Liberia: MOH Recalls Margibi County Health Team Over Corruption Allegation



---  “Those implicated have been turned over to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for further investigation and possible prosecution,”   Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah,  the Minister of Health.

The Ministry of Health has turned over workers from its Margibi County Health Team who were involved in a corruption scandal to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation.

“The Ministry of Health has recalled all members of the Margibi Health Team who were implicated in the leaked audio,”  Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah,  the Minister of Health, said.  “Those implicated have been turned over to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for further investigation and possible prosecution.”

 Jallah said the alleged actions of these staff amounts to corruption but clarified that the outcome of the investigation will inform the next decision of the Ministry.

The Ministry’s action follows a FrontPageAfrica report that caught the Margibi County Health Officer,  Dr. Augustine Nyankun Fannieh, and others discussing their involvement in fraudulent billings and collection of kickbacks from vendors.

The leaked audio embroiling the Margibi County Health Team administrators in financial impropriety surfaced at the time the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Ministry of Health (MOH) Fixed Amount Reimbursement Agreement (FARA) Program is providing annual financial support of US$801,693.00 to the Margibi Health System.  

The tape was taken more than five months ago during a senior-management meeting sparked by a developing schism among county health team members over the unjust distribution of kickbacks from illicit activities.

The FARA program supports the cost of implementing components of the Essential Package of Health Services that support family planning, maternal and child health, and malaria prevention and treatment at 24 health Facilities across Margibi.

In a brief statement, the US Embassy noted it expresses serious concerns about the allegation, which involves misuse of funds provided by the US Government to support health care for the people of Margibi County. 

“We have a special responsibility to ensure that money provided by United States taxpayers for the benefit of the people of Liberia, including the people of Margibi, is used for its intended purpose,” the statement said. “We commend the investigative journalism that brought this story to light and appreciate the swift action by the Ministry of Health to make immediate changes while investigating the matter.”

According to the Embassy,  USAID Mission to Liberia will decide whether to retain Margibi as part of USAID’s government-to-government agreement pending a transparent investigation and associated actions to hold accountable anyone “involved in the misuse of any US government funds.”

The Margibi County health workers' action mirrors a similar scandal that rocks the country's usage of a grant from Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

In a report in 2022, the Office of the Inspector General, a body charged with safeguarding the Global Fund’s assets, investments, and reputation noted that the Global fund lost US$0.19 million in systemic procurement fraud, and US$0.52 million in grant funds were wasted or misused, while the Ministry of Health concealed improper payments of fuel taxes of at least US$0.16 million. 

"There was systemic fraud and misappropriation by the staff of the Ministry of Health (MoH), a Principal Recipient for Global Fund grants in Liberia," the report said. "Our investigation found non-compliant expenditures and/or various types of wrongdoing in 91% of the expenditures reviewed. Non-compliant expenditures totaled US$1.1 million, of which we recommend recovery of US$0.99 million."

"Staff of the National AIDS Control Program conducted fraudulent procurements of vehicle repairs and advertising services. No assurance could be provided over program delivery in 75% of MoH field activities that we reviewed, and the MoH overcharged for daily subsistence allowances and misused grant funds by providing incorrect allowances and catering expenses."

"This investigation found prohibited practices and/or no reasonable assurance of program delivery in 91% of expenditures reviewed. Our findings implicate over 200 MoH staff members. This includes staff who were directly responsible for fraud and other wrongdoing in procurements and program activities, as well as the staff who benefitted from this wrongdoing by receiving DSA for more days than the permitted number of days, or receiving DSA for activities that did not take place," it added. 

The report noted that the findings indicate that fraud and wrongdoing at the MoH is systemic, and raises concerns with respect to all expenditures incurred by MoH and its national programs (representing US$47.8 million of grant funding between January 2018 and June 2021).