Liberia: GAC Audit Report Reveals How U.S.$71K Was Spent for Madagascar Covid-19 Herb

Monrovia — When the controversial COVID Organic herbal oil arrived in a small box on a charter flight last May, President George Weah who himself along with a host of government officials, were present to receive the package, told reporters that the Malagasy herb was a gesture from his "friend" the President of Guinea Bissau, Mr. Umaro Sissoco Embaló, had called him two days earlier to inform him he was sending coronavirus preventive and cure medicine.

Reporters who were invited to cover the arrival of the COVID Organic were informed that it was a gesture from the President of Guinea Bissau.

There has been no update on the use of the COVID herbs which was strongly disapproved by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Liberia. Health authorities often shied away from questions relating to its use in Liberia since its arrival into the country.

Shockingly, an audit conducted by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) on the Ministry of Health has revealed that US$71,500 was used by the government of Liberia to procure the herbs from Madagascar and have it transported to Liberia.

Appearing before the Joint Legislature Committee on Public Account (PAC), Health Minister, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, confirmed that US$71,500 was used to procure the condemned covid-19 herb. She, however, said the amount also include the cost of transporting it to Liberia.

But Senator Edwin Snowe of Bomi County informed members of the Committee that the cost of the flight was shared among countries in the region that received the herb and not Liberia alone. Therefore, the amount needed more explanation than what the Minister had given.

"The West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) didn't approved the herb, the herb was a donation and the transport cost was shared by the countries the flight went to. The flight didn't leave from Madagascar to Liberia, it originated from Guinea Bissau and went to couple of countries," Senator Snowe said.

The audit revealed that in breach of the COVID-19 Resource Management Emergency Standard Operating Procedure of April 2020, the Incident Management Team headed by the Minister of Health made a payment of US$71,500 to one Q. Pewee, check #101 on May 4, 2020 from the Government of Liberia COVID-19 Response account-1602003969 but didn't not record the transaction in the ledger.

Also in the report, a review of the check stump showed that check series 101-150 were used for the period covering June 30, 2020 to July 17, 2020 and not May. No payment voucher or other supporting evidence was provided for transaction; and a deposit of US$45, 300 in GOL COVID-19 response account-1601003042 was also not recorded.

The GAC in its report also stated that because the funds were commingled and there were no bank reconciliations, the audit team could not ascertain the evidences of withdrawal and deposits on payment/withdrawals and deposits amounting to L$5,601,416.46 and L$ 1, 887,368.48 respectively in the Ministry of Health Account #1501008294-LRD, as per CBL bank statements.

"These transactions were not recorded in the ledgers; Payments/withdrawals and deposits amounting to US$545,423.47 and US$ 530,137.19 respectively as per CBL bank statements, MOH Account # 1502021904-USD. These transactions were not recorded in the ledgers.

"In violation of Regulation P.9 (1) and (2) the auditor General observed that transactions recorded in the ledger amounting to US$61, 130.00 and L$ 1,601,920.92 payment voucher numbers attached but no payment voucher was seen nor any supporting documents," the report stated.

Section 48(1) of the Amendment Restatement of the PFM Act of 2009 states that it is a general responsibility under this Act for all government officials handling Public financial transaction to ensure that financial information is reported in a timely, comprehensive, and accurate manner, in the manner prescribed in this act, under its regulations, and in instructions issued by the Minister."

In Violation to the above provision, the Auditor, General observed that there were variances between the amount recorded as receipts per general ledger, the amount in the financial statements and the amount confirmed by the MFDP for the period February 1to June 30, 2020.

The report also states that there was no explanation for the variance. it was furthered observed that, the schedule provided by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) did not include the amount of US$ 900,000.00 reported and deposited into the Ministry of health's Operational Account between February 24-April 16, 2020 as stated.

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