March 10, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Members of the Public Account Committee (PAC) of Parliament last Friday urged the Director of Health for All Coalition, Charles Mambu, to repay the amount of Le160 million he had obtained as “loan” from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, as “the money belongs to the people of Sierra Leone”.
Chairman of the committee and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Chernoh R.M. Bah, stated that no law accords the civil society activist the right to take a loan from the country’s coffer without the knowledge and approval of Parliament, noting that the act was criminal and therefore the money should be refunded with immediate effect.
According to the Deputy Auditor General, Tamba Momoh, auditors observed during the audit of the management of Ebola funds that Le421,800,000 was disbursed from the Ministry of Health’s miscellaneous account as loan to Health for All Coalition for scaling up of the current Ebola outbreak with the understanding that it would be repaid when funds would be received from UNICEF, although further scrutiny of the payment documents revealed that six cheques valued Le360,900,000 of the total money disbursed between 9th June and 10th July were made in the name of Charles Mambu, Executive Director of Health for All Coalition.
He said documentary evidence showing repayment terms and conditions for the loan were neither submitted for audit inspection nor terms and conditions stated in the request letter signed by Mr. Mambu on behalf of Health for All Coalition, adding that up to the time of writing the report (which was published on 12 February, 2015), the loan repayment was still be done.
Mambu maintained that the ministry had failed to provide adequate explanation of the reason for the payment to Charles Mambu and not directly to HFAC, but failed to provide details of the loan agreement with HFAC as there was no evidence to confirm that the loan amount of Le160,900,000 was repaid by the HFAC to the ministry.
Responding to the committee, Charles Mambu said the loan was to “scale up the fight against Ebola” after he wrote a letter on 3rd June, 2014, to the Ministry of Health requesting for Le60,900,000 to undertake sensitisation in Kenema, Kono and Kailahun – which eventually became the worst hit districts – according to him “based on the activity surrounded and the urgency that was at hand”.
He admitted to not repaying the loan even when the WHO and UNICEF had given him money, according to him, after he had made a submission to the ministry which he could not explain, and was asked by the ministry to retire all expenses made with the funds provided which he did and submitted to the ministry.
He added that he was given a cheque which was cashed on counter at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, as neither he nor his organisation has an account with the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, but the First International Bank and the Standard Chartered Bank, where the said amount was deposited. However, the said money was deposited in his personal account, instead of the HFAC account, it emerged at the hearing.
According to sacked Minister of Health and Sanitation, Ms. Miatta Kargbo, who was also asked to testify, the former Emergency Operations Center (now renamed National Ebola Response Centre) had decided that WHO and UNICEF provide the loan, but WHO at the time did not have money, hence the ministry then decided to pre-finance HFAC with the amount of Le60,900,000 to be refunded after WHO remits their money.
She said the Ministry of Finance disbursed the money to HFAC and numerous organisations via the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, adding that she only authorised payment to HFAC, not Charles Mambu.
But erstwhile Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Sadiq Kapuwa, said he was given verbal instruction to disburse the money with immediate effect by the then minister, who now works at the Strategic Policy Unit at State House.
In his contribution, Hon. Hassan Sheriff noted that it was unprecedented for a government institution to give loan to any organisation without a written agreement.
He said even though the HFAC has accounts at two local banks their bank balance at the First International Bank as at June 2014 was Le4,298, which according to the ruling party MP is a disgrace and embarrassment and a pointer that Mr. Charles Mambu had failed to be transparent and accountable to the nation.
Meanwhile, Hon. Bah reiterated that Mr. Mambu should repay the loan as the bank statement shows that the institution was bankrupt despite the numerous activities they claim to have undertaken across the country, adding that the HFAC had used Ebola funds to recapitalise their depleted accounts, at the expense of thousands of deaths across the country.