The Liberian Government has been urged to prosecute staff of the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) who were dismissed for misusing money sent by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to combat the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
International Red Cross auditors have reported the loss of over US$2.7m misappropriated by officials who headed the LNRCS during the pandemic.
The former LNRCS officials accused, include former Secretary General of the LNRCS, Fayah S. Tamba, and Precious C. Dennis, former head of program (both allegedly stole US$1 million).
Also accused was Mr. E. O. Kparh, who was then president of LNCRS. The revelation against former LNRCS officials came about after an audit report by the United Kingdom-based Moore Stephens.
Moore Stephens’ audit was sanctioned by the IFRC last year and it revealed officials of the LNRCS misappropriated over US$1.8 million donated to fight the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease.
The firm in its report indicted several top officials of the LNRCS for allegedly accepting kickbacks through a fraudulent bidding scheme for the procurement of anti-Ebola materials.
This led President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to dissolve the LNCRS board and subsequently called for an investigation which led to the resignation of the alleged culprits although no action has been taking against them.
With the recent official audit on Ebola funds to the three hardest hit countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the IFRC said US$5m (£3.8m) of aid money was lost to fraud and corruption during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Of the amount, the IFRC said US$2.7million was lost to corruption in Liberia. Now, several Ebola survivors who spoke to the Daily Observer have called for those accused to be prosecuted to reclaim the money.
Mr. Henry Tony, Jr, former Vice President for the Ebola Survivors Network said the IFRC’s report on the abuse by former Red Cross officials is heartbreaking and wants the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to begin an investigation.
“This is unacceptable because while Liberians were dying in their numbers from the disease in 2014 , other Liberians in top positions of responsibility were stealing funds sent to save them. If the US$2.7 million stolen was used for the appropriate purposes more lives could have been saved,” Tony said.
“We need justice. Our people died because a few corrupt people embezzled money meant to provide logistics, hiring and construction of facilities for those who urgently needed them. The misuse of such money was total wickedness that inflicted wounds on many people,” Tony said.
Another survivor, Ms. Annie Brown who lost both parents during the Ebola crisis, demands justice saying those officials who were accused and forced to resign should face justice for their actions against the Liberian people.
“My parents died because of late response by a health worker to take them to a treatment unit because the money meant for logistics and hiring of more health workers went to individuals’ pockets,” she said.
“I want the government to bring such wicked people to face justice in a court of law. They have to pay for what they did to the Liberian people. We will fight for it. This is the truth, the lack of enough health workers and logistics took away many people’s lives,” another survivor, Ruth Davies, said.
According to a BBC report, the Red Cross said that during the Ebola spread across Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the Red Cross Federation in Geneva dispersed cash donations to the national Red Cross societies in each of the three Weat African nations – altogether amounting to about US$100m.
In Sierra Leone, Red Cross staff apparently colluded with local bank workers to skim over US$2 million while in Guinea, where investigations are ongoing, around $1m disappeared in fake customs bills.
The Red Cross expressed deep regret for the losses and said it has introduced stricter financial rules and promised to hold any Red Cross staff involved to account.
Many other Liberian Ebola survivors said IFRC should put pressure on the Liberian Government to prosecute Liberians who reaped where they never sowed to demonstrate its serious commitment to punish thieves in our midst in future disasters.
Meanwhile, in its reorganization, President Sirleaf, who is the chief patron, appointed new officials and a new board of directors to run the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) with Mr. Jerome Clarke as president; Ms. Sayba Tamba, secretary general and Mr. G. Ambullai Perry, director of program, among others.