FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

2 July 2013

Liberia: Liar, Liar - Liberia Minister Under Fire After Hospital Denies Receiving EU Money

The lies continue to pile up in the ongoing controversy surrounding the mystery over the alleged diversion of $US13 million donated by the European Union to combat maternal mortality and morbidity in post-war Liberia.

On May 23, 2013, Dr. Peter Coleman, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health took Finance Minister Amara Konneh to task for being less than forthcoming in his appearance before the committee.

The lawmaker accused Minister Konneh of lying under oath and dismissed suggestions that the EU funds were allocated to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center because JFK had already been allocated in the national budget. "The JFK money has been sealed; the minister lied under oath," Dr. Coleman told FrontPageAfrica last week.

On Monday, the saga had a familiar tone to it as Dr. Francis Kateh, Administrator of the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital in Tappita, Nimba County, one of the institutions listed as a recipient of the funds, denied that his facility had received any of the money.

The Jackson F. Doe Memorial Regional Referral Hospital was dedicated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Feb. 12, 2011.The modern hospital is named in honor of the late educator and politician.

The $10-million-dollar facility was set up to provide quality health services to the people of southeast Liberia and is a gift from the People's Republic of China (PRC).

At the ongoing budget hearing Monday, Dr. Kateh denied receiving any money from the finance ministry as part of the EU 13 million dollars support to reducing Maternal Mortality and new born deaths.

Responding to a specific question from Representative Wesseh Blamo as to whether or not the hospital has received money from the EU fund, Dr. Kateh responded: "Sir as I indicated and I think you have my financial report which is the document before you and my comptroller is here the hospital has not received any money."

The saga took a sudden twist Monday when the Henry Costa Morning Show announced that it had in its possession a leaked copy of the Finance Ministry's breakdown of how the funds were distributed.

According to the breakdown of the EU Money per the document from the MOF, the total EU funding of US$13,352,158.48 was disbursed as follows: US$ 2,198,260.00 was appropriated to the Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital; US$1.648,000.00 was appropriated to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center(JFK); $US148,613.00 was appropriated to the Liberia Med.-Health Prds Reg; $8,701,285.49 was appropriated to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and $656.000.00 was appropriated to the National AIDS Commission.

Dr. Kateh went on to say that no other subsidy is being provided the hospital besides the money received by the hospital as budget allocation in the National budget and not money from donors funding.

The Jackson F Doe Medical director also complained of not receiving enough funds from government to carry out the needed services at the hospital and said, the meager resource provided is not given in time.

"Basically, like I said we already started in a deficit. If you propose a budget of 6 million and you get 2 million with the deficit you have to find a way to deal with your priority, he added."

Kateh also craved the indulgence of the committee to allocate more money to the hospital to allow them smoothly carry out their operation of providing services to Liberian at the hospital.

Representative Johnson Chea (NDC-District # 1 River Gee County), who is the co-chair on the House Committee on Health and Social Welfare said the issue has drawn the concern of the House of Representative and Committee members and they are currently reviewing the issue to come up with a position statement.

The lawmaker added that the committee has set mid-week as the date for their statement and will do so to help solve the ongoing hullaballoo about the US$13 million European Union support to Liberia.

Quizzed about his personal opinion on the Matter, the lawmaker said; "If what is coming out of the media about the US$13 million is true than it is a sad moment because Liberia is one of the countries in south-Sahara Africa with a high rate of maternal and new birth death so I think if money has being e given to Liberia to help tackle such a major problem I think that money should be use for that purpose and not to be spent on other issues or ministries."

Liberia ranks 7th in the world for highest rate of maternal mortality. Chad, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Burundi and Guinea-Bissau are all worse. In 2012 there was an infant mortality rate of 72.71 out of 1,000 births, in 2009 138.24 out of 1,000 and in 2006 there were 155.76 out of 1,000. Liberia is 18th in the world for infant mortality. Globally, in 2010 there were 770 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births; in 2008 there were 990 out of 100,000.

The unofficial release of the breakdown of the EU funds has fueled more fire in the debate over what actually happened to the EU money to Liberia.

Last week, Mr. Tomas Niklasson, Chargé d'affaires a.i. for the EU Liberia mission explained in an email response to FrontPageAfrica that the purpose of the EU programme is to support the implementation of the National Health Plan and to the Road Map for reducing Maternal Mortality and Morbidity using sector budget support as implementing modality. This means that the payments to the Treasury are done according to several conditions of progress in the implementation of the health plan and the road map as well as in the achievement of annual targets for the health sector including maternal health. Sufficient funding of the sector is a condition for progress in the implementation of the sector plan and the road map.

Mr. Niklasson cautioned that if the sector does not have the necessary level of funding, there is a risk of low performance in the sector and, consequently, no payment or limited payment from the EU programme. "In conclusion, the EU guidelines on budget support are not prescriptive regarding the use of EU funds which, after payment to the Treasury, are fully merged with the funds provided by the Government of Liberia. However, satisfactory progress in the health sector needs to be proved before each new payment."

The controversy has spurred new questions over who actually controls the health sector in Liberia with many Liberians taking the Finance Minister to task for trying to do the job of the Ministry of Health and distributing funds intended for the ministry.

Both minister Konneh and Gwenigale are yet to publicly comment on the matter which threatens to hurt Liberia internationally and even force the EU to drastically end further aid to Liberia.

What appears certain so far is that the MOF, from the discussion on the Costa Show on Monday is suggesting that the Finance Minister took the decision to unilaterally disburse the funding on behalf of the Minister of Health because the Ministry of Health has not done a good job of ensuring that budget allocations to the health sector impact the lives of those in need.

Konneh hinted as much during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Health on May 23, 2013, when he took Dr. Gwenigale to task and accused the minister of Fiscal indiscipline over funds allocated to the health sector when he alarmed that the ministry was not making any impact in the sector despite huge funding allotted them in the National budget. Said Minister Konneh: "A lot of money has been allotted to the health sector with no improvement made; for a matter of fact the health ministry had 22 million more in their 2012/2013 fiscal year budget than the previous budget year."

The unofficial release of how the European Union money was disbursed or allegedly diverted has led to more questions than answers. In addition to the obvious why did Minister Konneh ignore his own letter to the Minister of Health notifying him that the funds from the EU was available? Many are wondering why the MOF, not the MOHSW, took on the task of distributing funds intended for the health sector.

While both ministers are shying away from publicly commenting on the matter and strong denials from aides of a rift between the pair, political observer say, the strains paints a bad picture of uncertainty and a lack of cohesion in the Cabinet of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Distrusts and pursuit of political advantage has at least for now driven a wedge between the two ministries and a stain on the government's international image.

U.S. President Barack Obama, addressing a gathering in Cape Town on his current tour of Africa, took aim at countries high on the corruption radar when he warned that Africa can only fulfill its rising potential with leaders who strive to improve the lives of their people.

The U.S. President slammed those who "steal or kill or disenfranchise others", saying that the ultimate lesson of South Africa was that such brutal tactics will not work."So long as parts of Africa continue to be ravaged by war and mayhem, opportunity and democracy cannot take root," said Obama.

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