Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission has launched an investigation into the alleged misuse of aid funding at the health ministry, a move that could signal to donors that the government is serious about cracking down on corruption.
The investigation follows GAVI’s suspension in December of some $530,000 in funding for health systems strengthening, or HSS, in the country. In an audit in November, the organization discovered indications of fund misuse worth more than $1 million in the form of undocumented expenses, cash disbursements without documentation and overcharged procurement costs. In line with its policy, GAVI also froze all HSS funding to Sierra Leone ”until the matter is resolved.” This included a new two-year grant amounting to $5.4 million.
“We are very determined to bring those involved to book should we find any evidence of misappropriation,” ACC chief Joseph Camara said, as quoted by Agence France-Presse. “We are going to make if difficult for people to put donor funds into their pockets.”
The investigation is separate from an in-depth review GAVI is currently conducting on its HSS support for the period 2008-2009. It was meant, according to the commission, to reassure the public that “gains made in the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone and good governance in general are not reversed.”
But how this investigation could help Sierra Leone gain back suspended GAVI funding remains to be seen. The commission has been accused of being ineffective in tackling government corruption. In 2007, the United Kingdom — one of Sierra Leone’s top donors — ”refused” to channel money to the “ineffectual” commission, according to the Economist. And in the donor’s 2011-2015 operational plan for Sierra Leone, it underlined the importance of improving the government’s budget and public financial management process.
While GAVI did not halt vaccine support, the suspension could have huge implications in the country’s health sector. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and under-five mortality rates in the world. It ranked 180 out of 187 countries in the 2011 U.N. Human Development Index.
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