Health Ministry Fights Donor Audit ‘Indictment’ -Says OIG Report Not ‘Guilty Verdict’ But Allegations

The Ministry of Health is one of few government institutions still lucky to be a darling of international humanitarian organizations even long after the civil conflict. As the empathy for war-torn Liberia waned so came fatigue triggering an exodus of donor organizations departing the country either shortly before 2018 when a new government was sitting or not very long after the inauguration of the new government. With a good number of these organizations remaining in support Liberia, the Ministry of Health of one of such lucky ones. But the blessing for continued external aid is not an end in itself; it comes with vigorous fiscal scrutiny—something that the Ministry of Health has been subjected to for a long now. Of all the fiscal scrutiny that it has gone through over the years, the one conducted by the Global Fund Office of Inspector General (OIG) stands out more prominently raising countless transparency and accountability questions. As some sections of the media attempt to blow the report by the OIG out of all proportion, the Ministry has come out with a press statement clarifying that what is contained in the report by the OIG is in no way an indictment for wrongdoing but allegations begging for answers. The Ministry of provides some of the answers, as The Analyst reports.

The Ministry of Health has clarified that the investigation report issued by the Global Fund’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on April 8, 2022 on the fiscal character of the Ministry and is flowing into the public place is not an indictment or conviction for improbity but something seeking answers.

According to the Ministry, it is analyzing the report in order to inform its action(s) that could be instituted by the Ministry.

Key issues captured in the OIG report include the following: Staff of the National AIDS Control Program were accused of conducting fraudulent procurements of vehicle repairs and advertising services; that no assurance could be provided over program delivery in 75% of MoH field activities that we reviewed; the MoH overcharged for daily subsistence allowances and misused grant funds by providing incorrect allowances and catering expenses;  the MOH used global Fund grant to pay taxes to the Government of Liberia.

The Ministry says that the OIG investigation came about when it discovered an irregularity at one of its programs, The National Aids Control Program (NACP) were it was discovered by internal audit unit of the Ministry in 2020.

MOH stated in a release Wednesday, April 13, 2022, the Global Fund came into the picture and its OIG able to produce a report because it has the Ministry that first unearthed an irregularity and called on the attention of the donor.

“We also like to inform the Public that for the period under review in keeping with the Global Fund grant management and procedure, fiduciary responsibilities such as procurement, Financial Management (including co-singing of checks, Local Purchase Orders and Vouchers), Internal Audit and External Audit functions were all being jointly executed by many international firms with the following responsibilities.

The Ministry of Health named the organizations seconded by Global Fund to the project to include Cardno International Development, an American based financial management firm contracted by Global fund as its Fiscal Agent (FA) and was stationed at the MOH with the fiduciary responsibility of reviewing all procurement and financial transactions as well as providing pre-audit and post- audit functions on global fund transactions.

“If the FA is dissatisfied with a particular transaction or transactions, that transaction doesn’t get processed until it is corrected and signed on by the FA,” the Ministry defended itself from wrongdoing.

“The FA has the right to also declare a transaction as illegible even after it has occurred.  Cardno served the Ministry in this capacity from 2015-2021 and has now been replaced by GFA Consulting Group another Internal Financial and Procurement management firm as of January 2022.”

MoH further asserted that there is the Swiss Centre for International Health which also been under contract by the Global Fund as the Local Fund Agent (LFA).

The LFA oversees quarterly reviewing and certification of all quarterly transactions submitted to the Global Fund along with their supporting documents, the Ministry said.

“They also provide assurances of all quarterly report submitted to the Global Fund on a periodic basis. The LFA performed post audit of all transactions on a quarterly basis and report to the Global any irregularities. The LFA, has the right to also declare expenditures stated in the quarterly report as illegible after it has reviewed the transactions. In which case, the MOH will have to reimburse the Global Fund for such expenditure deemed illegible.   Since 2015 the Swiss Center for International Health has played the roles Local Fund Agent.”

Also forming part of the program is the Moore Stevens International Auditing Firm based in the UK was hired by the Global for the period of the OIG report, as is expected, the International Auditors provided assurances of all transactions carried out by the Ministry during the period 2015-2020.

The Ministry explained further: “These very transactions which were reviewed by the FA, and LFA were also authenticated by the external auditors through the provision of   an unqualified Opinion (Clean Opinion). The Moore Stevens five-year contract has ended and has been replaced by Ernst & Young, another international Auditing firm who is currently conducting Audit of the Global transactions for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021.”

MOH contends that “we believe the vigorous system of check and balance the Global Fund Grant management system has in place at the Ministry of health along with our robust Financial Management System and many years of managing grants we can safely say it’s impossible to engage in massive corruptions without being detected over a long period of time as it has been portrayed by the OIG report.”

Regarding the OIG findings which declared that an aggregate expenditure summing up to US$990,000 noncompliant be restituted, The Ministry “believes restituting this amount is unfair and firmly disagrees with some of the reasoning behind the OIG’s conclusion”

The release added: “We however concede that some amount must be restituted depending on the circumstances. For example, the draft OIG report shows that some people received money as daily subsistence allowances (DSAs) for a given number of days but spent less number of days on the field. Those who fall in this category are among the persons being investigated. Stipulation to restitute the DSAs for the number of days not accounted for will certainly form a part of the recommendations of the investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry has established a committee to carry out detailed reviews of the report and to further investigate allegations contained in count one the report.

The internal investigation committee will determine the level of wrongdoings and recommend actions against those accused, depending on the levels of culpability, the Ministry’s statement said. “Such actions ranging from suspension to restitution of funds and possible prosecution.”

It is also reliably said that the Ministry of Health and the Global Fund’s Geneva-based Project Team, which is also accused in the report for inadequate oversight, are collaborating to put in place more robust measures to   avoid reoccurrence of the disreputable activities reported in the findings.

The Ministry said it suspended the NACP’s Deputy Procurement Manager for Finance and Administration in 2020 based on the initial internal audit finding which triggered the OIG investigation. Further appropriate actions are expected to be taken after receipt of OIG report and the MOH investigation team report.

“The Ministry is cognizant of its duty to discharge its duties in line with established guiding principles and in line with commitments made to execute grants pursuant to agreed procedures and guidelines,” the press statement asserted

“Based on our initial reading of the report and other prior communications with the Global Fund, we are compelled to strongly disagree with count two that no assurance was provided in 75% of the field activities that was reviewed,” the Ministry adding that it has provided the OIG and Global fund all supporting documentations to justify all the reviewed field activities not only during the OIG investigation but also during previous review.

MoH further said: “Most of the transactions referenced in the report concerning the mother to Peer activities carried out by NACP’s Staff which involve payment of DSA to staff responsible for the disbursement of fund to the beneficiaries as well as payment to the beneficiaries themselves.

‘To claim that this program doesn’t exist, and payments made to these Mothers for th entire grant period deemed illegible is grossly unfair to the people of Liberia not only considering that most of the Mothers are still alive and the Global has agreed with MOH to continuously pay them on the monthly basis but also the fact that OIG was unable to visit Liberia to physically interact with the beneficiaries apparently due to Covid 19. We maintained that this program has existed, funds were disbursed to the beneficiaries and is still being disbursed to them but using as agreed with the Global Fund, mobile money transfer mechanism rather than cash disbursement s being implemented since early 2021.”

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