Liberia: Post-Nyeswa Report - Millions Unaccounted for in Covid-19 Fight

-- Murdered IAA boss Emmanuel Nyeswa's Final Audit Report before his Death

An auditor report from the Internal Audit Agency has revealed that more than US$2 million including millions of Liberian dollars of the USD48,637,711.50 Covid-19 National Response Budget were lost to fraud and corruption during the country's fight against the coronavirus.

The draft audit report, which was submitted on September 28, 2020, covering the period of February 2 to June 30, 2020 by the murdered IAA boss Emmanuel Nyeswa, discovered several instances of fraud relating to overpriced supplies, salaries for non-existent and fake customs bills among other financial crimes.

The Nyeswa report found that the more than US$48 million Covid-19 National Response Budget was not authorized by the legislature and that the Ministry of Health operated a comingling operational account for the Covid-19 Fund in the amount of USD996, 300.00 with the following account numbers: 0010011502021904 and 0010011501008294.

In the summary of the 44-page report, the IAA, which under the watch of its late director, had been vigorous in the fight against corruption, discovered that health authorities did not just conceal transaction information on US$71, 500.00, but also failed to provided liquidation report for cash advance valued at US$7,261.00 and L$2,900,800.00.

Also, the audit report disclosed that authority of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) could not account for allowance valued at US$79,212.00 for March, overstated contracts valued US$84, 880.00 and did not have procurement plan for contracts valued US$913,675.00.

"No Evidence of approval for US$48,637,711.5 Covid-19 National Response Budget, comingling of Covid-19 Fund US$996,300.00 with MOH Operational Account Number 0010011502021904 and 0010011501008294 and concealment of US$71, 500.00 transactions," the report executive summary said. "No evidence of liquidation report for cash advances valued US$7,261.00 and L$2,900,800.00, allowance valued US$79,212.00 for March, 2020 not accounted for, lack of procurement plan and no objection authorization from PPCC for contracts valued US$913,675.00 and overstated contracts valued US$84,880.00."

It added: "Discrepancy in Disbursements of Compensation made to casual laborers at Star Base, payment made to POC, balances and overpayment to Blessed 1 Luxury valued US$120,604.20, Bless 1 Luxury TIN is not found in the LRA Online Application and PPC Procurement Platform. No Evidence of GOL Tax Remittances from POCs' Payments valued US$29,318.36; and contradiction of transaction and payments made without valid contracts."

According to the report, the lack of evidence for the approval of the more than US$48 million COVID-19 budget means that it may not be adequately supported and tracked due and the objectives of effectively combatting the pandemic may not have been achieved.

Regulation L.2 of the PFM act on Special Funds States in section two that: "A Special Fund shall be established by an enactment or other legal instrument approved by the Legislature, which shall specify the purposes of the Fund, the administering authority, amounts receivable and payable, and any special rules necessary for the transaction of business. "

However, the report said this was not the case. It added that in such a circumstance, "unauthorized changes to budget lines may occur" while the budget itself is in "violation of the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act and Regulation 2009."

The disease, COVID-19, which came to Liberia on March 16, 2020, required a massive response from the government and its international partners costing hundreds of millions of dollars to bring it under control.

Since the pandemic emerged in March, it has so far killed 82 Liberian and infected 1,416 people. The massive response from the governments and its international partners ensure that the country did not suffer much compared to other countries from COVID resulting in higher recovery and low deaths.

However, the government Success in handling of the COVID-19 fight was being overshadowed by reports of corruption, which heath authorities denied. In this light, President George Weah, in a communication, referenced "MOS-RL/NFM-COS/JUL-06/2020" on July 17, 2020, mandated the IAA to conduct an audit of COVID-19 response activities.

As for Nyeswa, his came death came 12 days after the submission of the audit report on September 28, 2020. Nyeswa, who was pronounced dead by health authorities at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia early Saturday morning on October 10, 2020 reportedly suffered from a fall from a narrow doorway on the top floor of his home along the SKD Boulevard.

There is a narrow door at the top floor above the entrance of the house, from which Nyeswa is believed to have fallen. It is not the width of a normal door, but about half the width. Someone the size of Nyenswa would have needed to turn sideways to pass through that door.

Moreover, outside that door is is a ledge with barely enough space for his feet -- and then an instant drop -- meaning that there is no porch or platform or even a banister to protect one from falling.

Also, the report further explained that due to the comingling of the COVID-19 funds in the amount of US$996, 300.00 with MOH Operational Account numbers 0010011502021904 and 0010011501008294, it created room for funds to not be properly accounted for, as well as misapplication and misappropriation.

"No Evidence of Bank Statement and Reconciliation Reports from February 2020 to April 2020. We did not receive bank statements and reconciliation reports for the period February to April 2020. Several requests were made to the IMS Team but to no avail. This made it difficult to verify the actual funds received and deposited for the fight against the pandemic, as well as, expenditure made thereof for the period mentioned. [Such situation increases the] possibility of unusual transactions going undetected due to the absence of bank statements," the reports said.

It further that a check valued US$71,500.00 (CK#00000101) in favor of Quaqua Pewee, an internal staff of NPHIL, was encashed through the Central Bank on May 4, 2020, without any voucher. The check, according to IAA audit report was not recorded in the cashbook while an adjustment was made on the May 2020 bank reconciliation report as a bank error.

"The error was not corrected on the June 2020 bank statement and was not adjusted on the June 2020 reconciliation as error. Instead, the amount was concealed in the bank reconciliation report, which suggests an intention to conceal the audit trail," the report said. "Concealment of information is an indication of fraud; as such, funds may not be used for the intended purpose."

Furthermore, IAA disclosed that the Ministry of Health made advance payments in the names of personnel valued US$7, 261.00 and LRD2, 900,800.00 but could not provide evidence to support its claimed that such money was spent.

"Failure to retire advance payments could lead to personal gain. [And] a total of 902 service contracts valued US355,960.00 were submitted for review. We sampled 50 contracts that were traced to the payroll representing 5.54% of the total and observed that hazard payments made to all 50 persons for February, March and April, 2020 were without signatures and approved contracts.

As the result, the report said, the action by the health authority is in violation of the ESOP and PFM Regulation and that hazard payments could be made without services being performed as well as funds intended for hazard payments could be misapplied; and the objectives of fighting COVID-19 may not be achieved.

"[Also] we reviewed payment vouchers totaling USD188, 740.00 written to Rhoda K. Wiah, Konah D. Roberts, and Michael Howard to pay March 2020 allowances for personnel working under various pillars and observed that USD79, 212.00 could not be accounted for," the report added.

Consequence of such action, IAA said means names on the payroll may not have rendered services towards the fight against COVID-19, while the value for money may not be achieved and that funds may be used for personal gain and could undermine the fight against the pandemic.

"Discrepancy in Disbursements of Compensation made to casual laborers at Star Base. Payment voucher # 01604 February 14, 2020 in the amount of US$9,450.00 (CBL 00218125) was raised to and encashed by Mercy J. Musah to pay casual laborers at Star Base. Ms. Musah then entrusted USD9,075.00 to Andrian Brown for disbursement to the casual laborers. Variance of USD375.00 could not be accounted for. However, disbursement listing showed that Andrian Brown paid USD10,125.00 to the laborers and there was no evidence to prove the source of the excess payment of UD$1,050.

The signatures on the disbursement list appeared like a penmanship of a single person. In another instance, it was observed the same workers were paid on payment voucher (PV01627, check number 00278551) on February 18, 2020 valued US$35,000.00 with different set of signatures," report said.


Robin Dopoe


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