Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 February 2015
For the past week, I have been following with dismay the events at home, surrounding the publication of the Report of the Auditor-General on the Audit of the Management of the Ebola Funds, covering the period from May to October 2014. (Photo: Julius Maada Bio).
Like many Sierra Leoneans, I am utterly disappointed that at a time when we should all be focussing on eradicating the terrible Ebola virus from our country and redirecting our resources to rebuilding the broken lives of our people, the international spotlight is once again on Sierra Leone and all for the wrong reason – the alleged mismanagement of the Ebola Funds.
Even more disheartening is the fact that amongst the countries worst hit by the disease, Sierra Leone is so far the only country where an audit report has emerged revealing such large-scale misappropriation and mismanagement of Ebola Funds.
Apart from this being a most serious indictment about the handling of the Ebola outbreak, the media both at home and abroad have generated so much adverse publicity that it is likely to undermine the country’s international reputation and development effort for a considerable time in the future.
According to the Audit Report, for the period from May to October 2014 alone, Government has expended in excess of Le 84 Billion from funds donated by various individuals, institutions as well as from tax revenues.
On 30 July 2014, in a public broadcast, you informed the nation of your decision to establish a Presidential Task Force on Ebola with you as Chairman, and that your Government was setting up a Special Account into which all donations would be deposited from all and sundry, including corporate entities, individuals and organisations, for the fight against the Ebola Disease. (Photo: President Koroma).
You gave the nation the complete assurance that this Special Account would be judiciously managed and applied under your direct authority. Following this assurance, huge donations from various sources went into that Account and some passed through your hands in the full glare of media publicity.
Mr. President, the Audit Report of this Special Account now alleges, inter alia, that the management and supervision of the Special Account by the Presidential Task Force has been either wholly insufficient or has fallen considerably below public expectation.
As a matter of fact, there appears to have been, as with similar Audit Reports associated with the ordinary Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) in recent years, a systemic problem relating to the non-adherence of established procurement rules and procedures and inadequate control of disbursements of public funds.
Worse still, there is abundant evidence that points to the recommendations contained in previous Audit Reports of the CRF not being implemented at all or are completely ignored under the administration of your Government.
All of these, and more, palpably point to a failure of political leadership to the detriment of the good governance that our country so desperately needs.
Mr. President, your recent pronouncement that international organisations which also receive funds for the Ebola Virus Disease should be equally accountable, while commendable in principle, is unfortunately mis-timed, coming as it does when a damning Audit Report has unearthed a seemingly colossal mismanagement of Ebola funds donated to your Government.
Many might even construe this as nothing more than a puerile attempt to divert public attention from the serious allegations raised in the Audit Report of the Auditor-General presently under review.
It is my considered opinion that whilst we remain preoccupied with the serious task of ridding our country of the devastating Ebola virus, this principal commitment should remain undiluted in any way, and our gratitude should be unflinching to both countries and international organisations that have come to our aid.
In this regard, I would like to mention especially the Governments of the United Kingdom, United States, China, Cuba, Australia, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, Netherlands, Nigeria and the other member states of the African Union.
Mr. President, many of our citizens have also been shocked by the recent unfortunate utterances by the Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business in Parliament regarding his avowed exclusion of public discussion of the Auditor-General’s Report on the Ebola Funds.
His utterances, which are tantamount to a denial of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in our National Constitution and should therefore be frowned upon by all, they simply have no place in our modern democracy. (Photo: Bundu – Government leader in parliament).
Accordingly, I share fully the views expressed by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the Sierra Leone Bar Association on the matter.
In light of the foregoing, may I respectfully implore you, Mr. President, to give urgent consideration to the recommendations of my Party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), on the Audit Report aforesaid contained in its Press Release of 14 February 2015.
Furthermore, I would request that you consider the following:
- That the matter of the Auditor-General’s Audit Report on the Management of the Ebola Fund be made the subject of a thorough examination and scrutiny by a Special Judicial Commission headed by a Chairman, preferably a Senior Judge from the United Kingdom appointed by the British Government. This is vital for restoring both our national and international credibility especially in light of the adverse international publicity that the current Audit Report has engendered since its publication.
- That further remedial action by either Parliament or the ACC await the findings of the proposed Special Judicial Commission.
- That clear guidelines be set out for the management of the Ebola Funds to prevent any further mismanagement and misuse of these funds.
- That a further audit be carried out on the management of the Ebola Funds from November 2014 until Sierra Leone is declared by the WHO as free of the Ebola Virus.
- That, as recommended by the SLPP, all Audit Reports on the Ebola Funds be debated by the Whole House of Parliament before being sent to any Select Committee, where necessary.
- That all persons found culpable in regard to the misuse and misapplication of the Ebola Funds be held accountable
Mr. President, you are on record as having stated that the “Ebola money is Blood Money” and I totally agree with you on that.
This is why it is absolutely important that you take all measures necessary to bring all culprits to account, no matter who they may be.
With abiding respect,
Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio
SLPP Presidential Candidate 2012; Currently Senior Research Fellow at the John & Elnoral Ferguson Centre for African Studies (JEFCAS), University of Bradford.