SIERRA LEONE PROMISES PROBE INTO MASSIVE EBOLA FUNDS SWINDLE

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Feb. 16 (GIN) - A full investigation will be conducted into multiple failures of accountability regarding the use of 5 million dollars in funds sent for the fight against Ebola, the government of Sierra Leone has pledged.

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 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 dollars in questionable spending represents about a third of the total 19.32 million dollars now under review. The money came primarily from institutions and individuals mostly within Sierra Leone, and from tax revenue.

These possibly diverted monies to private pockets may have slowed the country’s emergency response to the Ebola outbreak and may have led to unnecessary loss of life, speculated the authors of the damaging report.

In an extensive examination 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 paid 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 he had been paid earlier along with all seating MPs.

Other irregularities cited by the Audit Service Sierra Leone included questionable awards of contracts and management of the funds totaling over 30 million dollars meant for purchases of ambulances, building of treatment centers and payment of Ebola front line workers.

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. Two years ago the group received high marks from the UNFPA for monitoring the free healthcare scheme and reporting on thefts of free drugs. 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.

Taking to the airwaves, the political opposition vented its indignation at the unfolding scandal, saying it was “stunned by the level of unruliness and sleaze that has pervaded the management of the nation’s fight against the Ebola scourge.”

“It is an open secret that the ruling party used the fight against the deadly Ebola disease as a means to enrich their supporters and to corrupt some civil society activists whose services were engaged in the Ebola sensitization effort,” the Sierra Leone People’s Party was quoted to say.

Meanwhile, a British health care volunteer is being transported inside an isolation unit to the UK amid fears she may have contracted the virus.

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