Findings in the COVID-19 Draft Audit Report by the Internal Audit Agency reveal that health authorities from the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) COVID-19 Incident Management System were busy maneuvering ways to defraud the country of thousands of United States Dollar that had been earmarked to fight the pandemic.
Their strategy, according to a report from the Internal Auditing Agency, was to overstate payment vouchers of precautionary observation centers (POC) meant to host suspected COVID-19 patients or travelers from countries with a high number of cases at the time.
By doing so, the IAA audit report said, health authorities were able to award 11 contracts to hotels and guest houses that were used as POC from February 2 to May 6, 2020, at the value of US$1,318,435.00, which was overstated by the actual amount of US$84,880.00.
“We observed from the recalculation of the POC that total contracts for COVID-19 for the period February 2 to May 6, 2020, was valued US$1,318,435.00, and this amount was overstated by US$84,880.00,” IAA said.
The scathing revelation, which was contained in an IAA audit report covering the period of February 2 to June 30, 2020, by the late IAA boss Emmanuel B. Nyeswa, discovered several instances of fraud relating to overpriced supplies, salaries for non-existent and fake customs bills, among other financial crimes.
The IAA report, which was submitted on September 28, 2020, exactly 12 days before Nyeswua’s death, revealed that Bless 1 Luxury Resort was awarded a contract “valued US$87,640.00 but was paid US$208,244.20, thereby leading to an excess payment of US$120,604.00 without evidence of amendment to the contract for the overpayment.”
According to the Public Financial Management Regulation Section B, Sub-Section B.30, “Recovery of Overpayments” states: “If any expenditure is made in excess of the amounts actually due, the overpayment shall be recovered immediately and paid into government Revenue Account. The officer concerned shall report the circumstances immediately to the head of the Government agency or the appropriate authority.
Shockingly, the report said Bless 1 Luxury Resort, which was paid such a lump sum amount with tax identification number 501056091, “its tax clearance certificate could not be found in the LRA online application and the PPC procurement platform for verification.”
It added that health authorities managing the country’s COVID-19 funds awarded to POC service providers contracts valued at US$1,318,435.00, but the authorities only paid US$1,125,902.00 from February 2 to June 30, 2020, leaving a balance payable of US$268,732.46.
“Payments valued US$1,125,902.54 in favor of services rendered by POCs did not have evidence of remittance of withholding taxes to GOL accounts valued US$29,318.36. [Also] the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) COVID-19 Incident Management System committed the Government of Liberia by entering into several contracts with vendors (Hotels) for rooms rental and feeding for the period February 2 to May 2020 in the amount of US$913,675.00 without adherence to the PPC Law or Regulation, as there was no approved Procurement Plan and no evidence of No Objection authorization from PPCC,” the report said.
The disease, COVID-19, which was announced in Liberia on March 16, 2020, required a massive response from the government and its international partners, costing tens of millions of dollars to bring it under control.
Since the pandemic emerged in March, 82 persons reportedly died, out of the 1,419 people that were infected, according to the NPHIL’s situation report dated October 26, 2020. The massive response from the government and its international partners aimed to ensure that the country did not suffer as much as did other countries.
However, the government’s success in handling the COVID-19 fight was being overshadowed by reports of corruption, which health authorities have denied. In this light, President George Weah, in a communication referenced “MOS-RL/NFM-COS/JUL-06/2020” on July 17, 2020, mandated the IAA to conduct an audit of COVID-19 response activities.
As for Nyeswa, his death came 12 days after the submission of the audit report on September 28, 2020. Nyeswua, who was pronounced dead by health authorities at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia early Saturday morning on October 10, 2020, reportedly suffered from a fall from a narrow doorway on the top floor of his home along the SKD Boulevard.
There is a narrow door at the top floor above the entrance of the house, from which Nyeswua is perceived to have fallen. It is not the width of a normal door, but about half the width. Someone the size of Nyenswa would have needed to turn sideways to pass through that door.
Moreover, outside that door is a ledge with barely enough space for his feet — and then an instant drop — meaning that there is no porch or platform or even a banister to protect one from falling.
Meanwhile, the IAA audit report added that a company, Simple Source, a registered vehicle, logistics, and general services vendor, was hired and paid for providing feeding and accommodation for POC at the cost of US$130.00 per day, for 45 days amounting to US$152,100.00 when “in fact, Simple Source is a vehicle logistics and general services company.”
In the end, the report said, Simple Source submitted an “invoice for vehicle rental payment from Monrovia/RIA for 78 days at US$75.00 per day totaling US$7,350.00.
“We also did not see evidence of tax withholding to GOL. [And] from the cashbook reviewed, 31 payment vouchers valued at US$273,432.29 and LR$12,581,774.60 were not submitted for review by the auditors,” the report said.
Of these amounts, according to the report, several individual payees received amounts for services that remained unaccounted for. One Anette Beikor, on April 9, was paid US$24,855.00 “as compensation for Health Workers at the 14 Military Hospital”. Previously, on March 23, she also was paid L$196,000 for “transportation for a 220 KVA generator from Star Base to the Military Hospital”. On May 4 one Q. Pewee was paid US$71,500.00 without any service description as well as one A.T.C, who was paid US7,023.41 and US$10,621.20, without description of said payments. Also paid without service description was the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, which collected L$5,530,775.00. Again, the Bless 1 Resort received US$66,279.76 between June 13 and 15, for which there was no voucher submitted to auditors.
“The NPHIL did not submit ‘Receiving and distribution’ records of donated items received for the fight against COVID-19. The Ministry of Health warehouse Manager submitted documents and also worked along with the auditors. However, we observed that out of thirty-three (33) ventilators donated to MOH, ten (10) were not accounted for,” the report added.