In a written email to this news outlet, the Deputy Incident Manager for Support Services, Mr. James Dorbor Jallah said, “I am pleased to share with you the response of the Incident Management System (IMS) to the report of the Auditor General on the audit of the Ebola Trust Fund for your information.
The audit report can be downloaded from the Ministry of information Website at http://www.micatliberia.com/etf.pdf.,” the IMS Deputy further email to us a 35-page
The 36-page letter in possession of GNN-Liberia signed by GAC Ebola Audit Indictees Wede Elliott Brownell Deputy Minister for Administration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Tolbert Nyenswah, Head Incident Management System/Deputy Minister for Health Designate (indicted by GAC in 2006/2007and 2007/2008 audit of the Ministry of Health; James Dorbor Jallah, Executive Director, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission and Andre Pope, Head State Owed Enterprises Reporting Unit, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
Expressing its disappointment in the GAC, the Incident Management System said it is rejecting the integrity institution’s findings due to its incompetence and improper handling of the report.
The Ebola Task Force said while the GAC correctly stated that President Sirleaf, on July 26, 2014, announced that Ebola was a national emergency and set up a National Ebola Task Force to coordinate all interventions for containing and eliminating this fast spreading epidemic; the GAC in its report citing “financial activities… of the National Ebola Trust Fund(NETF)” it says was marred by financial irregularities and material control deficiencies, failed to take duly into account the “national emergency” nature of particular “interventions” that were undertaken by the Task Force and were specifically aimed at containing and eliminating the fast spreading epidemic.
Instead, the IMS said the GAC described specific emergency procurements made by the NETF as “marred by financial irregularities and material control deficiencies “simply because the NETF’s purchase of food, equipment and other items, on an emergency basis from various suppliers had either been done without a contract, lacked confirmation of transaction, lack of valid tax clearance or in one particular case, the supporting invoice from an overseas service provider was unsigned.
The IMS said the National Ebola Task Force did its work under conditions that have been most unusual and truly unique, which hopefully will not ever occur in this country. “Those conditions involved a race against time and fit the very definition of a “national emergency” as had been declared on July 26, 2014, per your report, by Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia.”
The President ,while addressing media executives on Monday, April 13, 2015, at her Foreign Ministry office acknowledged that she knows that there might have been some procedural errors in expending fund, but said she believes that was intended to save the lives of the hundreds who were dying on a daily basis.
Said President Sirleaf: "Five millions were put in the Ebola Trust Fund. That fund was put there at the time when nobody had given support to fight Ebola and it was a time when hundreds of people were dying; when people were running away from the places; when we had chaos. In the midst of chaos, something has to be done, and so, I am quite sure that it reflects the context of the kinds of urgency that was required in some cases," said President Johnson-Sirleaf.
Added President Sirleaf: "I have not read the audit report, but I got some briefing on it. And I know that there might have been some procedural errors, but I believe that if someone says that they have to buy a bus to carry people when a hundred people are dying on the street and they did not go through a bidding process, I will leave it to you to say which was better; to say to have bought the bus to save the lives or for them to have taken two weeks to go through a bidding process. As long as the fund was properly used for the purpose intended, there is no problem. It was in those difficult days when we had to run some decisions, decisions that run contrary to all procedures," she emphasized as she continued on her defense.
In its letter, the Ebola Task Force tore the GAC apart for not understanding the “national emergency” argument of the crisis. “As such the epidemic did indeed “require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation…” Madam Auditor General, so urgent were the interventions, then required and undertaken, that it was often just simply not practicable, indeed, not even sensible at all to insist on contracts, tax clearances and the like, without which, you appear to believe, that everything else that was done even under those circumstances, just simply do not matter at all.”
Continued the Task Force Letter: “The perspective of yours is unfortunate and regrettable coming as it does from the Auditor General of the Republic of Liberia, the Supreme Audit authority of this country. Given that stunted and limited tunnel perspective of yours, with specific reference to the work of the NETF, you have not at all bothered to place any transaction conducted by the task force in context or to otherwise take that context duly into consideration in the writing of your report.”
By the reasoning of that failure, the letter continued: “You have also NOT even as much considered all relevant pros and cons and different perspectives” BEFORE drawing the conclusions indicated in your report. For that reason your report reads as if the author lives in and has written, not about Liberia but an entirely different country; or, for that matter, an entire different planet.”
The GAC in its report of the National Ebola Trust Fund for the period August 1 to October 31, 2014 discovered that several government officials at eight ministries and agencies of government received and disbursed funding without supporting documents. The GAC report pointed out that the Incident Management Team on Ebola headed by Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, Mr. James Dorbor Jallah and Dr. Wede Elliott should be held liable for violating Section 66 (4) of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act, which regulates protocols for government procurement, contract and others.
The GAC mentioned in its audit report that there were variances between the allowances received by security officials who participated in the fight against Ebola in the country. The anti-graft commission stated that it observed in the audit that US$672,617.56 was received and disbursed by the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) without supporting documents during the period under review (August 1 to October 31, 2014).
But in its damning response to the GAC Monday, the Incident Management Team accused AG Gaye of irresponsibly damaging what they described as their “hard-earned reputation”.
“You have irresponsibly damaged the hard-earned reputation of members of the senior leadership of the National Ebola Task Force(NETF) that is otherwise alternatively referred to, in your report as Incident Management System(IMS). You have done so with reckless disregard of all relevant facts, along with appropriate supporting documentation, that have been provided by you.”
In light of its rebuttal, the IMS demanded that the GAC among other things, reissue portions of its report pertaining to the specific activities of the NETF or IMS, re-publicize the portion of the reissued, ensuring that it receives equal prominence as earlier given to the incorrect and unsubstantiated allegations contained in the report against the IMS not later than 5:00pm Monday, May 18, 2015.
The IMS declared that failure on the part of the GAC to make the necessary adjustments could lead to court action against the Auditor General and the Commission for deliberate libel. The IMS also requested the Liberia Institute of Certified Public Accountants(LICPA) to render a formal professional assessment conclusion on the professional quality of the GAC report and if the LIPCA concurs that the report is materially defective, to appropriately sanction the GAC and LIPCA members of the GAC staff who were party to the report for professional misconduct.
The IMS also threatened to report the Auditor General’s “unprofessional” reporting to the relevant USA State Board(s) of Accountability wherein the AG’s membership is currently active, with a request to appropriate disciplinary sanctions against the AG or any member of her staff who is deemed culpable.
The IMS also said it would make a similar request to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and will report the Auditor General’s unprofessional reporting to both the President and the National Legislature of Liberia, in order to bring to the notice and attention of the President and the Legislature that the Auditor General is supremely unsuitable and incompetent for the position. “The Legislators may then decide on whatever sanctions they deemed appropriate under the law,” the letter states.
The Task Force also explained for the first time the controversial US$30, 000 payments to the British Public Relations firm, BTP Advisers, suggesting that the firm was PR back office for the government’s information machinery.
The letter to the Auditor General explained: “As so correctly stated in paragraph 4 of page 8 of your report, the amount of US$30,050.00 was transferred to BTP Advisers, a London, United Kingdom based international consultancy firm for communication support services to help in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease(EVD). “What's your report does not say, for reasons not explained therein, and are not at all clear to us, is that, as also previously explained to you on the subject.”
The letter explained that the amount in question was a specific line item in the special emergency Ebola budget approved by the President as part of efforts required to respond to the “national emergency” under authority of the President Republic of Liberia to the UK-based firm, as professional fees charged by the firm for assisting the Government of Liberia in making its case to the world for international assistance to Liberia and other Ebola affected countries. “The President of Liberia has also directly confirmed to you that she did, indeed, specifically authorize those payments, apparently based on her previous knowledge of the caliber of work done by that firm.”
The Task Force letter explained that BTP Advisers effectively served as the back office for the professional publicity by the Government of Liberia that prompted the world response that has enabled Liberia to have avoided the dire predictions(ten to twenty thousand new Ebola cases per week, etc.) “If the situation, then at hand was not swiftly contained as then widely broadcast by organizations such as the World Health Organization(WHO), Medicins Sans Frontiers(MSF) and the like. – Excerpts from Incident Management System Team’s response to the GAC.”
The Task Force team wrote that even though the GAC was informed of the BTP payment by the president, it still classified the payment as improper because it was done without supporting documentation such as receipt, contract and details of the services provided to justify the payment.” On that particular score, Madam Auditor General, it is just plainly NOT at all true, that the transfer was made without supporting documentation.”
Regarding why it did not follow the procedures of the Public Procurement Concessions Commission (PPCC), the Task Force explained: “Please do keep in mind that an emergency by its nature, particularly in this case, basically meant a race against time. Under the circumstances, a relaxation of related PPCC requirements was so clearly called for, whether de facto/and/or de jure. It is both amazing and disappointing that for some strange reason you stubbornly refuse to accept this plain, simple, obvious and undeniable rational fact.”
This full letter will be published in our subsequent posting