- but SLPP MPs want more officials punished
July 15, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Opposition Members of Parliament yesterday said their colleagues in the Public Accounts Committee should have punished more instead of only three officials in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation following a damning audit report which indicated widespread violation of procurement rules and mismanagement.
The Public Accounts Committee, following two months of public hearing on the Audit Service Report in the management of Ebola funds, tabled their report in Parliament on 4 June, 2015. The committee recommended that the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Sadiq M. Kapuwa; Director of Financial Resources, Festus A. Kuyembeh; and Senior Procurement Officer, Ibrahim B. Swaray, should be suspended for six months without pay.
However, opposition lawmakers thought more heads should have rolled as the damning audit report pointed accusing fingers at many names, both in government and civil society.
According to Hon. Foday Rado Yokie, the committee did a good work although there were inconsistencies in their observations such as their failure to note that an ad-hoc committee was constituted at the beginning of the outbreak known as the ‘case management team’, and chaired by the then Minister of Health, Miatta Kargbo, deputised by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo and headed by Dr. Bash Taqi.
He said that ‘case management team’ rendered the procurement committee redundant, thus indicating that the aforementioned names should have been reprimanded together with the three officials who were singled out.
Hon. Yokie said those other officials embezzled public funds and should not go scot free, adding that unpaid withholding taxes emanating from procurement transactions should be paid with immediate effect.
Hon. Isata Kabia, a ruling party lawmaker, said the emergency situation should not be an excuse for misappropriating public funds, and that the creation of a ‘case management team’ does not exempt the Procurement Office from doing their work.
She submitted that the committee should not recommend the rotation of ‘criminals’, rather they should be demoted, to show toughness and demonstrate that justice is meted out to everybody, least Parliament be considered as ‘rubberstamp’.
On his part, another opposition lawmaker, Hon. Sualiho M. Koroma, said the recommendations proffered by the committee are harsh and put the work of the individuals at risk, adding that President Ernest Bai Koroma had urged Civil Servants to refrain from bureaucracy during an emergency such as the Ebola outbreak.
He said the report clearly states that there was evidence of systemic failure in administration and management functions within the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, yet only three officials were punished, leaving many more off the hook.
“These officials were only working from orders from their superiors and not by themselves as it was only after meetings had been held that they were called upon to do procurement and signing of papers without questions being asked, which could have led to their dismissal from work. They were working in emergency. The procurement of the 20 used vehicles was signed by Kawusu Kebbey and not the Procurement Officer but yet he [the procurement officer] is being punished for things he was not involved in the process [sic],” said Hon. Koroma.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Hon. Chernoh R.M. Bah, said the auditing exercise was carried in the Ministry of Health and not at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, thus officials in the latter were only queried while those in the former were punished.
He said auditing cannot be done in vacuum and “we cannot act beyond our limit. Our responsibility is not to catch thieves but to conduct hearings and then make recommendations”.
He added that, “The report is not a bar to other actors or other competent bodies that might consider other actions appropriate.”
The report was subsequently adopted by the House.