Liberia: U.S. Embassy Likely to Withdraw Funding from Margibi Health Team following Corruption Exposé by FrontPageAfrica
MONROVIA – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is likely to stop funding health initiatives in Margibi County following FrontPageAfrica’s exposé of corrupt activities among the county health team.
By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
FrontPageAfrica obtained an audio recording in which the Margibi County Health Officer (CHO) Dr. Augustine Nyankun Fannieh and other senior staff of the County Health Team were discussing their involvement in financial corruption surrounding fraudulent billings and collection of kickbacks from vendors.
The leaked audio embroiling the Margibi County Health Team administrators in financial impropriety surfaced at the time the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Ministry of Health (MOH) Fixed Amount Reimbursement Agreement (FARA) Program is providing annual financial support of US$801,693.00 to the Margibi Health System.
The FARA program supports the cost of implementing components of the Essential Package of Health Services that support family planning, maternal and child health, and malaria prevention and treatment at 24 health Facilities across Margibi.
In response to the report, the United States Embassy in Monrovia commended FrontPageAfrica for the exposé and expressed concerns over the stealing of American taxpayers’ money intended to support health initiatives in the county.
In a brief statement, the Embassy state:
The United States Mission to Liberia expresses serious concerns about the report in the February 2, 2023 edition of Frontpage Africa Newspaper regarding the misuse of funds provided by the United States Government to support health care for the people of Margibi County. We have a special responsibility to ensure that money provided by United States taxpayers for the benefit of the people of Liberia, including the people of Margibi, is used for its intended purpose. We commend the investigative journalism that brought this story to light and appreciate the swift action by the Ministry of Health to make immediate changes while investigating the matter. The USAID Mission to Liberia will decide whether to retain Margibi as part of USAID’s government-to-government agreement pending a transparent investigation and associated actions to hold accountable anyone involved in the misuse of any U.S. government funds.
MoH Takes Action
Following the publication, the Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, announced the recall of all members of the Margibi Health Team who were implicated in the leaked audio. According to Dr. Jallah, those implicated have been turned over the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Dr. Jallah said the alleged actions of these staff amounts to corruption.
She said an acting health team has been put in place in the county to continue the delivery of health services. She at the same time assured partners that the alleged corruption would be investigated and the outcome of the investigation would inform the Ministry’s next action.
What’s in the Audio
The five-minute-long audio recording emanated from a conversation between the Margibi County Health Officer Dr. Augustine Nyankun Fannieh and others including the County Health Services Administrator, Leroy Darworzia, County Health Services Department Director, James Tamba Varney, Compliance Officer, George Y. Gaykpua, Finance Officer, Roland M. Reeves, Assistant Finance Officer, Kusie E. David and Procurement Officer, Dornuu Horace.
The leaked audio, which dates back more the five months ago, was recorded during a senior-managerial meeting triggered by a growing rift amongst the county health team officials over the unfair distributions of kickbacks from corrupt dealings.
In the recording, Dr. Fannieh can be heard in a somewhat angry tone mandating the procurement officer Dornuu Horace to desist from collecting kickbacks from vendors on behalf of the health team and only focus on his responsibility of processing procurement documents and bargain with vendors and allow the accountant to do the collection of kickbacks.
Dr. Fannieh stated: “Any transaction that goes on in terms of remission; you give something and the procurement do something. The understanding is you need the money back to do something else.”
“The procurement is supposed to do all his procurement thing and go and do the paper works, have the discussion and all with the vendors and whatever. Whatever is agreeable, you come and inform the County Health Services Administrator to know what is it; the accountant issued the cheque to the vendors and whatever amount that is agreeable that supposed to come back or wherever it is supposed to go; going forward it is the accountant that will go for the money, not the procurement,” he commended.
He said: “So, the procurement officer should now begin to instruct or bargain with the vendors that after you received the cheque whatever amount the accountant should receive not the administrator.”
“Doctor, don’t talk it, I will not be part of it again. What I mean, I will not part of it to say money business come you see me inside; I do my document, turn my back, let them carry their cheque they will get their money”, Procurement Officer Horace can be heard saying.
At this, Compliance Officer George Y. Gaykpua says: “You are not understanding—after you have done your preparation with them (vendors) — you tell them say they will rise the cheque, but this cheque if that one drum of gas you will not get the gas; the money is coming back, only the accountant will come for it.”
The other voice in the clip belonging to the County Health Services Department Director James Tamba Varney asked: “Horace, you never brought complain that there was a time that you met the administrator that the money come to him and portion you supposed to get you never got it?”
The Procurement Officer Dornuu Horace answered in the affirmative: “Yes, but I did say…that money business I am done with it now.”
Dr. Fannieh then interrupted stating: “The accountant will receive the money and bring it to the administrator and inform the administrator. If that the junior account received the money, the junior account will turn it over to the senior accountant then the senior accountant will inform the administrator that money is here.”
At this interval, Dr. Augustine Nyankun Fannieh statement was interrupted with the sound of laughter from across the room.
Dr. Fannieh further: “Base on what it should be, the administrator if it required the administrator coming to the County Health Officer to do whatever breakdown XYZ; that breakdown will be sent to the accountant. It is the accountant going forward that will disburse all funding as long it has to do will money amongst hierarchies.”
Dr. Fannieh words: “Everywhere and there is nowhere you and your boss man whether salary or no salary can be equal irrespective of where you are. So, I defeat that other argument.”
In separate remarks, the County Health Services Department Director James Tamba Varney like others in speakers in the room advised the Procurement Officer Dornuu Horace to heed to Doctor’s instruction.