Amidst allegations that some local vendors are working behind the scenes to make a windfall during this national Ebola calamity in Liberia, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has debunked allegations that it was working in sync with the National Ebola Taskforce to procure about 17 ambulances to help in the fight against the deadly Ebola scourge.
One of the vendors participating in the bid to supply the ambulances said that the whole process was shrouded in an unholy, unprofessional aura (atmosphere). “We are bringing this to the press because we are afraid that a certain firm wants to manipulate the process to take undue advantage”, our informants, who preferred anonymity said.
This revelation was also corroborated by a source close to the Ebola Taskforce who asked not to be named.
Our source explained that when it became obvious that there was a need for the importation of more ambulances to facilitate the transport of Ebola-affected patients and the collection of dead Ebola bodies, the Taskforce approached the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in a bid to have the latter help in bringing the ambulances into Liberia.
Our reporter also gathered that the Taskforce approached a number of vendors soliciting quotations for the importation of ambulances. This was confirmed by James Dorbor Jallah, Coordinator of the Taskforce.
The Daily Observer, acting on the tip off, immediately contacted UNDP to authenticate the veracity in the allegation.
On whether the UNDP advised the National Ebola Taskforce or had a conversation relative to the procurement of ambulances at the unit cost of US$33,000, Augusta Pshorr, Communication Specialist at the UNDP, said on August 13, 2014, the UNDP received a message from the Taskforce that in response to the Ebola emergency, the Government of Liberia wanted to procure 17 ambulances for immediate use, and wanted to know whether UNDP could help.
Pshorr further indicated that before UNDP could respond, it (UNDP) was advised that given the urgency, action had been taken to procure 12 ambulances that would be available in 30 days; but the question was whether UNDP would assist in lifting them by air. UNDP promised to check on available options and advise accordingly, which she said UNDP could.
Pressed further on the results of the UNDP/Ebola Taskforce interaction relative to the overseas procurement of ambulances, Pshorr said it was “Just through exchanges, but in the meantime, UNDP offered to provide assistance in any future procurement needs using its procurement system that responds to emergencies like Ebola.”
By these exchanges, Pshorr could not tell the current status of the transaction and could not tell the Daily Observer whether the exchanges between the two institutions had ended in a deadlock.
Though Pshorr claimed that the UNDP did not know the details of the Taskforce ambulance importation transaction, our source at the UNDP says that after learning of the Taskforce solicitation of quotations from vendors, it (UNDP) alerted the Taskforce of the alleged breach but the Taskforce downplayed Pshorr’s advice and went ahead to negotiate a deal with the Africa Motors to import 12 ambulances at the unit cost US$ 66,000.
Since the outbreak of the Ebola malady accounting for the death of over 1,000 Liberians and other nationals in Liberia, there have been alleged attempts by some service providers, international organizations and some members of the national Ebola Taskforce to work out a scheme to purchase ambulances far beyond their market value.
When contacted, an official of the Africa Motors, Mohammed Batsam, said after they were approached by the Taskforce to provide quotations for the procurement of 12 ambulances, and they forwarded all of the necessary quotations projecting US$66,000 per unit to the Task Force.
Batsam said all of the requisite documents were forwarded to the Taskforce, including a Performance Bond from the GT Bank and they are awaiting the response of the Taskforce.
When asked whether Africa Motors was colluding with some members of the Taskforce to bring into Liberia ambulances at a unit cost double the US$33,000 as suggested by the UNDP, Batsam denied the allegation, addin, “We have always been partners of the Liberian government and people.”
He said the ambulances they promised to bring in the country are 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser jeeps fully air-conditioned with all of the appropriate accessories and state of the art equipment that should be in an ambulance.
Up to press time, Batsam said the deal had not been concluded, but added that once it was concluded, the Toyota Land Cruiser ambulances which are made in Japan will be lifted from the United Arab Emirates.
The Africa Motors executive denied the allegation that his company was colluding with insiders at the Ebola Taskforce to sell an ambulance far above the price of US$33,000 allegedly proposed by the UNDP.
When contacted, Mary Broh, Director of the General Services Agency, invited James Dorbor Jallah, Coordinator of the Taskforce, who clarified that the Taskforce did solicit quotations from vendors to be appraised for the subsequent procurements of additional ambulances to help augment the strength of ambulances currently in the fleet, helping in the collection of suspected patients of Ebola and the dead.
Jallah explained that following the perusal of all of the quotations, the Taskforce will make a determination on which company or companies to engage to bring in the ambulances.
Since the Ebola disease outbreak here, there have been a mismatch between the number of people dying from the disease and the number of ambulances needed to take suspected patients to isolation centers and to convey the dead to the crematorium or burial sites. The conspicuous absence of ambulances at major health centers across the country has exposed the weakness in Liberia’s health system.