‘Contempt of Parliament’…

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Steven Gaojia detained at CID

March 3, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura

NERC Coordinator Steven Gaojia
NERC Coordinator Steven Gaojia

National Coordinator of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), Steven Gaojia, was yesterday ordered by members of the parliamentary Public Account Committee (PAC) to be detained at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for referring to the auditors working for Audit Service Sierra Leone as “so called auditors”.

Mr. Gaojia’s arrest came as PAC continues to look into a damning real time audit report on the management of Ebola funds between May and October 2014, which indicates massive misappropriation of funds by individuals in government, civil society and private businesses.

He served as head of the Emergency Operations Centre briefly during that period before it was transformed to NERC by President Ernest Bai Koroma, where he is now the second-in-command, with Retired Major Alfred Palo Conteh serving as Chief Executive Officer.

During the hearing in parliament yesterday, Deputy Auditor General, Tamba Momoh, questioned the Director of Finance Festus Kuyembeh on payment of ‘hazard pay’ to healthcare workers and volunteers nationwide amounting to Le25,500,900,000 between the period May to 31 October without supporting documents as claim sheets and paid-up vouchers were not submitted for inspection.

Momoh said monies might have been used for purposes unrelated to combating the Ebola epidemic, thus leading to a delay in eradicating the virus and stemming loss of thousands of lives.

He also disclosed that Le4,618,000,000 has been recovered from hospitals across the country, leaving a balance of Le20,882,000,000 that is still unaccounted for.

But Kuyembeh stated that no fewer than 95% of the outstanding payment had been made, noting that at the time auditors went for inspection the account was under the supervision of the Emergency Operations Centre.

However, the deputy auditor general argued that the Ebola response account was under the Ministry of Health and not the Emergency Operations Centre.

Gaojia then seemed to have suggested that in order to do a proper audit, “the so-called auditors should not have done the auditing in this real time as the country is now under emergency situation”, adding that they should contact KPMG and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development if they want ‘real’ evidence.

Momoh angrily challenged the NERC coordinator as to his statement, stating that he had worked in England and Sierra Leone and was over-qualified to do his work, and that the same applies to his colleagues.

Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Chernoh M. Bah, then cautioned Gaojia as to his statement and requested that he withdrew his comment but the latter refused to do so.

His refusal prompted Hon. Bah to order police officers deployed at parliament to take Mr. Gaojia into detention at the CID headquarters.

His Administrative Officer, Mohamed L.J. Kamara, was also detained at the police post in parliament for attempting to obstruct the police as he protested the way and manner they arrested his boss, whom he contended was ‘a man of integrity’.

In addition, Momoh told PAC members that serial numbering of names of healthcare workers provided by the Makeni government hospital was distorted with gaps in the numbering of entitled beneficiaries on a claim sheet for an amount of Le571,200,000. He said an anomaly was spotted in the list submitted for payments to 271 names, amounting to Le216,800,000.

However, Kuyembeh explained that at the time of auditing, health ministry officials were unable to contact hospital management staff, as according to him, they were all busy in the emergency.
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Meanwhile, Concord Times was reliably informed last night that Mr. Gaojia was released from detention late in the evening after the intervention of a senior lawmaker.