Health Ministry Sets Record Straight On Global Fund Investigation

The Ministry of Health wishes to inform the public that it is in possession of the investigation report issued by the Global Fund’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on April 8, 2022. The Ministry is analyzing the report to inform action(s) to be instituted by the Ministry.  It is important activities to note the that the OIG investigation was triggered by the Ministry when irregular at one of its programs, The National Aids Control Program (NACP) were discovered by internal audit unit of the Ministry in 2020 after which the Ministry’s alerted the Global Fund which triggered the OIG investigation in keeping with the Grant Agreement. We also like to inform the Public that for the period under review in keeping with the Global Fund grant management and procedure, The fiduciary responsibilities such as procurement, Financial Management (including co-singing of checks, Local Purchase Orders and Vouchers), Internal Audit and External Audit functions were all being jointly executed by many international firms with the following responsibilities:

1. Cardno International Development, An American base financial management firm was contracted by Global fund as its Fiscal Agent (FA) and was stationed at the MOH with the fiduciary responsibility of reviewing all procurement and financial transactions as well as providing pre-audit and post- audit functions on global fund transactions. If the LFA dissatisfied with a particular transaction or transactions, it doesn’t get processed until its corrected and signed on by the FA. The FA has the right to also declare a transaction as illegible even after it has occurred. Cardnoserved the Ministry in this capacity from 2015-2021 and has now been replaced by GFA Consulting Group another Internal Financial and Procurement management firm as of January 2022.
2. Swiss Centre for International Health has also been undercontract by the Global Fund as the Local Fund Agent (LFA). The LFA oversees quarterly reviewing and certification of all quarterly transactions submitted to the Global Fund along with their supporting documents. Theyalso provide assurances of all quarterly report submitted to the Global Fund on a periodic basis. The LFA performed post audit of all transactions on a quarterly basis and report to the Global any irregularities. The LFA, has the right to also declare expenditures stated in the quarterly report as illegible after it has reviewed the transactions. In which case, the MOH will have to reimburse the Global Fund for such expenditure deemed illegible.   Since 2015 the Swiss Center for International Health has played the roles Local Fund Agent.
3. The Moore Stevens International Auditing Firm based in the UK was hired by the Global for the period of the OIG report, as is expected, the International Auditors provided assurances of all transactions carried out by the Ministry during the period 2015-2020. These very transactionswhich were reviewed by the FA, and LFA were also authenticated by the external auditors through the provision of  an unqualified Opinion (Clean Opinion). The Moore Stevens five years contract has ended and has been replaced by Ernst & Young, another international Auditing firm who is currently conducting Audit of the Global transactions for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021.

We believe the vigorous system of check and balance the Global Fund Grant management system has in place at the Ministry of health along with our robust Financial Management System and many years of managing grants we can safely say it’s impossible to engage in massive corruptions without being detected over a long period of time as it has been portrayed by the OIG report. OIG findings declared an aggregate expenditure summing up to US$990,000 (Nine Hundred and Ninety Thousand UnitedStates dollars) noncompliant and recommended restitution. The Ministry believes restituting this amount is unfair and firmly disagrees with some of the reasonings behind the OIG’s conclusion. We however concede that some amount must be restituted depending on the circumstances. For example, the draft OIG report shows that some people received money as daily subsistence allowances (DSAs) for a given number of days but spent less number of days on the field. Those who fall in this category are among the persons being investigated. Stipulation to restitute the DSAs for the number of days not accounted for will certainly form a part of the recommendations of the investigation.

The following were the finding as mentioned in the final report issued by the OIG on April 8, 2022.

1. Staff of the National AIDS Control Program were accused of conducting fraudulent procurements of vehicle repairs and advertising services.
2. No assurance could be provided over program delivery in 75% of MoH field activities that we reviewed.
3. The MoH overcharged for daily subsistence allowances and misused grant funds by providing incorrect allowances and catering expenses.
4. The MOH used global Fund grant to pay taxes to the Government of Liberia

The Ministry has established a committee to carry out detailed reviews of the report and to further investigate allegations contained in count one the report. The internal investigation committee will determine the level of wrongdoings and recommend actions against those accused, depending on the levels of culpability. Such actions ranging from suspension to restitution of funds and possible prosecution. Meanwhile, the Ministry and the Global Fund’s Geneva based Project Team—also accused in the report for inadequate oversight—are collaborating to put in place more robust measures to   avoid reoccurrence of the disreputable activities reported in the findings.  The Ministry suspended the NACP’s DeputyProcurement Manager for Finance and Administration in 2020 based on the initial internal audit finding which triggered the OIG investigation. Further appropriate actions are expected to be taken after receipt of OIG report and the MOH investigation team report.

The Ministry is cognizant of its duty to discharge its duties in line with established guiding principles and in line with commitments made to execute grants pursuant to agreed procedures and guidelines.  Based on our initial reading of the report and other prior communications with the Global Fund, we are compelled to strongly disagree with count two that no assurance was provided in 75% of the field activities that was reviewed. The ministry has provided the OIG and Global fund all supporting documentations to justify all the reviewed field activities not only during the OIG investigation but also during previous review. Most of the transactions referenced in the report concerning the mother to Peer activities carried out by NACP’s Staff which involve payment of DSA to staff responsible for the disbursement of fund to the beneficiaries as well as payment to the beneficiaries themselves. To claim that this program doesn’t exist, and payments made to these Mothers for th entire grant period deemed illegible is grossly unfair to the people of Liberia not only considering that most of the Mothers are still alive and the Global has agreed with MOH to continuously pay them on the monthly basis but also the fact that OIG was unable to visit Liberia to physically interact with the beneficiaries apparently due to Covid 19. We maintained that this program has existed, funds were disbursed to the beneficiaries and is still being disbursed to them but using as agreed with the Global Fund, mobile money transfer mechanismrather than cash disbursement s being implemented since early2021.

Count three of the OIG’s findings also charged that the Ministry paid overcharged DSA—totaling US$204,769.43 (two hundred and four thousand seven hundred sixty-nine United States dollars forty-three cents). The Ministry strongly disagrees with this finding. As you are aware, each GFATM grant is signed with a fixed budget—that has a stated DSA rate and assumption therefor—but the OIG disregarded the approved rates and declared the above amount noncompliant because, according to the OIG, the DSA rates were inconsistent with GOL local Travel Ordinance Rate.  Thus, the OIG’s interpretation of the Grant Agreement regarding DSA is in dissonance with those of the Ministry. The OIG posits that, though the grant currency is in USD, the Ministry should have converted all DSA amounts to Liberian dollar before disbursing to staff travelling to the field even though the GMFTM doesn’t maintain a Liberian Dollar Bank Account

The last count in the findings also charged that PR applied import taxes on petroleum products of ($160,00). The Ministry agrees that taxes were applied on petroleum products, but the Ministry has no control over taxes. As a non-tax paying agency, the Ministry can only apply for tax waiver for items specifically consigned to the Ministry. This is not the case with petroleum products that are imported by select venders; however, we are engaging relevant government agencies to derive mechanisms through which petroleum products procured with GFATM money can be tax free—we wrote the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) in October 2020 and made specific request for tax waiver on fuel procure with GFATM money but did not get feedback from the LRA.

The Ministry assures the public that appropriate actions will be taken against those culpable of committing fraud. Corrective actions will also be taken to ensure that procedural errors such as issuing of tax-exempt documentation does not occur going forward.

The Ministry however wishes to inform the public that averments contained in the OIG report are allegations and not a guilty verdict against any employee of the Ministry. Our country’s legal system commands investigations that are consistent with due process of law. That is why an internal probe into the OIG finding has been commissioned.  

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