February 23, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
“There are some people, from all regions, professions, and age groups, who want to use this moment to make money. We must resist them. There are people who don’t work but want to hide under the cover of those who work to get paid; we must expose them. There are people who are not involved in raising awareness about the disease, but who are raising funds to siphon unto selfish ends, we must bring these shameless crooks to book. Government agencies stand instructed to keep record of all Ebola related transactions for accountability now and a more thorough auditing of the process” – President Ernest Koroma, 2015.
Following the Ebola outbreak in the country, there has been a massive inflow of funds to fight the virus. Monies have come from the government, individuals, institutions and other international bodies. The audit report was therefore undertaken to ascertain if these allocations and donations were utilized efficiently and transparently and if financial internal controls were observed appropriately.
When news filtered in that the Deputy Auditor General from the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), Tamba Momoh, will present a report of its findings on Ebola funds to Parliament, many thought it was long overdue.
There have been several calls from well-meaning Sierra Leoneans from various sectors for a thorough look into how Ebola funds are being utilized. This was as allegation and counter-allegation of ‘who chopped what’ and ‘who got what’ flew over the air.
In October 2014 KPMG, a reputable auditing and accounting firm contracted by the government, under the auspices of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) now National Ebola Response Center (NERC), pulled out of the Ebola funds as ‘independent accountant and manager’ for reasons that the government has not been able to substantiate till date. But there are speculations it was connected with KPMG’s stringent and uncompromising ethics in procurement, management and disbursement of the Ebola funds.
Little wonder that when needed, ASSL graciously delivered, letting Sierra Leoneans know how Ebola funds were mismanaged between May and October, 2014. ASSL never bowed to pressure; neither did it flinch in the face of such daunting exercise. ASSL has been vindicated. Our fears, worries and anxiety have been doused temporally. We can now take solace, having seen the first part of the audit report while we wait anxiously for the second part.
The controversial decisions of the parliament that “no one should talk about the Ebola Audit Report neither should anyone who have been indicted by the report honor invitation from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) because the matter is before the parliament; hence exclusively within its purview”, alongside tantrums that have trailed the report have sent tongues wagging and shivers down the spine of citizens. The cry of a ‘foul play’ and ‘witch-hunting’ raised by those who have been directly indicted in the report is also worrisome.
It is good that opposition MPs have come out to distance themselves from the statement credited to the Ruling Party House Majority Leader, Hon. Ibrahim R. Bundu, that the Anti-Corruption Commission cannot press ahead with investigating people suspected to have misappropriated Ebola funds because the matter is before the House.
The ASSL audit report mentions inadequate controls over the disbursement of funds, payments being made without sufficient documents to substantiate their utilization, overwhelming number of requests from various individuals, non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians and duplication of payments for sensitization activities in different parts of the country.
The Executive Director of Health For All Coalition (HFAC), Charles Mambu, said that despite a good number of individuals and institutions collecting money for various activities in the Ebola fight as highlighted in the audit report, he was disappointed that only his name and that of his institution were mentioned in the executive summary of the report. He feels that it was another deliberate attempt to ridicule him in the eyes of the general public, as well as tarnish the credibility of his institution because most of the allegations in the report apply to other individuals and institutions. He believes he was being targeted by the report while other institutions like the Office of National Security, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, the Sierra Leone Police, and MPs, among others, were being left out.
As public interest continues to grow over the report, President Ernest Bai Koroma has reassured both local and international communities that individuals and institutions found guilty of misappropriating funds meant for the fight against Ebola in the country will face the full force of the law. He encouraged everyone to exercise patience and allow allegations in the report to be investigated.
With the ACC tendering an unreserved apology to the country’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, for wrongfully including his name among those indicted by the report, and for inviting to the commission Bishop Abu Koroma, the General Overseer of Flaming Evangelical Bible Church, many are now spewing fire that the report is riddled with flaws. They say that the audit team did not contact him (Bishop Koroma) to get clarification over the Le100,000,000 donation his ministry made to the EOC before presenting the report to parliament. With dealings apparently now portrayed as dubitable by the report, the last is yet to be heard.
But, ASSL and the ACC will now need to get tough and be firmer than they have been as this remains the only antidote for highly perverse and dishonest individuals, state actors and institutions that catch on every little opportunity to serve their narcissistic interests. A typical example is the case of the 39 persons already indicted and summoned by the ACC.
There should be no leniency for all those whose actions and inaction have wittingly or unwittingly led to the death of over 3,000 of our countrymen and women and have placed the economy at rock bottom. Sanctions that will be meted out to all corrupt, shameless and shameful acts in the cause of defeating Ebola should not be a slap on the wrist. The big stick must be wielded.