, were urged to support their replacement and re-spraying programmes.

“Children that had been protected over the past few years are now beginning to be exposed. These essential vector control interventions must be urgently replaced and sustained” – says ALMA.

In 2010, ALMA, working with key partners, successfully piloted a bulk purchasing mechanism, which rapidly delivered LLINs. Countries and donors were urged to adopt bulk purchasing mechanisms to accelerate access to essential malaria commodities.

“ALMA recognized the crucial role that the Global Fund plays in the fight against AIDS, TB, and Malaria. ALMA countries are committed to supporting and actively lobbying for the Global Fund’s replenishment efforts this year.

“ALMA will also strongly support the replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Heads of state also urged the Global Fund and the World Bank to examine mechanisms to increase resources available today.

“The ALMA Forum urged the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank to accelerate technical support to strengthen financial management and controls in member countries.

ALMA, an alliance of 49 African heads of state and government, believes that if these key outcomes are implemented, the achievement of near zero malaria deaths in Africa by 2015 is within reach.

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