The initial USD$5 million bankrolled by the national government to help contain the deadly Ebola Virus has already been exhausted.
This disclosure was made over the weekend by James Dorbor Jallah, Head of the National Response Centre (NRC).
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer at his office, situated in the General Services Agency (GSA) compound, Mr. Jallah said the initial US$5 million was a portion of US$20 million approved by the national legislature to underwrite some of the costs associated with the nationwide battle against the infectious Ebola disease.
Giving a cursory breakdown of how the money has been expended, Mr. Jallah said the Ministry of Health (MOH) alone utilized US$2.9 million of the US$5 million. The rest of the money, he said, was expended on activities carried out by other ancillary groups and line ministries and agencies that are directly linked to the fight against the Ebola virus.
Those agencies and Ministries include the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Defense, the Liberia National Police and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization among others.
The US$2.9 million used by the MOH is infinitesimal to the ministry’s original budget of US$23 million it said it would need to help contain the EVD. The MOH is the lead Ministry in the uphill task to kick the disease out of Liberia.
When the disease was reported in Liberia, there was no system or organized mechanism in place to effectively deal with the disease, which immediately became a national emergency. The MOH, being the umbrella unit for health activities in the country, was automatically the first contact point in helping to contain the EVD.
But immediately following the establishment of the National Ebola Taskforce and the subsequent constitution of the National Response Coordination Center, naming James Dorbor Jallah as national coordinator, a bank account was opened with two signatories, James Jallah and Finance Minister, Amara Konneh.
In a bid to keep track of expenditures associated with the Ebola fight Jallah said, the Taskforce will make a monthly report to the Government on its activities and money used. It also makes requisitions for funding to underwrite the cost for the next month’s activities.
The NRC will basically keep track of and coordinate all donations being made in cash and kind to help contain the EVD here. ‘We will ensure that moneys and material given to various international agencies and by international partners and institutions are tracked in our data base. This data base will show when and how the material and money were used.”
Asked who is managing and or keeping track of all cash donations, Mr. Jallah indicated that when the disease broke out in Liberia, the Ministry of Health was in the lead in controlling the response initiatives. But later the government set up the Ebola Taskforce, headed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Before the Taskforce came into the picture, the MOH had an Ebola fund with the UNHCR donating US$$100,000. Now there is an Ebola Trust Fund managed by the Taskforce, with the Minister of Finance and the Taskforce Coordinator serving as signatories to the account.
Mr. Jallah admitted that the government of Liberia was faced with serious financial constraints and challenges, owing to the pulling out of Liberia of major tax payers such airlines and other companies.
The Daily Observer was informed that at this juncture, the Taskforce was forwarding to government its monthly report and requisitions for the coming months indicating that, up to press time, there was little over US$300,000 in the Trust Fund account.
On other donations that have been pouring in from different international and local groups, Mr. Jallah said all of the cash donations that have been announced by international partners, are ‘tied monies’ and are being channeled to third parties for utilization in the fight against the EVD.
For example, he said, the recent pledge of US$60 million by the African Development Bank (AfDB), announced in Monrovia last week by its President, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, for the three affected countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—will be used by WHO in the fight against Ebola. Some of the funds will be used to paid international doctors and experts brought to Liberia to help fight the disease.
Other third parties that most of the international donations will be given as a means of outsourcing the fight against Ebola include, Medicine San Frontier, (MSF), Samaritan Purse, Red Cross, and International Rescue Committee, among others. MSF, Mr. Jallah said, is one group with a lot of experience in the fight against the Ebola scourge. They are now mentoring the Samaritan Purse and other groups in this national endeavor.
The conveyance of logistics from one point to another remains a challenge, Mr. Jallah said. However, the entire logistics department of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been made available to be used by the Taskforce.
According to Mr. Jallah, the Taskforce has commandeered about 30 vehicles from the fleet of government vehicles originally assigned to other Ministries and Agencies. Of the 30 vehicles, 21 have been given to the Ministry of Health.
Also commandeered to help in the Ebola fight are 11 pickups brought in the country by UNDP to be used by the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary branch of government. Added to these, are 122 motor bikes procured by the Taskforce to be used by the Ministry of Health and Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
Refuting allegations that the Taskforce members were converting moneys donated for the Ebola battle to their own use, Jallah, said when he was approached by the President to serve on the Taskforce, he volunteered his services free of charge. He told the Daily Observer that he is currently using his own private vehicle, buying his own fuel and his own scratch cards as he goes about his work on the Ebola Taskforce.
Jallah said all members of his team are also working on a voluntary basis besides those working in the Call Center.
He noted that the mobile phone communication company CELLCOM has volunteered its vice president for administration and human resources, Ms. Wadei Powell, to serve free of charge as his deputy on the Task Force. One of her responsibilities is to coordinate the National Call Center, also stationed at the GSA Compound.