‘Accounting for Ebola Money a Must’

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The Government of Liberia (GOL) has called on public institutions including county authorities that received funds to fight the Ebola epidemic to make expenditure reports of the funds available to the General Auditing Commission (GAC) for auditing purpose and to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

The announcement comes amidst mounting public pressure on the government to audit institutions and individuals that received money from the Ebola Trust Fund (ETF) and publish the audited expenditure report. The government opened the Trust Fund Account at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) few months ago and deposited an initial US$5 million to fight the Ebola epidemic.

 The Trust Fund generated over US$14 million with private citizens and goodwill institutions and partners contributing to fight against the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the country.

Speaking at a recent press briefing held at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh assured accountability and vowed GOL will prosecute anyone or institution that falls short of giving account for the usage of the money.

 He used the occasion to instruct all public institutions that received funds from the ETF to submit their expenditure reports to the GAC, the government’s supreme auditing institution, and the Ministry of Finance.

“All they need to do now is tell us how they expended the monies or else they will be prosecuted under the laws,” said Minister Konneh. “As at 31 October 2014,” Konneh explained “the Ebola Trust Fund received a total of US$14.282 million in both US and Liberian dollars. Of this amount, US$8.387 million has been disbursed to and/or on behalf of various government entities.”

 According to Minister Konneh, more than US$4 million was disbursed to the Ministry of Health while over US$2 million went toward security operations and US$745,000 toward response and burial activities.

 The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning says it also disbursed US$931,000 to six highly affected counties (Bong, Margibi, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Gbarpolu and Montserrado) for Ebola response-related activities outside of the Trust Fund mechanism.

 “These disbursements,” Minister Konneh said “were triggered by resolutions of the legislative caucuses of the respective counties.” The Minister did not, however, make it clear whether the disbursements were authorized by the legislature outside of the ETF will be audited.

 Also contributing to Liberia’s overall Ebola fight is the international community including bilateral governments such the United States, China, Japan and other countries and multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union, ECOWAS and the European Union, amongst others.

The Finance Minister declared that as at 25 October 2014, total donor commitments for Ebola Response aid that Government has validated with its partners, including disbursements, stood at US$373.3 million. “Of this amount,” he said “US$70 million represents additional funding from the World Bank Group, which has been approved but is not yet finalized.”

Excluding that additional World Bank financing, Minister Konneh explained the remaining US$303.3 million includes a US$152 million commitment of resources from the United States Government which, at 41 percent of total commitments, is so far the largest pledge to the Ebola effort in Liberia. According to Mr. Konneh, this amount includes nearly US$100 million in in-kind support from the US Department of Defense.

He told reporters that a further 34 percent of the total funds have been committed for use by United Nations Agencies. Four UN agencies in Liberia including World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the World Food Program (WFP) were hired in September to implement Ebola-related projects on behalf the government.

Mr. Konneh noted that 11.5 percent of the entire funding has been committed by donor partners for use by the Government of Liberia, and the remaining 13.3 percent is committed for use by NGOs.

He disclosed that US$244.7 million has already been disbursed out of the US$303.3 million by donor implementing partners or agencies.

“We do not yet know how much of that has actually been spent locally; however, the amount includes in-kind donations such as supplies and construction activity, amounting to US$103.5 million. Technical assistance accounted for US$12.8 million of the total US$303.3 million, while the remaining US$127 million as provided as actual cash donations,” said Minister Konneh.

He told reporters that an additional US$$157 million in general budget support has so far been committed to the government of Liberia for fiscal year 2014/15 for sector support and investment in economic stabilization initiatives. “Of this amount, US$60.6 million has been disbursed into the government’s consolidated account so far, comprising US$48 million from the IMF, US$10 million from the European Union, and US$2.6 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Fixed Amount Reimbursement Agreement (FARA),” he added.

The Liberian Finance Minister noted that the government has been keenly following the spirited national conversation surrounding the use of the funds and the accountability for them. “I can assure you that we are committed to prosecuting any individual and penalizing any entity found to have abused the public trust in the management and operation of these funds,” he stressed. Many Liberians have accused the government for playing low profile on the fight against corruption and graft. They say they want corrupt public officials prosecuted and disgraced publicly.

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