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Ebola funds: Urgent need for Transparency and Accountability

OCTOBER 20, 2014 By Gabriel Benjamin

Last week, news about an additional $1 billion to fight the menace posed to Sierra Leone by the Ebola virus was awash in the media. Accompanying the news was that, the only district that had stood shoulder tall amongst the comity of districts – Koinadugu – has finally bowed to the superior power of the Ebola Virus Disease as two confirmed cases were reported. This development paints a familiar image of Sierra Leoneans – vulnerable to unforced errors and man-made mistakes, selfishness, incompetence and wickedness. However, when Sierra Leoneans are focused and work as a team, they succeed.

Decades of rot in the health system have caused the Ebola Virus to spiral out of control. Families have lost their loved ones and in some cases their breadwinners. More worrisome is government’s willingness to spend another $1 billion to fight the Ebola Virus.

President Koroma needs to pay more attention to finding a lasting and ending solution to the Ebola Virus scourge ravaging the country. No amount of packaged good news about the needed $1 billion will make Sierra Leoneans key into it.

The country has lost her finest medical personnel, yet there is a clarion call for another $1 billion. In the last six months the virus has killed hundreds of Sierra Leoneans with dozens still hospitalized in the various holding and treatment centers across the country, yet they need another $1 billion. The deaths being recorded across the country have continued to put her in negative spotlight and they want another $1 billion. The government has gotten over Le65 billion since the outbreak of the Ebola Virus in the country, but a major chunk of the funds may have been misspent – yet they want another $1 billion.

There have been constant complaints from the burial teams and nurses alike about their allowances not being paid as at when due despite monies voted for their risk allowance. The suggestion for another $1 billion is hollow because billions of Leones has been donated and deposited in the Emergency Operation Accounts. Disbursements have not been properly accounted for, whilst the Ebola Virus rages on with its devastating consequences.

Pundits have continued to ask where are we headed for as a country after having received so much – cash and kind – from international partners, foreign missions, donor agencies, religious organizations and well spirited statesmen; do we still need another $1 billion to stem the tide of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country? Your guess is as good as mine.

KPMG, a reputable auditing and accounting firm contracted by the government, with auspices from the Emergency Operations Centre, only recently pulled out as independent accountant and manager of the Ebola funds for reasons which the government has not been able to substantiate. This may not be unconnected with KPMG’s stringent and uncompromising ethics in procurement, management and disbursement of the Ebola funds. One will make bold to say that there is mismanagement and misappropriation of the Ebola funds – part of the reasons why the Ebola Virus has continued to spiral out of control.

The Ebola Virus has continued to ravage Sierra Leone since May 2014. This has become a subject of discussion both locally and internationally. The leadership of President Koroma – a ‘charismatic leader’ as seen by the international community – has grappled in various ways to control its widespread in the country. The radical and geometrical way the Ebola Virus is spreading has been a source of worry to all stakeholders and development partners alike.  The virus has polluted and stigmatized the country.  Everyone is in uttermost disarray.

The Ebola Virus outbreak has made the country a bottom destination for foreign direct investment. The once enviable position of “Africa’s fastest growing economy”, which the country had occupied, has slipped off her hands. Investors are no more willing to come to invest in the country as the fear of contracting the Ebola Virus far outweighs the fear of returns in investment.

What is more distressful about the $1 billion is its remoteness to ordinary Sierra Leoneans as the lion is to its prey. The World Health Organization has said many children have become orphans and homeless. These are children who have lost their parents to the Ebola Virus. How to get the kids off the street should be at the front burner of the government and not the ‘offensive announcement’ of the additional $1 billion to fight the Ebola Virus.

Negative sentiments aside, genuine interest of Sierra Leone has been on the downward trend and in short supply since the outbreak of the Ebola Virus. Only a handful of Sierra Leoneans have been willing to take calculated risks, give until they drop, spend and be spent and make sacrificial pains without seeking for undue attention and subsequently, reward from the State.

President Koroma need not allow his presidency to come under intense criticism both at home and in the Diaspora for its failure to contain the spread of the Ebola Virus despite receiving huge funds and wanting another $1 billion. He need be reminded that selfishness and wickedness are a threat to the unity of a people all over the world.

Finally, incompetence, cluelessness and corruption should not be allowed to thrive in Sierra Leone. Putting more money in the hands of incompetent, clueless and massively corrupt individuals can only encourage more incompetence, cluelessness and corruption, with no indication of how soon the virus will come to an end.

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