Finance and Health ministers told House Plenary that the hospital received 1.5 million from the current national budget
Reports of the Government of Liberia’s failure to provide funds to Phebe Hospital which is causing the lack of medical supplies (drugs) and electricity and that doctors and nurses are using their mobile phone lights to carry out or perform treatments, have been rubbished by Finance and Health Ministers, when they individually disclosed that Phebe Hospital has received about US$1.5m out of their US$1.9m allocated in the 2018/2019 Fiscal Budget.
Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah and Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah appeared on Thursday, May 30 before the full House’s session and called for robust monitoring against the abuse or mismanagement of government’s goods.
Mr. Tweah’s and Dr. Jallah’s appearance together on Thursday, May 30 were to eschew contempt charges when they failed twice — on May 16 and 21 — to appear before the House’s full plenary.
During their appearances, both Ministers formally expressed regret and apologized for failing to honor the invitations because of pressing engagements, and motions were made to accept their apologies.
Health Minister Jallah said in her testimony that the there is no evidence to indicate that Phebe Referral Hospital is for the government and, despite that, about US$1.5 million has been disbursed to the hospital. She added that during the time the hospital was said to be in the verge of closure due to lack of money to provide drugs and electricity, about US$250,000 was in the ‘Performance Based Account’ for use.
“After assessing the happenings at the Phebe Hospital, we were able to procure 3 months’ fuel and besides that, there are over 10 containers of essential medicines which will be distributed in the 15 counties and we hope to get the support from the Ministry of Finance and the Counties’ Legislative Caucuses for monitoring to tackle abuse and mismanagement of government goods,” Dr. Jallah said.
In a stern tone, the Health Minister said Phebe Hospital should be questioned over the management of the US$1.5 million. She reported that the Government of Liberia does not have access to the hospital’s payroll and books because the Board Members mainly comprise members of the Lutheran Church, while the government only has a single member represented.
“In 1972, in order to rescue Phebe Hospital from shutting down, former President William R. Tolbert intervened and promised government’s support and, since then, there has not been any document to indicate that the Phebe Hospital is government,” Dr. Jallah told the lawmakers.
The Health Minister’s disclosure caused disagreement among lawmakers with Reps. Edward Karfiah, Francis Dopoh, Vicent Willie and Dixon Seebo arguing that an act to make Phebe Hospital a public referral hospital was passed in 1972. Other lawmakers including Rep. Acarous Gray and Joseph Sonwarbi indicated that only an act can substantiate whether Phebe Hospital is a public or a faith based hospital.
Bong County District #3 Representative J. Marvin Cole suggested that an audit be conducted on the books of the hospital, especially concerning the US$15 million of the people’s taxpayers’ money that was given.
Both Ministers appeared on Thursday, May 30, following a communication from Rep. Cole, craving the indulgence of the House to invite before its Plenary the Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance & Development Planning, as well as the Administrator of the Phebe Hospital, to explain to the Liberian people what is going on in the health sector across the country, relative to the alleged shut down of operations due to the lack of electricity or lack of medicines.
Making his brief interjections, Finance Minister Tweah confirmed the disbursement of US$1.5 million to Phebe but said the money was disbursed in cash, through grants and goods and services and indicated that about US$1 million is for personnel costs.
The Finance Minister said following the funds given to Phebe Hospital there is no reason why the hospital should lack medicines and electricity. He stressed that the Finance and Health ministries are reviewing mechanisms to put in place for monitoring the hospital, specifically regarding medicines and fuel as it relates to grants.
River Gee District lawmaker Francis Dopoh reminded the Finance Minister that the Budget Law gives him the authority to create policy for grant and donors funds.
However, Mr. Tweah said the plans will be in accordance with the budget law but said the government’s priority to achieve her pro-poor agenda is health, education and youth empowerment. He said health is coded at US$81 million, US$66 million of which has been allotted, while US$54 million was disbursed.
Minister Tweah has also revealed that the government has bent over backwards to ensure that the health sector is highly supported and government has acquired US$16 million in grants, from which only US$6.5 million has been discharged.
Meanwhile, the House’s Plenary has mandated the Health Minister to provide detailed reports on Phebe Hospital to the Joint Committee on Health and Ways, Means and Finance within two weeks for subsequent report to the full plenary.
Some lawmakers who requested to remain anonymous said the House of Representatives will be soliciting the required signatures and the vote of the Plenary to subject Phebe Hospital to an audit.
Phebe Hospital provides preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay and was erected by the Lutheran Church. The Hospital opened in 1921 and the Phebe School of Nursing was the first nursing school in the country.