Sierra Leone’s anti graft agency has invited senior officials at the Ministry of Health to give evidence in a new investigation into allegations of the misuse of donor funds. About $1.1 million of aid money from the GAVI Alliance meant to go towards national child immunization efforts were paid into unauthorized accounts between 2008 and 2011.
The Anti Corruption Commission began the investigations after GAVI announced that no new aid disbursements would be made to Sierra Leone until the funds were repaid by the government.
In an article published by Reuters in December, former Minister of Health Zainab Bangura now at the UN said that she had informed the Ministry of Finance of the financial irregularities with the GAVI account during her tenure.
“At no time did I have direct oversight of these funds, nor was I ever a signatory authorized to disburse funds from these accounts,” said Bangura in a written statement to Reuters.
In her defense a letter dated December 2011 was published by the Ministry of Health. The letter is a request for payments from the GAVI funds signed by Tamba Samba, a program manager at the ministry in the amount of Le. 68, 373, 600 or $17,000. In her comments on the letter, Mrs. Bangura said that she could not act on the payment not being privy to the GAVI funds. She also noted that she had made a request for information about the GAVI documents a month earlier.
Samura Kamara the minister of finance for the years under investigation said that Mrs. Bangura never raised the discrepancies of GAVI funds. In his response to Reuters, Kamara said that Ministry of Health had responsibility for the funds as only its officials could withdraw from the accounts.
A source at the Minister of Health who asked to not be named said that fingers are pointing at the Chief Medical Officer; Dr. Kisito Dao, Director of Planning; Dr. Gborie, M & E Officer; Dr. Magbeti, the Deputy CMO; Dr. Alhassan Sesay, and the Permanent Secretary , Mr. Techman Kanu.
This source said that the GAVI funds were released in two tranches and that the first withdrawal from the project account was
about US$446,000. The signatories to the account were Dr. Kisito Dao, and Mr. Techman Kanu. The money was distributed to District Medical Officers in the provinces to undertake vaccination sensitization and primary healthcare exercises.
The same two signatories signed to withdraw $560,000.
“When one compares the money involved and the activities claimed to have been carried out by the ministry, anyone will out rightly
conclude that corruption was highly involved in the process,” one official in the ministry of health lamented.
GAVI has stopped the release of a remaining $530,750, as well as a new two-year grant of $5,399,371 now under consideration.
Immunization activities at the Ministry of Health will have to be funded by other donors or come to a halt altogether. Children in rural communities most in need of health services will pay the heaviest price.