Liberia: Ghost Names, No Show At Work, Financial Improprieties Affecting Health Care Delivery At Phebe Hospital

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Suakoko, Bong County – Over the past 24 months, the Phebe Hospital located in Suakoko, Bong County, a privately run facility which continues to receive budgetary support from the Government making up to 80% percent of its budget, has been in the limelight over reports of the lack of sufficient fuel to run its generator for the proper operation of the hospital’s facilities.

 Over the period, there have been cries of corruption and mismanagement of the facilities and lack of transparency for funds being provided by the Government and other donors; which has resulted in the inability of the hospital to maintain electricity by running generators to enable it to provide basic medical services to patients. 

This situation continues to deteriorate to the point where patients are being forced to purchase fuel before generators are turned on for doctors to perform major surgeries or even provide delivery services for pregnant women.

 Against the backdrop of many issues being faced by the hospital, there are widespread suspicions of chronic administrative and financial mismanagement, which could be the bedrock of the problems being faced by the facility.

Though this situation continues to be spoken about in many quarters; the earlier suspicions of mismanagement could not be verified. But a damning audit report in the possession of FrontPageAfrica has brought some clarity to the situation. 

Patrick Jackson, senior accountant of Phebe Hospital, along with three others were suspended by the hospital for alleged payroll padding

The report indicates massive corruption, including payroll padding, breach of financial and other rules in the running of the affairs of the hospital.

The Internal Audit Agency (IAA) in an internal review and audit concluded on the operations of the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing for fiscal periods from 2016 to 2019, revealed alarming fiscal and administrative discrepancies to the total of US$101, 22.30 for United States Dollars payroll and LRD 23,203,147.72 for Liberian Dollars payroll in some instances.

According to the IAA report, these discrepancies were because of differences in the payroll submitted to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and the payroll paid by the hospital. Section 1.1.2 of the audit report revealed that the management of the Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing prepares and submits two payrolls (the United States Dollars Incentive Payroll and Librarian Dollars payroll) to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning monthly; and yet has a separate payroll that is paid; with some personnel being paid under all three payroll and others only on one payroll.

 As per GOL procedures, the MFDP processes the payrolls and draws checks net of Income Taxes and payroll comprising of a Regular Incentive payroll, Liberian Dollars Payroll submitted to MFDP resulting in said discrepancies.

 According to the audit, the IAA didn’t find any documented authorization allowing Phebe to reallocate these payroll funds to other expenditures or other personnel-related activities.

 The audit and internal review engagement were commissioned by the Ministry of Health, due to alleged irregularities on the payrolls of the Hospital and School of Nursing.

 In July 2019, the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, suspended four of its employees – the administrator, Kerson Saykor, Resource Manager, Jonathan Pewu, chief financial officer, Patrick Jackson and senior accountant, Jonathan Akoi on alleged acts of corruption, as the report was not made public.

Jonathan Pewu, human resource director, was suspended last year by the hospital management for alleged payroll padding

 Representative Marvin Cole, Bong’s District#3 lawmaker alleged that the four Phebe Hospital employees were reportedly involved in payroll padding, threatening to halt every budgetary allotment to the hospital. Representative Cole at the time said, “If the four individuals in question are not dismissed by the hospital I will ensure that the hospital doesn’t get any financial allotment from the government.”

 The lawmaker said it was disheartening to know that some officials of the hospital were bent on exploiting employees while nurses and other junior staff suffer.

Phebe Hospital is a private hospital, which has continued to receive funding from the government. During the tenure of then-Senator Taylor, who represented Bong County on the Ways and Means Committee of the Liberian Senate, the budget in 2006 went from 50,000.00 thousand US dollars to more than 2 million United States Dollars. She and other Bong Legislators fought to secure funds for Phebe. Though these funds were provided through annual budgetary allotments, rumors of corruption and mismanagement were common.

 VP Taylor ‘not to blame for Phebe nightmare’

 Recently, calls have been made for the current Vice President, Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, a daughter of Bong County to intervene. The calls were consistent to the point where it was seen by some, that she no longer cares. 

So much so that a FrontPageAfrica representative reached out to the Vice President to ascertain why she was being silent on such a major issue; as opposed to her swift intervention to provide fuel for Cuttington University in their time of need.

 The Vice President assured FPA that she had been in touch with Ministry of Health officials to ascertain what the issues were; especially because Phebe received more than 80 percent of its budgetary allocation from GOL; and that over the past 6 or so years – Phebe had requested and received 2 fully functioning manufacturing facilities – to produce oxygen and Drip Solutions. 

The VP said she was concerned about why these two facilities were not being fully utilized; which would bring in additional sources of income for the facilities and provide local support to other hospital facilities.

As the Government sought final solutions for this problem; Senior Officials of Government met with some members of the Board. The opinion of the GOL officials after considering all options preferred a solution to the Board; that an MOU is signed between Government and Phebe Hospital, allowing the government through the Ministry of Health to run the facilities. 

This suggestion seemed not to go down well with the Board, who thought that the Government should just continue to provide support. But the officials of Government restated that the issues at Phebe were more than the issue of lack of fuel; and that in fact, the situation was a result of gross mismanagement at all levels. 

At the end of this meeting, it was agreed that the Board would consider the MOU and get back to Government.

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 Concluding, Vice President Taylor said she would never sit and allow Phebe to go into crisis without any intervention; but that the situation was more systematic than just lack of fuel to a Private facility. And that to get the facility out of the constant crisis, during which Government is always blamed; a new way forward in total must be embraced.

Kerson Saykor, suspended administrator of Phebe Hospital

 Corruption still a menace in the public sector

Corruption is not a strange phenomenon in Liberia as successive governments have promised to fight the menace but falling to show real political will in curtailing what is known to be one of the many problems hindering the growth of the country.

The promise to fight corruption continues to be a good campaign tool for politicians with former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf coining some of the best phrases to describe corruption. During her inauguration in 2006, the Liberian former Liberian leader promised zero tolerance on corruption and few years in power she changed the message describing corruption as a Vampire eating up the fabric of the country.

In the end, after 12 years, President Sirleaf had no known record of a strong stance against corruption admitting that corruption was systematic and difficult to fight leaving her predecessor current President George M. Weah to use the message of fighting corruption to convince the Liberian people that there was a need for change from the Unity Party to a new breed of leaders.

President Sirleaf failed to act on numerous audit reports issued by the General Auditing Commission of Liberia and at some point during her tenure, the GAC became one of the most hated public institutions by public officials who saw the work of the commission as exposing their corrupt deals. 

As audit reports were exposing close associates to President Sirleaf of engaging in corruption, President Sirleaf could not hide her dislike for the exposure when she publicly declared that she did not like the mode of operations of the Auditor General at the time.

Although, just a little over two years in power but President Weah is also yet to show any strong commitment to fight corruption as his regime continues to be dragged in shady contracts award and other bogus deals. From awarding construction contracts to other contracts, the new regime is threading the path of President Sirleaf, according to many.

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