Transparency International today called on government authorities and the United Nations to undertake a comprehensive audit of all Ebola donations from internal and external donors across West African nations devastated by this deadly health crisis.
There is far too little transparency in the management of Ebola funds. The first step is to conduct a full audit, which must include an in-depth accounting of all donations already received, how they were dispersed, and whether they achieved value for money. A first partial audit in Sierra Leone released on 14 February has already highlighted undocumented spending. Governments should also immediately open up to public scrutiny the amounts received and where they are being spent, as has been done by other countries suffering national emergencies.
“Weak public financial management systems coupled with high levels of corruption in these three countries create many opportunities for the abuse of power, bribery and unethical actions that limit the ability of donations to be used effectively to stop the Ebola outbreak. When so much money floods into the region in such a short period of time, accountability for those funds should shoot to the top of any list of priorities,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.
The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia led to an outpouring of funds by well-meaning individuals and institutions both national and international, including governments and citizens, to support the countries fighting the disease.
Citizens in the afflicted countries expressed appreciation for these donations but they also raised concerns with regards to the prudent and judicious use of the funds.
The fact that the Audit Service Sierra Leone has conducted a real time audit on the usage of the funds is welcomed, but more must be done across the region to ensure that all money is accounted for and well-spent.
Transparency International research shows that 48 percent of patients in Sierra Leone and 40 percent in Liberia paid bribes to access health services, according to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer. This was when there was no national crisis or deadly epidemic.
“The quick spread of Ebola and the lack of readiness of health providers in countries afflicted has dramatically shown what happens when public institutions are weakened by chronic systemic corruption over time. This corruption sees resources diverted and patients’ needs ignored. Corruption is a serious crime that must be battled at all times. It is unbearable when it contributes to the deaths of thousands of poor people and those responsible must face the full extent of the law.
“If West Africa healthcare sectors were more transparent and accountable, they would have been better prepared to respond to the outbreak,” Ugaz added. “Now is the time to account for the corruption and start the process of building stronger health sectors.”
Humanitarian disasters like the Ebola outbreak require quick responses but they also require corruption safeguards to ensure money is well spent. We call on the governments to review their policies, identify if corruption has occurred and prosecute those found guilty.
In the coming months as the countries start rebuilding their economies, the governments must also focus on identifying and mitigating corruption risks in strengthening the health sectors.
Transparency International has developed detailed risk assessment tools for this and we encourage governments and aid agencies ensure that best practice guidelines are followed.