Liberia: Bong County Lawmaker Demands Health Minister Immediate Resignation

Bong County District #3 Representative, Marvin Cole

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – Bong County District #3 Representative Marvin Cole has called for the immediate resignation of Liberia’s Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah for gross financial mismanagement at Phebe Hospital.

Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]

According to Rep. Cole, Dr. Jallah has refused to honor his communication to state whether Phebe Hospital in Bong County is a private hospital or public health facility.

Rep. Cole has blamed the management of Phebe for grossly misappropriating Government funding over the years under the watchful eyes of the Ministry of Health.

Citing an internal audit report conducted in May, Rep Cole revealed that the management of Phebe has failed to account for L$129 million and US$1,222,000 from 2016 up to present. 

The report led to the indefinite suspension of the hospital’s management.

Addressing a press conference at his Capitol Building Office on Thursday, October 3, he said these “misapplied monies” were allotted to Phebe by the government, but as things stands, the Government does not have control over the management of the hospital.

He said prior to the passage of the National Draft Budget, he wrote Dr. Jallah to give the status of Phebe, but she failed and the budget has been passed by the House pending concurrence by the Senate. 

Without knowing the status of Phebe amid continuous budgetary allocation with no oversight will create room for mismanagement of taxpayers’ money as is being carried on over the years at the Phebe, he said.

He furthered that the subsidy and grant policy instituted by the government will be undermined if the ownership status of Phebe is not known and the Draft National Budget for fiscal year 2019/2020 is passed in to law.

The new subsidy and grant policy instituted by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) calls for private healthcare institutions to apply for grant from the Government. 

There is no specific appropriation for private institutions in the current draft budget as passed by the House of Representatives. 

But Phebe was given a US$1.5 million budgetary appropriation. Rep. Cole stated although he has already signed up to the passage of the budget, he has ‘serious’ reservation concerning the situation at Phebe Hospital. 

If the Hospital is established as private, the Bong County Lawmaker noted, that it will be unfair to public institutions that are receiving less budgetary support than Phebe.

He said Dr. Jallah’s refusal to simply state who owns Phebe indicates that she lacks the actual understanding of the Government’s Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), and as such she must resign.

“I think the Ministry of Health has not been able to due diligence to tell if Phebe is a private Hospital of Public facility. In my mind the Minister [of Health] lacks the understanding and activities of this Government. I humbly request Dr. Jallah to do the honorable thing to resign and go sit down,” he urged.

Phebe Management Lacks Moral Credibility 

According to Rep. Cole the internal audit report indicates that the current management of Phebe lacks the moral credibility to manage public funds that have been entrusted to them.

Cole revealed that the acting Administrator of Phebe, Reverend Victor Patmore is at the center of the allegation of corruption as pointed out by the audit.

According to Cole, Rev. Patmore in his position as Chaplain General was getting a monthly income of more than US$700 on three separate payrolls, while other health workers including nurses make far less than that amount.

Replacing a “corrupt group of people” with another, he noted, was not the right decision taken. He called for the immediate dismissal of the Phebe Administrator to be put under investigation.

When FPA contacted the Ministry of Health and the Phebe Hospital, there was no response for either institution.

Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah

But appearing before Plenary of the House in May this year, Dr. Jallah told lawmakers that despite huge budgetary support, the Phebe Hospital was not being managed by the Government.

She said because there is no document to show that Phebe is owned by the government to assume full management responsibilities, it is difficult to account for public resources that are allotted and disbursed to the hospital.

“I had the privilege of going to find out a lot of details about this particular hospital. And what I found out is that there is no written document to say that Phebe Hospital is a government institution,” Dr. Jallah told lawmakers back in May of this year.

According to her, she was informed that in 1974 when news emerged that Phebe was shutting down because of lack of funding, then President William R. Tolbert, Jr. instructed the Minister of Health at that time to intervene and save the hospital from closure since it was rendering basic health services to a large portion of the country’s population.

She said: “This hospital was not officially a government hospital. This hospital is run by a board and most of the members are Methodist, Episcopalian and other faith-based institutions. The government has a deputy position on that board. This makes it a little bit difficult to actually check into the finances at Phebe Hospital.”