Health Ministry Officials accused of corruption
By Landing Ceesay
The first prosecution witness in the corruption trial of three Ministry of Health officials has testified that D11,470,000.00 was disbursed for the Malaria control program between 2018 and 2020.
Balla Kandeh, Omar Malleh Ceesay, and Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh are facing a total of 19 charges, including official corruption, failure to fulfill statutory duties, conspiracy to commit a felony, economic crimes, forgery, and theft.
Mrs. Satang B. Houma, the Financial Controller of the Project Coordination Unit at the Ministry of Health, continued her testimony as the first prosecution witness. She told the court that requests for funds come from program units at the Ministry, such as the malaria control activities unit. Mrs. Houma’s office then checks the eligibility of the activity and whether it can be financed by the Global Fund grant. Next, her office checks the approved budget that was signed between the Ministry of Health and the Global Fund, and then the detailed budget to ensure that the activity is costed and that the time allocation is also included.
“When we checked and everything was in order, we endorsed for the Program Manager to submit the request to the Permanent Secretary for approval. When it is approved, it is returned back to our unit to process the disbursement of the funds. The payment voucher is prepared by an accountant, checked by a senior accountant, endorsed by the financial controller, and then approved by the relevant Program Manager. In this case, it was a Malaria activity, so it was approved by the Program Manager of the Malaria Project. That’s basically the payment processing cycle,” Mrs. Houma told the court.
Mrs. Houma also specified that she served as the Financial Controller, while Mr. Balla Kandeh (the first accused) held the role of Program Manager for the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP).
When asked about the payment process, Mrs. Houma informed the court that her office conducts bank transfers from the Program’s bank account to the Health Promoting and Development Organization (HePDO) bank account. She specified that HePDO acts as a sub-sub recipient for program implementation.
Furthermore, Mrs. Houma noted that the Ministry of Health enters into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Global Fund as the principal recipient, and specific sub-recipients, such as the Malaria Control Unit, also establish separate MOUs for specific program activities.
State Counsel AM Yusuf inquired about the existence of a standing MOU between the Ministry of Health and the Global Fund during the years 2018–2020.
“Can you tell this court between 2018 and 2020 whether there was any standing MOU between the Ministry of Health and the Global Fund? ” State Counsel AM Yusuf asked the witness.
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Mrs. Houma responded by confirming the presence of a grant agreement worth approximately $30 million, with an implementation period spanning from July 2018 to June 30, 2021.
“To your knowledge as Financial Controller of the Project Coordination Unit, was there any implementation program related to that $30 million grant within the said period? ” State Counsel AM Yusuf asked the witness again.
“Yes, Between HePDO and CRS, there were activities to be implemented by HePDO from July 2018 to 30th of June 2021. But there was a specific MOU between MoH and HePDO and that was for the implementation of four activities from 2018 to 2020. I cannot remember the specific activities because these are technical Malaria Program Jargon.
“But I know it has to do with Vector resistance on spray balls, the insecticide that sprayed on the wall for malaria prevention. It also has to do with the long-lasting insecticide net. So, basically it was for insecticide resistance and vector resistance. There were four different activities, and they were done in December 2018 and February 2020. The payments were done in 7 different installments,” Mrs. Houma answered.
Mrs. Houma disclosed that a total of D11,470,023 was transferred to the HePDO bank account. The payments were authorized by the Financial Controller and the Program Manager of the National Malaria Control Program once they verified the acceptability of HePDO’s submitted reports.
Regarding the payment amounts, Mrs. Houma stated that the first program received approximately $59,000.00, equivalent to around 2.9 million dalasis at the time. The remaining three activities were disbursed in 50/50 installments, with the second activity amounting to D2.1 million, the third activity to about D2.86 million, and the fourth and final activity to approximately D3.5 million, summing up to D11,470,023.00.
“How much was the payment for the first program?” State Counsel AM Yusuf asked the witness.
“It was about $59, 000.00, equivalent to about 2.9 million dalasis at the time,” Mrs. Houma told the court.
“Can you recall the amount for the remaining three activities?” Counsel AM Yusuf asked the witness again.
“The second activity’s amount was D2.1 million, and the third activity’s amount was about D2. 86 million, and the fourth and final activity’s amount was about D3.5 million, and that’s the total of 11,470,023.00,” Mrs. Houma told the court.
Background of the Case
Mr. Balla Kandeh (the 1st accused), Mr. Omar Malleh Ceesay (the 2nd accused), and Mr. Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh (the 3rd accused) are facing a total of 19 charges against them.
The charges brought forth by the State encompass official corruption, violating Section 86(a) of the Criminal Code; failure to fulfill statutory duties under Section 115 of the Criminal Code; conspiracy to commit a felony under Section 368 of the Criminal Code; and two counts of economic crimes as specified in Section 5(a) of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act, cap 13:07, punishable under Section 6(1) of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act.
Furthermore, the accused are also facing eight counts of forgery, as stipulated in Section 318 of the Criminal Code, and five counts of theft, in violation of Section 252 of the Criminal Code.
These individuals are alleged to have embezzled and stolen a substantial sum of D24,313,332.26 (Twenty-Four Million, Three Hundred and Thirteen Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty-Two Dalasis Twenty-Six Bututs) during their tenure at the Ministry of Health. Additionally, they are accused of stealing USD 59,256.00, equivalent to D3,901,829.83 (three million, nine hundred and one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-nine dalasis, and eighty-three bututs) while serving at the Ministry of Health.