(Corrects years in which irregularities occurred in 7th
* Misused funds totalled more than $1 million
* Money must be reimbursed before new funding is released
By Simon Akam
FREETOWN, Dec 20 A vaccination provider set up
with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put on
hold some $6 million earmarked for Sierra Leone after an audit
showed misuse of previous funds, a document seen by Reuters
The leaked letter from the GAVI Alliance dated Nov. 15 2012
and addressed to Sierra Leone's health minister says an in-depth
audit revealed "serious concerns of misuse of GAVI funds"
The GAVI Alliance, which aims to improve access to
immunisation in the world's poorest countries, was launched in
2000 with a $750 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation. It has disbursed more than $27 million to Sierra
Leone's government since 2001.
Sierra Leone's acting Health Minister Tamba Borbor-Sawyer
denied the GAVI letter was proof of foul play.
"The content of that document doesn't say the GAVI money has
been defrauded ... It points out certain areas where there could
have been some malfeasance," said Borbor-Sawyer, who took over
management of the ministry earlier this year.
A GAVI spokesman said the irregularities, which included
undocumented expenses, cash disbursements with no documentation
and overcharged procurement costs, occurred from 2008 to 2011.
As a result, the organisation froze the last disbursement of
a current grant, worth $530,750, as well as a new two-year grant
of $5,399,371 currently under final consideration.
Sierra Leone's government must now commit to reimbursing the
misused funds and those found responsible for abuses must face
administrative or legal proceedings before the grants will be
unfrozen, the letter said.
After Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war the West African
state had some of the world's worst health statistics. In
response donors poured in funds, in particular underwriting the
introduction in 2010 of free healthcare for pregnant and nursing
mothers, and children under five.
But allegations of corruption have dogged such efforts.
A 2011 investigation into the free healthcare programme by
human rights campaigner Amnesty International highlighted what
it said was an "absence of any effective monitoring and
The new allegations brought by GAVI come six months after
the United Nations appointed Sierra Leone's previous health
minister, Zainab Hawa Bangura, as the secretary general's
special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
Bangura began her tenure as health minister in January 2011
towards the end of the period in question.
She said she discovered upon taking office that donor funds
for a number of projects had been paid into unsupervised bank
"At no time did I have direct oversight of these funds, nor
was I ever a signatory authorised to disburse funds from these
accounts," she said in a written statement.
Bangura said she raised her concerns with the finance
ministry in mid-2011 and, when no action was taken, she brought
the matter to the attention of President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Finance Minister Samura Kamara denied having been contacted
by Bangura over the matter.
"The bottom line is that it is the ministry of health that
has absolute responsibility ... We don't draw on these funds,"
he told Reuters.
Koroma's office said in a statement it remained committed to
programmes supported by GAVI and other development partners.
Koroma, who was elected in 2007 promising to clean up
rampant corruption, won a second term in elections on Nov. 17.
(Editing by Joe Bavier)