Health Ministry officials accused of corruption
By Landing Ceesay
The prosecution in the corruption and theft trial of three health ministry officials has called its first witness.
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.
Upon resuming the case, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Yusuf, informed the court of their readiness for the proceedings and the availability of their first witness.
Counsel Lamin S. Camara, representing the accused, raised concerns about the original indictment filed by the state, which lacked the statements of the witnesses set to testify. Additionally, he pointed out the absence of the voluntary and cautionary statements of the accused in the initial indictment. In response, Hon. Justice Ebrima Jaiteh instructed the DPP to provide the defense with all necessary documents intended for use during the trial.
Subsequently, the State called its inaugural witness to testify. Satang B. Houma, serving as the first prosecution witness, identified herself as the Financial Controller of the Project Coordination Unit within the Ministry of Health. She disclosed her qualifications as a chartered accountant and her employment with the Ministry of Health since January 2018.
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When questioned about her recognition of the accused, Satang B. Houma confirmed that she recognized two of them, specifically Balla Kandeh (1st accused) and Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh (3rd accused). She further elaborated on their roles within the ministry, with Balla Kandeh serving as the Project Manager of the National Malaria Control Program and Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh later assuming the position of Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Health.
“When I joined the Project Unit of the Ministry of Health, Balla Kandeh was the Project Manager of the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP). Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh was later posted as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health. I cannot remember what happened after that,” the witness told the court.
Satang B. Houma clarified her department’s responsibility as the Financial Controller of the Project Coordination Unit, which involved overseeing the financial management and fiduciary aspects of various development partners’ projects. She described the process of verifying program unit requests against approved budgets and subsequent endorsement for disbursement of funds, subject to the Permanent Secretary’s approval.
“As the Project Coordination Unit, we are responsible for the financial management and fiduciary of all the development partners’ finance projects. A program unit submits a request to the Project Coordination Unit from the Program. We do the verification to check whether it is in the approved budget. If it is in the approved budget, we endorsed it for the Permanent Secretary’s approval for the disbursement of funds,” she told the court.
Due to the defense not yet having received the witness statements as well as the voluntary and cautionary statements of the accused individuals, Hon. Justice Jaiteh instructed the witness to halt her testimony until these documents were provided. The case was adjourned to November 8th, 2023, for a continuation of the hearing at 12 p.m.
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 in accordance with 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 Eighty-Three Bututs) while serving at the Ministry of Health.