Sierra Leone Promises Probe intoMissing Ebola Funds
An internal audit found that nearly one-third of the money received to fight Ebola was spent without providing receipts and invoices to justify the spending.
In their report released late last week, the auditors cited “inadequate controls” over the disbursement of funds, hazard payments being made to hospitals with no proof the money was actually going to the health workers on the frontline and in some cases a “complete disregard for the law” in procurement.
The $5.75 million in funds without spending documentation represents about a third of the total $19.32 million under review. The money came primarily from institutions and individuals donating from mostly within Sierra Leone, and from tax revenue.
These undocumented losses may have slowed the country’s emergency response to the Ebola outbreak and may have led to unnecessary loss of life, the authors of a detailed report on the crisis said.
In an extensive report by The Guardian newspaper, a spot review found that army and police personnel were included on a list of workers to receive hazard money “even though funds had been transferred to both forces to meet the deployment of their officers”.
In the town of Makeni, where workers in one hospital went on strike because they had not received hazard payments, there were concerns that some money was diverted to non-existent ghost workers.
One member of parliament was singled out in the report when it appeared that payments were made to him to carry out sensitization programs even though an amount had earlier been paid to all seating MPs.
The head of the Health For All Coalition has also been asked to explain himself after checks were made out to him personally instead of his organization. The ministry of health has since disputed the amount of money allocated to the Coalition and promised to hand over “all documentary evidence” to the auditors, who said this case was of the “utmost concern”.
In an official press release, the president promised to “ensure full accountability” and warned that anyone found guilty of misusing Ebola funds would face the full force of the law.
The report by Sierra Leone’s Auditor General covered the months of May through October 2014, after which the Ebola response was handed over to the Defense Ministry. The Auditors looked at donations received directly by the government to fight Ebola.
“It is clear from our audit conducted that there continue to be lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector,” the report stated.