Liberia: NPHIL Management, Former Director General React to GAC Audit Report on Double Salary and Misuse of Donor Fund

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MONROVIA – Cllr. Tolbert Nyenswah, former Director General of the National Public Health Institute who has been indicted by a recent audit report by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) that he received double salaries from NPHIL and the Ministry of Health amounting to paid US$24,000.00 and L$624,000.00 has refuted the claims by the supreme audit body, claiming that allegations in the report are complete fallacy and lacking facts.

At the same time, the management of NPHIL clarifies that contrary to the assertion made in the GAC press Release, she enjoys the confidence of her donors and is currently managing several donor projects. NPHIL stresses that donors do conduct routine audits of her finances sent to the Institution, and due to the entity’s ability to comply and report per donors’ expectations, she continues to manage projects worth millions of U.S. dollars.

Below Is Nyenswah’s Verbatim Response to the GAC Audit Report:

GAC’s Assertion: The GAC audit observed that the then Director General (DG) of NPHIL who prior to his appointment as Deputy Minister of Health at the Ministry of Health (MOH) was paid by both entities for three (3) months: January, February, and April of 2017. The Ministry of Health paid US$10,803.13 and L$297,532.34 and NPHIL paid US$24,000.00 and L$624,000.00 in net salaries. The GAC says that the double payment should be refunded to the Government of Liberia.

My Response: As can be seen, there is no double payment indicated here.  National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) got enacted into law in December 2016, the team commenced work immediately in January of 2017 as time was of the essence.  The Board approved salary of the Director General (DG) was US10,000.00 net, after a thorough vetting and analysis of other State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and autonomous agencies of Liberia, based on Civil Service Agency Recommendation.  As rightly said, the Director General previously served as Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health.  Before NPHIL commenced paying the Director General, he was still on the payroll of the MOH up to April 2017.  The Board of Directors of the National Public Health Institute completed salary vetting process and finally approved a salary structure of NPHIL on March 16, 2017. “Mr. Director General with compliments, I present to you official feedback following the March 14, 2017 emergency board meeting of the NPHIL held at the EOC. This is in consonance with the approved Act Section: 3.3 Function of the Board of Article J which stipulates that: the board shall approve the salary structure of the Director General and the Deputy Director General”. When the board of NPHIL finally structured the salaries of NPHIL’s senior management, which depicted a higher salary for the DGas compared to MOH’s salary, NPHIL management, in its wisdom, prorated the salary of the DG accounting for the difference between the NPHIL’s approved salary and the amount paid by MOH.  MOH paid the DG for four (4) months (January to April of 2017) and not three (3) months as indicated in the GAC report.

Let’s see the facts: As per the GAC report, MOH and NPHIL paid the DG US$10,813.13 and US$24,000.00, respectively- totaling US$34,813.13. The report also asserts that the DG was paid L$297,532.34 and L$624,000  by both entities, in the same order as stated above, totaling L$921,532.24.  At the time, CBL’s USD to LRD exchange rate was US$1.00 to L$165.00. If you deflate the LRD component of the DG’s salary (L$921,532.24) by the prevailing rate at the time (165), the USD equivalent is US$5,585.04.  If this amount is added to the total USD components received by the DG from both MOH and NPHIL (US$34,813.13), both amounts total to US$40,398.17, which depicts the DG’s approved salary for the four (4) months: January to April 2017, the difference (US$398.17) owing to minor fluctuations in the rate.  So as can be seen, the DG was not overpaid as indicated by the report and NPHIL’s administration, at the time, did the honorable and most expedient thing by prorating the salary and paying the DG the difference.Furthermore, on February 20th, 2017, the Deputy Director General of NPHIL at the time wrote the then Minister of Finance and Development planning putting him on notice (see attached). “Removal of the Director General name from MOH payroll”. In fact, the Auditor General should probe in-depth, the Government of Liberia owed the DGtwo months salaries (September and October 2019) in the tone of approximately US$10,000.00 GOL reduced harmonization policy.

In the GAC assertion it mentioned “The GAC says that the double payment should be refunded to the Government of Liberia”. What the GAC failed to state is what is the amount to be refunded? What is this Amount? The indisputable FACT is that there’s No Amount at all that needs to be refunded. Therefore, the Auditor General made it broad, sweeping, blanket and callous generalizations that double payment should be refunded to the Government of Liberia.

There are well-known and indisputable FACTs that no wrongdoing carried out here. The Auditor General did not do a thorough work. These allegations are ploy, frivolous, sensational, and present alternative facts. These kinds of audit reports are only good for the newspapers headlines. PERIOD!

GAC’s Assertion: Further, the report says Management did not maintain payment vouchers along with the necessary supporting documents for several transactions in the amount of US$354,611.25 recorded in the ledgers of  World Health Organization (WHO) Funds provided to NPHIL. The GAC says it requested the documents several times from Management during the conduct of the audit but management did not provide the documents.

My Response: This is another fallacy.  When working with international organizations like the UN Agencies, USAID, US-CDC, etc., work plans and budgets are approved on an annual or bi-annual basis and funds as disbursed in trenches based on the approved work plan.  Aside from the initial disbursement, all other disbursements are predicated upon the successful completion of the task (as per the work plan for that quarter) and full narrative report is accompanied by a full financial liquidation of funds received. It is only after these financial reports and supporting documents have be verified and certified by the partners that you receive funding for the subsequent period.  If the GAC’s assertion is true, NPHIL would not have received approximate US$1.5M from WHO alone, in several trenches of disbursements, during the period under review.  Additionally, these international partners, on a routine basis, send their financial experts and auditors to check their account and books with us.  That is why most of the partners insist on government agencies keeping a separate and distinct account for their funding.  NPHIL’s integrity, when it comes to its financial management, attracted the interest of lots of partners to the entity.

If the GAC is referring to the audit conducted when I was DG of NPHIL from January 2017 to October 2019, in which my Deputy DG for Administration and I addressed all concerns of the auditors and adduced all relevant supporting documents, then this assertion is false and misleading.  However, if this assertion refers to the second audit conducted by GAC in 2020 after my Deputy for Administration and I had left the country, (Sources at GAC told me that the GAC carried away documents from NPHIL and conducted an exclusive audit at their office after I had left the country), then I cannot address these concerns as I was not in the country by then.  

GAC’s Assertion: The GAC observed that the NPHIL Management did not remit to the Consolidated Account in keeping with the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act of 2009 unspent/closing cash balance of US$219,749.55 left in its bank accounts. The PFM requires that amounts not spent or committed by spending entities by the end of each fiscal year should be sent to the consolidated fund for reallocation.

My Response: This further authenticates that indeed another audit, other than the one conducted when I was DG, was conducted.  I emphatically remembered when asked by the GAC auditors why this fund was not remitted as per PFM requirement, they were told that this amount was outstanding staff salary for the month and as such, this amount could not be remitted and then requested.  Ifyou look at the subsequent month, which was July (the beginning of the next fiscal year), this amount was paid out as salaries for staff for the month of June.

GAC’s Assertion: According to the audit report, Liberia National Fire Service through its Fire Safety Teams of Inspectors recommended to NPHIL to purchase fire extinguishers and accessories for NPHIL’s use in the amount of  L$443,407.00. However, the report observed that the payment for the fire extinguishers and accessories was signed for and received by Liberia National Fire Service Teams of Inspectors on behalf of the supplier.

My Response: NPHIL, being a center of excellence and wanting to ensure a safe working environment for its employees, officially requested the Liberia National Fire Service, MOJ, R.L. to conduct a fire assessment and carry out fire drill training for all NPHIL staff.  NPHIL building, at the time had a fire extinguisher within 50 feet interval throughout the building and every staff was trained to use one.  NPHIL received a formal report from the LNFS with recommendations on measures to maintain safety.  The report also indicated the refilling of existing extinguishers and the procurement of additional ones from the vendor certified by LNFS.  NPHIL, knowing fully well that LNFS is the agency of government clothed with fire safety and fire management authority, obliged, and did as the report indicated.  We only verified the legality of the entity by requesting their business registration and tax clearance as required for procurement processes.  We did not ask for their article of incorporation to know who the incorporators were.  Also note that this exercise was carried out at both of our facilities (the one in Congo Town and the reference lab in Charlesville, Margibi County).  Having completed this exercise, NPHIL had more extinguishers with one being at 20 feet interval and a staff fully trained on the use of fire extinguishers and the knowledge on how to proceed in the case of a fire outbreak.

On April 3rd, 2021, we put the GAC on NOTICE: “REFUTATION TO THE AUDITOR GENERAL’S FINAL DRAFT REPORT ON “NPHIL 2016/2017 & 2017/2018 AUDIT”. In that notice we expressed our disappointment and refuted significant portion of the final draft report presented, because the report in its entirety is out of context, unbalanced, unfair and is in most part unprofessional in numerous other respects. The first instance is the report took over 20 months to be completed and a lot of manipulation took place in the absence of the auditees.

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