The auditor general’s office has asked the former Chief Executive Officer of National Ebola Response Centre (NERC), to explain payments of over Le2.1 billion made for food items without adequate receipt, distribution list and delivery notes.
The report on the audit of the management of theEbola funds released on February 25, 2016 gave a 30-day ultimatum to the former CEO, Major (Rtd.) Palo Conteh, to provide answers for expenses he superintended.
“The CEO should within 30 days of the receipt of this report forward the documentary evidence in support of the expended amount of Le2,120,471,750 to the Audit Service for verification; otherwise,the whole amount should be disallowed and surcharged in accordance with Section 12 (b) of theAudit Service Act, 2014”, the report said.
The Act disallows “any item of expenditure which is contrary to law and surcharge the amount of any expenditure disallowed upon any person responsible for incurring or authorising the expenditure; or any sum which has not been duly brought into account upon the person by whom the sum ought to have been brought into account; or the amount of any loss or deficiency upon any person by whose negligence or misconduct the loss or deficiency has been incurred”.
The auditors feared that “monies that have been set aside for the purpose of combating the Ebola outbreak may have been used for unintended purposes” and warned that in future, “all transactions from inception to completion should be supported by the relevant documentary evidence which must be retained for audit and reference purposes”.
We couldn’t get the former NERC boss to respond to the query directed at him and the request made of him by the auditor general, despite calls and text messages. Going by the date the report was released,Major (Rtd.)Conteh has until 26 March this year and 9 days from today to respond.
But in a provisional response provided by its management to the Auditor General Sierra Leone, NERC said that: “All of these payments were made via bank transfer which in itself is a mode of payment that guarantees receipts by the intended payee. With regards delivery notes and distribution lists, the documents received from the respective districts were made available to the auditors”.
It also stated that they had promised that since those were contracts awarded and managed pre-NERC by the ministry of health and sanitation, a letter would be sent to the district health management teams requesting a copy of distribution list for all deliveries received.
“Also we will request that those suppliers that didn’t send in receipts do so as soon as possible,” they assured.
Meanwhile, according to the auditor’s verification the distribution lists were made available and verified but that they were very unsatisfactory.
“We were however not able to find recipient signatures on those lists to independently confirm whether those goods were actually received. We disagree with NERC that a bank transfer request can replace a legitimate receipt from the service provider. NERC failed to provide receipts from the service providers that they have allegedly transferred funds to. Therefore this issue is unresolved”, the auditor general said.
In a general comment contained in her forward to the report the Auditor General, Lara Taylor-Pearce, observed that little or no actions were taken by the ministry of health and NERC in implementing the comments and recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee in parliament on the previous report.