Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 February 2015
The report follows an investigation by the Auditor General into the management of millions of dollars, donated to the people of Sierra Leone by well-meaning individuals and organisations in and out of the country.
The funds which were meant to help combat the deadly Ebola virus that has taken the lives of thousands of people in the country, were held in a bank account managed by Major Palo Conteh – Director of the National Ebola Response Centre and the Minister of Health – Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofanah.
Whilst the people of Sierra Leone have been asked by president Koroma to make the ultimate sacrifice – curtailing their freedoms and go without food in the war against the deadly Ebola, his ministers, officials and network of business associates, friends and families have been very busy enriching themselves with the Ebola funds.
This is serious criminal matter and the Audit report has exposed the depravity and moral bankruptcy of the Koroma led government, which after eight years in power has siphoned off over $200 million in foreign aid, public contract kickbacks, tax waivers, and misappropriation of state revenue.
Rather than handing over the report to the police for a full criminal investigation so that those responsible can be charged with fraud and corruption and taken to court, president Koroma has instead chosen to politicise the matter.
He has asked his friends and colleagues in the country’s parliament to spend the next two years smothering the report before elections are held in 2017. Most of the members of parliament are either members of the ruling party, or are sympathetic to the government because of favours received.
Members of parliament themselves are beneficiaries of the Ebola Funds, after receiving millions of dollars from president Koroma to help fight the virus in their respective constituencies.
Members of Parliament had each personally received thousands of dollars from the president.
In a press statement released yesterday, the president said that:
“Government notes the ongoing public interest concerning the auditor-general’s report on the audit of the management of the ebola funds which was received and tabled in parliament on Thursday 12th February, 2015. As the law provides, parliament will debate the audit report and make appropriate recommendations on the issues raised therein. Meanwhile the general public is encouraged to exercise patience and allow the due process to continue until it reaches its logical conclusion….”
But this is not a political issue, and parliament has no business muddying an already murky water, especially after many in Sierra Leone have called the payment of millions of dollars into the personal bank accounts of members of parliament by president Koroma as corrupt and unlawful.
The Audit report is quite clear – crimes have been committed, and it is now the responsibility of the police to take over the report and instigate swift and impartial investigations, which must be allowed to go wherever the evidence leads them.
This is why it is important that those named in the report must be immediately suspended from office, documents removed by the police and passports seized, pending the police investigations.
But what is known, from the history of this government is that, those at the top of the corrupt political food chain – State House officials, the minister of health and the head of the Ebola Response Centre, will be spared, while scapegoats at the periphery of the network will be slaughtered in sacrifice. (Photo: Head of Ebola Response Centre – Major Palo Conteh).
In the meantime, while parliament plays politics and president Koroma buys precious time, those responsible for this massive corruption will continue to bury their tracks by creating falsified documents and records to legitimise their fraudulent behaviour.
Whilst the report has focussed solely on unraveling the gross abuse of office involving the misappropriation of more than $18 million (84 Billion Leones), by government officials since the outbreak of the virus in May 2014 to October 2014, State House itself and the Office of the First Lady – the wife of the president, are yet to account for over $5 million donated directly into their coffers. And this must be investigated.
According to the Audit Office: “Since the outbreak and for the period to October 2014, the government has expended in excess of Le84 billion ($18 million). These were funds donated by institutions and individuals mostly within Sierra Leone and from tax revenues. The funds have been spent on personal protective equipment, medical sup-plies, consumables and incentive (hazard) payments to healthcare workers.”
Several government ministers, provincial district officers, district medical officers, heads of government agencies, Sierra Leonean diplomats serving overseas have all invariably, received Ebola donation – both financial and in-kind. They must be held accountable by the courts.
According to financial crime and forensic specialists, the complex web of Ebola corruption in Sierra Leone – presided over by State House in Freetown, may take several years to unravel – if at all.
But what is clearly obvious is that accountability lies squarely at the door step of president Koroma and his ruling APC party, whom, along with several others outside of the government – now vying to run the country in 2018, must never again be trusted with public office and public funds.
In an address to the nation several months ago, when evidence of rampant misappropriation of Ebola Funds was first uncovered, president Koroma threw verbal insults – saying that “those stealing Ebola funds have got blood in their hands”.
Now is the time for the president to come clean and show that the source of the rivers of Ebola blood does not run from State House across to government ministries and institutions.
The investigation found that; “There were inadequate controls over the disbursement of funds. For instance, payments which exceeded Le14 billion ($3.11 million) were made from the Emergency Health Response and Miscellaneous Accounts without any supporting documents to substantiate the utilisation of such funds. Further payments which exceeded Le11 billion ($2.44 million) were made from the same accounts without adequate supporting documents such as receipts, invoices, delivery notes, etc.”
“Contracts worth over Le1 billion (over $222,000) in respect of food for quarantined homes were awarded to various suppliers without regard to the provisions of the procurement regulation in relation to procurement in an emergency.”
“Withdrawals which amounted to Le15,815,495,120 from the Health Emergency Response Account (A/C:003001014138030145) and Le453,571,500 from MoHS Miscellaneous Account (A/C:003001115131030175) held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank were without any supporting documents.”
But that was just the tip of the iceberg, as paragraphs after paragraphs in the report tells a sickening story of immoral and naked abuse of office by corrupt ministers and officials.
Shamefully, it seems everyone, everyone – including professors and doctors with political connections to the ruling APC, are either on the take, or on the dodgy Ebola payroll – receiving paybacks for political or personal favours.
With the declining taxation and export revenues coming into the government’s coffers since the start of the Ebola virus in May 2014, ministers and state officials have been using the Ebola funds as their personal piggy banks, from which many have been able to become very rich.
This report confirms widespread suspicion that State House and several key ruling party executives, do not seriously want to see the end of Ebola in Sierra Leone – at least not before the end of 2015, by which time it would be too late to make preparations for the 2017 elections.
These are just some of the most damning evidence found by the Audit Office:
Madina Rahman – Deputy Minister of Health:
Withdrew Le750,000 without payment vouchers and supporting documents.
Kelfala Marah – Minister of Finance:
Withdrew Le3 million without adequate supporting documents for work relating to “enhancing the maintenance of project vehicles”.
Charles Mambu – Health For All Coalition (HFAC):
He received personal cheques in the amount of Le.360, 900, 000 ($72,180). Of this amount Le 200 million ($40,000) was for sensitization and the remaining Le160, 900,000 ($32,180) was a loan to HFAC. No loan agreement or details were provided or available. No evidence has been provided to show that HFAC or Charles Mambu has repaid the Ministry.
Duada J. B. Kallon – Member of Parliament representing Constituency 93 in Goderich:
He received Le110, 640,000 ($22, 128) for sensitization in addition to the Le.63,000,000 which was already provided to MPs. The Ministry paid Honorable Duada 3 days after he had already received the Le.63 million ($12,600) for the same work.
Yayah Tunis – ICT Director, Ministry of Health:
He received personal cheques in the amount of Le171,360,000 ($34,272) for adverts on radio and TV for which he has failed to provide receipts.
Delphine Caulker – Architectural Services Manager, Ministry of Health and Sanitation:
She received Le.708,442,300 ($141,688.46) for renovations to Lakka Government Hospital for which “neither progress reports nor expenditure returns including invoices, receipts etc. were submitted for audit inspection.”
Dr. Donald Bash-Taqi – Director of Hospitals:
He received a total of Le.66,600,000 ($13,320) from the Ebola Emergency Account without any supporting documents, nor is there any record of what the payment was for.
Kawusu Kebbay – Ministry of Health:
He was paid perdiem for 21 days to go to the United Arab Emirates to inspect ambulances being purchased for the ministry. He only spent 8 days in Dubai, but he has yet to return $7,546 for the remaining 13 days for which he was given DSA / per diem.
The following companies were awarded contracts without due regard to the country’s public procurement Laws; as well as government officials failing to provide supporting evidence:
Ramesco General Supplies were unlawfully awarded $7, 496, 423.97 to supply vehicles including 10 ambulances, 5 Toyota Hiluxs, 1 Toyota Landcruiser, and 48 motorbikes; medical supplies, PPEs, infrared thermometers, and chlorine.
Kingdom Security Logistics were unlawfully awarded $1,410,000 contract to supply 20 ambulances. Officials paid for air freighting of the ambulances, over and above that which was stated in the contract. The report says that only16 of the 20 ambulances have been delivered. Yet documents show that 17 ambulances were air freighted.
The report says: “It is apparent that the ministry overrides internal controls, thereby making way for the possible wastage of resources and increasing the risk of fraud. In the event the contractor fails to adequately perform the contract, the government would incur huge losses. It is also a clear indication that the agreement was badly drawn in a bid to prevent the payment of the 10% NRA withholding tax levied on foreign suppliers.”
CL Group was unlawfully awarded $889,900 contract to build the Kerry Town Ebola treatment center, the Port Loko Ebola Treatment Center and an Isolation Center.
The report says: “On these contracts procurement documents such as signed contract agreement, test and examination report on delivery, procurement committee minutes, bidders documents such as bill of quantities, building plan, etc., for the under mentioned contracts were not submitted for audit review.”
Royal International Supplies was unlawfully awarded $270,000 contract to supply 30 used vehicles of which the contract stipulated that Sierra Leone Roads Transport Authority was to inspect the vehicles before the payment was to be made. No evidence exists that this happened. Within two weeks of the vehicles being supplied the government paid $10,909.50 for repairs of the same vehicles.
The report says: “This may undermine competitive pricing and may increase the risk of substandard vehicles being supplied, thereby impending the efficiency of the Ebola Emergency Response strategy. Substandard vehicles may have been delivered to the ministry, with the ministry incurring additional cost of repairing such vehicles within fifteen (15) days of the procurement and delivery of the vehicles. This may lead to the loss of limited resources and create an avenue for fraud.”
Kamasseh Construction and Engineering Services was unlawfully awarded $103,448 contract to construct a fence, staff toilets, and utility bay at the Lakka Government Hospital.
The report says “The Ebola Audit Report recommends that the ministry’s failure to follow the right procurement process and to produce retirement details should result in the matter being referred to the appropriate authority.”
This is a disgraceful, shocking and damning report that clearly indicts the entire Koroma government for failing to provide governance when it mattered most – at a time when thousands of Sierra Leoneans were dying and millions going hungry and without clean drinking water.
The government failed woefully to provide the most basic of protective wear for doctors, nurses and Ebola burial teams, whilst ministers, government officials and their network of friends and families were busy enriching themselves with Ebola funds.
This report is a criminal matter and investigation must commence immediately by the police, so that charges can be brought against those suspected of theft, fraud and corruption.
And as Amadu Lamrana Bah says: “All of us as Citizens of Sierra Leone must rise up and shout out loud on this damming report from the Auditor General’s Office. On several occasions President Koroma has warned those that are handling ebola funds against corruption and now there is evidence that some people in and out of his government have been doing it. This report is very shameful in the eyes of our international partners and we must not sit by and allow this to be another buff case like other reports.”
President Koroma and the First Lady are yet to fully account for over $5 million donated into their personal care to help the people of Sierra Leone manage the Ebola crisis.
As Sierra Leoneans we are sick and tired of being branded by the rest of the world as the most corrupt, the poorest, the dirtiest, the darkest, and most barbaric (cut hand – cut foot) in the world.
Let us for once prove that we can not only hold those entrusted with public office accountable, but that they can face the full weight of the law without fear or favour.
Let the police investigation begin now, and let it go wherever the Audit report evidence leads them.
You can also follow this developing story at Switsalone.com