Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 July 2020:
The president of the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) has criticised the government’s decision to spend much needed cash on luxurious Toyota SUVs, estimated at almost $2 million, instead of buying medicines and PPEs for hospitals.
Last month, the government of president Julius Maada Bio imported dozens of luxurious Toyota SUVs for the use of government ministers and staff managing the COVID-19 Emergency Response. It is estimated that each of the SUVs costs approximately $60,000.
There are reports of several nurses and doctors not receiving their salaries, whilst sick patients kept in dreadful conditions in Covid-19 isolation and quarantine centres are deprived of sufficient food, water and medicines.
Sierra Leone’s healthcare system lacks investments. Doctors and nurses are poorly paid, and very often do not get their salaries for several months. Hospitals are ill-equipped and under-resourced.
Far too many people are dying in hospital wards because of poor diagnosis and lack of medicines.
Since the Ebola pandemic in 2014 and now COVID-19, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into the country’s healthcare system; but because of corruption and poor prioritisation, less than 40% of government budget is actually spent where its needed to save lives.
Yesterday, the President of the SLMDA – Dr. Delwin M. Findlay, wrote to his members of the SLMDA. This is what he said:
“Good Day all. I am taking this step to update you all on the ongoing health situation in Sierra Leone as concerns our doctors.
“Today 30th June marks the end of the initial 3 – month agreement by government of Sierra Leone with Healthcare workers on COVID-19 allowances.
“By a press release from the Ministry of Finance on 2nd June 2020, which erroneously stated that all allowances to date had already been paid. The SLMDA released a counter statement debunking the claims of the Ministry of Finance.
“As a result of thi,s the payslip of Dr. Samba Jalloh, General Secretary of SLMDA was published on social media with comments that he had already been paid and that the views of the SLMDA were politically motivated influenced by myself the President of SLMDA.
“Our investigations revealed that little or no effort was made to obtain and verify lists of staff at Isolation and Treatment Centres. It seemed that the authorities were devoid of a working plan to do the verification.
“The executive team headed by the Vice-President, undertook to obtain lists from all Medical Superintendents nationwide, unaided by the Ministry of Finance or any other form of logistics. These lists were produced and have been in the possession of IHPAU, NACOVERC and the Ministry of Finance for more than 2 (two) weeks and still payments have not been made.
“To date we as an association have lost 2 (two) members to COVID-19, Dr. Samuel B. Sesay and Dr. Peter M. George. May their gentle souls rest in peace.
“One of the points on the MOU with the Government of Sierra Leone was the provision of a compensation to the families of deceased doctors. This has now been developed into a Special COVID-19 Life Insurance Policy under the National Insurance Company with GOSL paying the Premium for initial one year.
“This policy includes a compensation of 15% of annual gross salary to any doctor that contracts COVID-19 and survives; Death compensation of 24 (twenty four) months gross salary to the next of kin of the deceased; Critical Illness compensation of up to 50% annual gross salary for any verifiable costs incurred during illness. This will come into effect on 1st July 2020
“The two already deceased doctors are not within the coverage period of this policy. However the compensation to the families of Dr. Samuel Sesay and Dr. Peter George will be paid by GOSL.
“This policy will remain in place after COVID-19 as a Life Insurance Policy for all government doctors.
“Availability of drugs and supplies in Isolation and Treatment Centres is a big headache. With all the money flowing into the COVID-19 fight it seems ”it is easier and more important to buy brand new SUVs than buying much needed drugs and equipment for Isolation and treatment centres, making us the laughing stock of Africa and the world”.
“The Non-COVID Services are being neglected. Everyday are reports of shortages especially with the Free Healthcare services. No sutures, even paracetamol for children are not available. We as an executive will continue to impress on MOHS on the need for basic supplies. If announcements are made on Electronic media everyday supplies should be made available as a matter of must.
“My colleagues I implore you to continue working today 30th June 2020, Tomorrow July 1st 2020 is another day.
“Please treat every case until proven otherwise, as potentially infected with COVID-19.”
Commenting on the government’s purchase of 30 luxurious SUVs, a local journalist wrote: “Whilst other countries have government officials cutting down on their salaries to help their governments tackle huge burden on poor citizens, ours are here importing very expensive vehicles claiming to fight Coronavirus Pandemic in Sierra Leone.
“In Sierra Leone, 30 SUVs and 100 Motor Bikes purchased by the Ministry of Finance for Districts and Central Emergency Operations Centers costing Le 5,928,300,000 (five billion, nine hundred and twenty-eight million, three hundred thousand Leones).
“Sad, yet we have frontline health workers who don’t even have gloves, facemasks to handle minor illnesses. Yet, we have health workers who have worked for weeks without salaries and allowances.
“Now to the relevance of the vehicles, I stand to be corrected here, but almost all the management staff of Covid-19 in Sierra Leone already have official vehicles in their service to the state. The Head of EOC is Minister of Defense, he has his official vehicle as Defense Minister. So have others, including the Spokesman of EOC who is Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Western Area Coordinate of EOC Miatta French who is NEC Western Area Commissioner. All of them have official vehicles assigned to them on behalf of the state.
“Why not use this money to provide for people under quarantine? I felt disgusted, and outraged when senior colleague Umaru Fofana reported on BBC Focus on Africa that, there are people under quarantine in Sierra Leone who survive on a single sachet of water (less than 1 litre) a day. Yet we have money to buy vehicles for people who already have official vehicles when you cannot even provide proper quarantine facilities for infected persons in the provinces. Is this not total misplace of priorities?”
Since coming to power in April 2018, the government of president Julius Maada has received over a Billion Dollars in foreign aid and loans to invest in improving public service delivery, and promote economic growth. But there are fears most of that money are being wasted on luxurious and unnecessary spending, with little or no accountability.