The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday June 9, 2016 officially declared Liberia free of the Ebola virus transmission after the country successfully passed forty-two days without a confirmed case of the disease. Dr. Alex Gasasira, the organization’s representative in Liberia commended the Liberian government and people on their effective response to the recent re-emergence of Ebola in the Country.
He assured that the WHO will continue to support Liberia in its effort to prevent, detect and respond to suspected cases. It was the fourth time that Liberia was declared free of the virus since the epidemic began in December 2013. The most recent occurrence was traced to a woman who had been exposed to the virus in Guinea and travelled to Liberia with her children. They subsequently became infected consequently spreading the virus.
When the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak virtually over, the virus had killed more than eleven thousand people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone; the three most seriously affected West African countries. Actually, Liberians seem to have forgotten or did not have any more euphoria for such announcement given their resilient nature and the unfolding situations in the country. The politically-charged and alleged corruption news-spreading Monrovia has claimed the attention of people these days that talking about an Ebola declaration news, almost passes by with the speed of light. The interest in such news has fallen to the lowest ebb. Prior to this announcement, adherence to the various Ebola protocols was very minimal or in some instances ignored totally.
But in all of this, there are a couple things that the memories of Liberians and other residents will forever remain stock to. For example, they will never forget the ravage of the disease; when Liberia was not only in total shock, but a dark blanket of uneasy calm and bewilderment covered the entire country. The shock and bewilderment Liberia experienced during the 2014 Ebola crisis can almost be equated to that experienced by the Equatorians as described by John Milton Greaves in his Book The Fist of Machiavelli. The experience of the Equatorians at the time was felt when the sudden death news of their Vice President Tyrone Stevens was announced. He had served patiently as Vice President under President Bill Trotman. Tyrone Stevens’ death news was announced immediately after being sworn in to succeed President Trotman. This was the kind of shock that engulfed the entire Liberia that was totally ignorant about solutions in battling the Ebola virus disease. Initial comments by both government officials and partners at the time either stretched the level of ignorance or just created more room for doubt and confusion.
The Country and its people will also remember the cultural change the crisis effected; we stopped shaking hands, hugging and even eating together. The way of life in Liberia changed more than one hundred percent. Our beloved ones, who died of Ebola initially, had no graves; they were cremated, adopting an Indian culture. We could no more touch our sick relatives nor even take them to hospital, let alone a medical facility. Our health institutions and systems were all stabbed with a very sharp dagger by the virus. The entire country was swamped with total confusion. When the global media community rallied from all angles with their local counterparts to report on what was happening in Liberia, almost the entire world was submerged in sympathy to lend a helping hand to the country and its people.
And the assistance in all forms and manners began to flow like “Manna falling from Heaven”. The United Nations immediately seized the opportunity to knock on the doors of donor organizations and friendly countries to come to the help of Liberia that was battling what a media colleague of ours described as an “Unknown Enemy”. Our effort in this article is directed at the commissioned General Auditing Commission’s Report on the Ebola Trust Fund. A report supported by huge sums of Liberian tax payers’ monies. An account scribed by some of Liberia’s best “Brains” in terms of financial and scientific calculations. An account whose precipitation was on the basis of accountability and transparency. A documentation that took several careful weeks of consultations, research and in-depth analysis regarding expenditure of the Ebola Trust Fund. This is where the pull of resources and assistance were dumped and managed by the National Ebola Task Force/ Incident Management System (IMS).
So we want to contribute to efforts in digging out what has happened to the report in order not to frustrate the efforts of Madam Yusador S. Gaye and her abled team. We also want to ensure that Liberian tax payers’ monies are spent wisely with a results-oriented attitude. We want to join forces to discourage the idea or act of “ignoring” or “sweeping” commissioned reports under “carpets”. Because there have been wide accusations about the Liberian Government’s inability to adequately, professionally and efficiently deal with commissioned Reports on pertinent national issues that have had variance, our dire interest is widened and eager for an inquiry and a challenge to the relevant authorities to let the public know the status of this very important document. This is the core of our interest as we embark on and complete the writing of this article. We have had several conversations with relevant actors on the GAC’s report regarding what is being done with or about it.
For the benefit of our readers, the General Auditing Commission considered Liberia’s Supreme Audit Institution, conducts audits and submits its reports to the Liberian Legislature through its Joint Public Accounts Committee, following which the latter conducts public hearings. Recommendations are made by the Legislature after public hearings to the President of Liberia for implementation. The work of the GAC stops at the Legislature to which the Commission reports. The GAC does not have any prosecutorial power. So when the GAC was tasked to conduct an audit of the Ebola Trust Fund for the period August 1 to October 31, 2014, the work was done under the Auditor General’s statutory mandate as provided for under Chapter 53.3 of the Executive Law of 1972. According to a Transmittal Letter under the signature of soft-spoken Auditor General Yusador S. Gaye, findings conveyed in the report were formally communicated to the Management Team of the National Ebola Trust Fund and its Implementing partners for responses. We now quote the last paragraph in the GAC’s transmittal letter to the Legislature. “Given the significance of the matters raised in this report, we urge the Hon. Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives and Hon. President Pro-Tempore and members of the Liberian Senate to consider the implementation of the recommendations conveyed in this report with urgency.”
One notation in the GAC’s comprehensive report we want to highlight is that they stated that base on the audit work performed, they were not able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis for a conclusion. Accordingly, they did not express a conclusion on the available records on the National Trust Ebola Fund for the period August 1 to October 31, 2014. Despite their decision not to reach a conclusion based on their findings, has this stopped the appropriate and relevant Liberian government authorities to take the necessary actions? Or are they supporting speculations that the report has been swept and cremated with the “DEAD”? So when calls were mounting for the implementation of the GAC’s Report on the Ebola Trust Fund President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shot a surprise when she ignited the debate by publicly declaring that the emergency situation at the time warranted expenditures and purchases that did not go through the rigorous Public Procurement and Concession Commission PPCC and other processes
No sooner had she done this then four senior officials of the team that managed the Ebola funding took exception to the GAC report describing the report as unprofessional. The four included: Wede Elliott Brownell Deputy Minister for Administration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Tolbert Nyenswah, Head Incident Management System, James Dorbor Jallah, Executive Director, Public Procurement and Concessions Commission and Andre Pope, Head State Owed Enterprises Reporting Unit, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The reactions from the Managers of the Ebola Trust Fund was not surprising. It is just obvious and like a norm in Liberia to give such a reaction when you are accused. What was shocking was for our Leader to have given such a loud defense for the alleged squandering of donor funds and other countries citizens’ taxes intended to save Liberians from the ‘brutal hands’ of the Ebola Virus disease. We are very aware that members of this government will be supportive of what their Principal said interpreting it is as an action or inaction, meant for the better good of Liberia and its people.
In conclusion, we want to state how bewildered we are that nothing has been done about this GAC’s report on the Ebola Trust Fund. We are also bemused that President Ellen Johnson’s public defense of those who managed the Trust Fund has to a large extent ‘mesmerized’ donor organizations and countries that contributed both cash and logistics; as well as manpower to fight the virus; that since that public defense, not even the United States government that is very often the first to be critical about such action, has been so mute. What about the very United Nations Mission in Liberia UNMIL that has been so very instrumental in the restoration of peace in Liberia after ten years and other UN Agencies that were very helpful, what have they said about this? Is this going to be “business as usual” that the late Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia promised to have shunned during his tenure? We humbly and respectfully challenge those charged with the responsibility of acting on this report to do so now. We think emergency should not be an excuse not to have proper documentation and expenditure. We are of the strongest conviction that failure of the this government to “exhume” the GAC’s Report on the Ebola Trust Fund from the crematory and act on it judiciously will further validate the notion that all other commissioned reports will lie in peaceful repose at the expense of the Liberian people. We will not be surprise if it eventually results to donor fatigue in the resuscitation of our Country’s health sector. It could also make a meaningless venture the recently launched Health Life Brand by the Ministry of Health.
It will not be a surprise to us for another reaction from this government on what we have written because they are almost known for running a reactionary administration. Even if they do, we are still poised to play our patriotic and nationalistic role to make use of our God-given talent to contribute to the growth and development of this Country LIBERIA that we owe our greatest loyalty to. We will continue to do our best despite our human frailty to be as objective as possible in whatever knowledge we share. A hint to the wise is quite sufficient! A stitch in time saves nine!
——Ray Funk, contributing writer