Gov’t Investigates Red Cross US$2.7M Ebola Fund Scandal

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said US$5 million of aid money was lost to fraud and corruption during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

-Organization apologizes for wrongs committed

Authorities of the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) said that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has opened a formal investigation into the reported corruption scandals that have rocked the entity in recent months, and would subsequently prosecute all those who were allegedly involved in the corruption scandals.

In a statement issued in Monrovia yesterday, LNRCS expressed regret that humanitarian gestures intended to combat the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) that devastated Liberia in 2014 and 2015 were diverted to personal use by some of its senior staff.

The LNRCS said individuals and business entities involved in the saga are being investigated by the MoJ.

“The audit and investigation report indicted several individuals including former members of the management teams, as well as individuals and business entities that allegedly colluded in the fraud and corruption saga. And these are the people who are now being probed by the MoJ,” the statement said.

While the LNRCS regrets this embarrassing situation, the entity said it has put numerous measures in place to mitigate financial malpractices. “LNRCS new leadership wishes to inform the general public that significant progress is being made to avert the re-occurrence of the situation and put in place strong measures to investigate and legally pursue any persons involved in the fraud saga,” the statement said.

Also, as part of the retributive measures of the saga, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the Chief Patron of the Society, dissolved the entire governing Board in March 2016, after the management team was suspended. The President’s office then set up a steering committee that introduced a transition plan and interim management team to salvage and stabilize the situation.

The interim management team, headed by the Independent Interim Chief Executive Officer, commissioned an audit and management investigation into the fraud and corruption saga in December 2016.

Also in December last year, a new Governing Board was elected and installed. In June 2017, the Secretariat General of the National Society was recruited. The new leadership wishes to reassure the general public of its commitment to devote time and invest resources to promote integrity initiatives and place demands for transparency and accountability in action, and ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in the performance of duty.

“For us to continue to rebuild the trust of donors and partners, it is imperative that we are transparent with how we expend donors’ funding in the interest of the vulnerable people,” the statement said.

The LNRCS in its statement admitted and said it deeply regretted the “shaming fraud and corruption saga” in which donations from local and international partners as well as the Liberian government, especially those affected by the EVD, were stolen.

“We are sincerely sorry for such an unfortunate situation that has brought a dark cloud over the good work that the many volunteers of the national society did in eliminating the virus from the country,” the statement noted.

The LNRCS said reports of the fraud and corruption saga, which was uncovered following an audit, came as a shock and were received with dismay. The society extended further apologies for the loss of US$2.7 million. The reported amount is equivalent to less that 15 percent of the total funds the National Society received.

About a fortnight ago, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said US$5 million (£3.8 million) of aid money was lost to fraud and corruption during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The news came after an official audit on Ebola funds to the three hardest hit countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Of this amount, the IFRC said US$2.7 million was lost to corruption in Liberia, misappropriated by officials who headed the LNRCS during the outbreak. The former LNRCS officials accused include Fayah S. Tamba, LNRCS former secretary general, and Precious C. Dennis, former head of program (both allegedly stole US$1 million). Also accused was Emmanuel O. Kparh, the then president of LNRCS.

The revelation against former LNRCS officials came about following an audit the United Kingdom-based Moore Stephens firm conducted. The audit was sanctioned by the IFRC last year and it revealed that officials of the LNRCS misappropriated over US$1.8 million donated to the Ebola fight.

The firm in its report indicted several top LNRCS officials 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 LNRCS Board and subsequently called for an investigation, which prompted the resignation of the alleged culprits, although no action has been taken against them.

Although the accused officials were dismissed, many have been calling for the prosecution of those indicted in the reports.