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Mismanagement of Sierra Leone’s Ebola spending

In May-October 2014 the Sierra Leone government spent more than 84 billion Leones (Le) (approx. US$19m) tackling the Ebola epidemic.  A damning report by the Auditor-General, Lara Taylor-Pearce, was published on 13 February 2015, examining this expenditure.  It found that 30% of the money was disbursed without proper supporting documentation.

Particular criticism was directed at a failure to follow procurement procedures set out in the Public Procurement Act of 2004.  The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) was the major culprit, issuing contracts despite inadequate bidder documentation and without carrying out the necessary due diligence.  Government employee justification that procurement procedures could be waived because of the prevailing state of emergency is not supported by legislation, according to the report.  In short, incompetently written contracts and poor controls over the disbursement of funds were commonplace.

Here are some inconsistencies outlined in the report:

  • Incentive payments for frontline health workers totalled Le26 billion, but there was no substantive proof given to the auditors that such payments reached intended recipients.
  • In Makeni Government Hospital the frontline healthcare workers incentive payment list was found to include 271 ghost names. Payments totalling Le216m remain unaccounted for.
  • MoHS failed to produce any documentation for contract agreements totalling Le17 billion, including Le12.7 billion for the purchase of 50 vehicles and ambulances and Le2.7 billion for the construction of an Ebola treatment centre in the northern district of Port Loko.
  • Withholding taxes amounting to Le526 million were not deducted and paid over to the National Revenue Authority from payments made to various suppliers and contractors.
  • A contract for 20 ambulances was signed between MoHS and Kingdom Security Logistics. However, payment for the ambulances was made to a United Arab Emirates bank account in the name of Uniworld General Trading LLC. Four of the ambulances have still not been supplied.
  • MoHS required bidders for medical supplies contracts to submit a Pharmacy Board License/Registration with their documentation. A US$4m contract was awarded to Ramesco even though the company did not submit the requisite license.

The Office of the President released a statement responding to the report: “Government notes the ongoing public interest concerning the Auditor-General’s report… the law provides, parliament will debate the audit report and make appropriate recommendations on the issues raised therein…..Government attaches paramount importance to the judicious use of the Ebola funds and will ensure proper accountability for the use of these funds……those who are found guilty of misusing Ebola funds will face the full force of the law”.

There is widespread anger at the misuse of funds.

  • The opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) has called on the Government to launch “a public inquiry into the audit report and the management of the national fight of the Ebola Virus Disease since May 2014 to present and to bring all wrong doers to book”.
  • A report in the Sierra Leone Telegraph speculates that “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”.
  • Swit Salone provides details of the five biggest Ebola deals and questions the transparency of the contractors.
  • The Citizens Campaign for Accountability and Justice have called for an urgent probe into the audit by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
  • Sierra Leonean Alie Kabba, executive director at United African Organization, wrote in an open letter to the President Koroma: “To think that your government presided over such ignoble corruption with money that should have gone to the Ebola response is a depressing day indeed for our country”.

On 17 February, Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission issued a public notice calling on 40 named individuals, institutions and companies to report to its offices. All District Medical Officers will be summoned at a later date.

Jamie Hitchen is Policy Researcher at ARI

Image courtesy of Sierra Leone Telegraph