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EDITORIALS  

Ernest Koroma is Constantly Inspiring; The Ebola Audit is Latest Example
By From Editorial Desk
Feb 27, 2015, 17:18
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One aspect of the tenure of Sierra Leones President Ernest Bai Koromas leadership has been his unique ability to inspire the world to have unprecedented perspectives; This has been to extent of Koroma charting paths that other leaders subsequently identify as worth emulating.

 

One such example is Koromas recent insistence on a real-time, self-auditing of his Government. During height of his countrys Ebola crisis and as huge sums of monies flowed in from local and international quarters to stop the spread of Ebola, President Koroma made several public urgings for all such funds to be used judiciously by both international donor agencies and by his local government officials.

 

The President went a step further by instructing the Sierra Leone Auditor-General to do a real time audit of his Governments management and use of Ebola funds.

 

It was an unprecedented step by a Sierra Leone Head of State.

 

Under Section 119.(7) of the Sierra Leone Constitution, only the Head of State can order for such a real time audit and indeed President Koroma not only cautioned his officials against misuse of Ebola Funds but went on to take the bold and admirable decision to instruct the Auditor-General to audit himself and his Governments management of Ebola Funds.

 

The first audit report covering from May to October 2014 has already been published and is now being looked into by the Sierra Leone Parliament during transparent proceedings that are aired live to the public.

 

These steps of being transparent and accountable have seen the President receive accolades from far and wide. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are the three countries most affected by the current intransigent Ebola Outbreak. Frontpageafrica, a top newspaper in neighbouring Liberia did a comparative analysis of the transparent and accountable style of President Koroma as against their own President and concluded that their country was faltering far behind Sierra Leone leadership. Similar sentiments were widely expressed in Guinea.

 

The impact of President Koromas instruction for an audit has now gone beyond Liberia and the subregion to reach even higher international dimensions.

 

Yesterday 26th February 2015, Transparency International, the worlds topmost transparency and anti-corruption watchdog has re-echoed the recent call of President Koroma for all other countries, all international donors and all implementing agencies to follow the footsteps of the Government of Sierra Leone and submit themselves to be audited and give proper account of all funds given to them to help the fight against Ebola.

 

There had been eyebrows raised in Sierra Leone especially within the PAOPA section of the opposition SLPP party over the call by President Koroma for international agencies to emulate his leadership and self-audit themselves. However, going by the feedback so far, the call by the President has not only been heard and hailed around the world but it has now sparked off growing calls for his self-auditing leadership steps to be emulated and made into good standard by all international bodies including the United Nations.

 

In Statement issued yesterday, Transparency International welcomed Sierra Leones real time self-auditing and asked others to follow. Full text follows:

 

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL CALLS FOR A

COMPREHENSIVE AUDIT OF EBOLA FUNDS IN WEST AFRICA

 

26th February 2015: Transparency International today called on government authorities and the United Nations to undertake a comprehensive audit of all Ebola donations from internal and external donors across West African nations devastated by this deadly health crisis. There is far too little transparency in the management of Ebola funds. The first step is to conduct a full audit, which must include an in-depth accounting of all donations already received, how they were dispersed, and whether they achieved value for money.

 

A first partial audit in Sierra Leone released on 14 February has already highlighted undocumented spending. Governments should also immediately open up to public scrutiny the amounts received and where they are being spent, as has been done by other countries suffering national emergencies.

 

Weak public financial management systems coupled with high levels of corruption in these three countries create many opportunities for the abuse of power, bribery and unethical actions that limit the ability of donations to be used effectively to stop the Ebola outbreak. When so much money floods into the region in such a short period of time, accountability for those funds should shoot to the top of any list of priorities, said Jos Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

 

The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia led to an outpouring of funds by well-meaning individuals and institutions both national and international, including governments and citizens, to support the countries fighting the disease. Citizens in the afflicted countries expressed appreciation for these donations but they also raised concerns with regards to the prudent and judicious use of the funds.

 

The fact that the Audit Service Sierra Leone has conducted a real time audit on the usage of the funds is welcomed, but more must be done across the region to ensure that all money is accounted for and well-spent.

 

Transparency International research shows that 48 per cent of patients in Sierra Leone and 40 per cent in Liberia paid bribes to access health services, according to Transparency Internationals 2013 Global Corruption Barometer. This was when there was no national crisis or deadly epidemic.

 

The quick spread of Ebola and the lack of readiness of health providers in countries afflicted has dramatically shown what happens when public institutions are weakened by chronic systemic corruption over time. This corruption sees resources diverted and patients needs ignored. Corruption is a serious crime that must be battled at all times. It is unbearable when it contributes to the deaths of thousands of poor people and those responsible must face the full extent of the law.

 

If West Africa healthcare sectors were more transparent and accountable, they would have been better prepared to respond to the outbreak, Ugaz added. Now is the time to account for the corruption and start the process of building stronger health sectors.

 

Humanitarian disasters like the Ebola outbreak require quick responses but they also require  corruption safeguards to ensure money is well spent. We call on the governments to review their policies, identify if corruption has occurred and prosecute those found guilty.

 

In the coming months as the countries start rebuilding their economies, the governments must also focus on identifying and mitigating corruption risks in strengthening the health sectors. Transparency International has developed detailed risk assessment tools for this and we encourage governments and aid agencies ensure that best practice guidelines are followed.


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