Sierra Leone has begun a long-awaited inquiry to determine what happened to millions in funding during the nation’s devastating Ebola crisis – money that government officials and outbreak survivors say never reached Ebola patients and their communities.
The funds went missing as more than 14,000 people in Sierra Leone contracted the disease, more than a fourth of them dying. Some of those victims have launched lawsuits and lodged human rights violations complaints against Sierra Leone’s government, supported by organizations including Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, based in The Gambia, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in Sierra Leone, and the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES).
Former ministers in health and finance who served under Ernest Bai Koroma, the country’s president at the time of the 2014 outbreak, are asked to explain what happened to USD$14 million that went missing, much of it during the first six months of the crisis. So are procurement officers implicated in fraud and corruption tied to humanitarian aid expenses, loans, and ambulances and other equipment.
Those questions were raised as the result of an audit conducted by the government. It detailed the alleged violations, and originally called for the immediate suspension of Sadiq Kapuwa, the former health ministry’s permanent secretary, and Ibrahim Swarray, the ministry’s chief procurement officer. Both men, along with former head of the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) Palo Conteh and others, are now subjects of the inquiry.
The issues were also detailed in a transition team report when current President Julius Maada Bio was elected.
In a separate development in October 2017, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said up to $2.1 million of its funds was lost to fraud and collusion in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis.
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