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Sierra Leone loses track of Ebola funds

February 14, 2015

Sierra Leone has failed to properly account for almost a third of the money it earmarked to fight the Ebola epidemic, according to an audit. More than 3,000 people have died from the epidemic in the West African nation.

Sierra Leone Ebola
Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Sierra Leone's national auditor said authorities lost track of nearly a third of the 84 billion leones ($19.5 million, 16.9 million euros) in emergency funds set aside by the government between last May and October.

According to the audit, the funds were mostly spent on personal protective equipment, medical supplies, consumables and bonus payments to healthcare workers.

There was no paperwork to support the spending of 14 billion leones ($3.2 million, 2.8 million euros) from the government's emergency health response account. A further 11 billion leones spent from the same account had missing receipts and invoices.

The cash mostly came from taxes and donations from domestic institutions and individuals. It does not include money channeled through UN agencies or international non-governmental organizations.

Thousands of "ghost workers"

Sierra Leone earlier this week said it was cleaning up a list thought to contain thousands of "ghost workers" on its Ebola staff. It promised to prosecute those thought to be swindling money from the government.

"Monies that have been set aside for the purpose of combating the Ebola outbreak may have been used for unintended purposes, thereby slowing the government's response to eradicate the virus," said the auditor's report, presented to parliament on Friday.

"There continue to be lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector."

The government estimates it has lost around $900 million in revenue from the outbreak. A study by the British Medical Journal in early February also found the spread of Ebola may have been made worse because international donors have failed to fully honor their funding pledges.

New lockdown

Sierra Leone has been the hardest hit nation from what has been the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola. The epidemic has concentrated in West Africa, killing more than 9,000 people overall.

Sierra Leone on Friday placed hundreds of homes in lockdown in the capital, Freetown, following a spike in the number of cases. That came less than a month after the country lifted all restrictions on movement.

jr/sb (AFP, Reuters)