By Lansana Fofanah.
Witnesses that testified yesterday before Justice Biobele Georgewill of Commission of Inquiry Room One tendered documents in relation to mismanagement of funds meant to combat the outbreak of the May 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Lead State Counsel, Oladipo Robin Mason led the first witness of yesterday’s sitting, Ibrahim Sorie Kamara, a Commissioner for Domestic Tax Department of the National Revenue Authority in evidence. He explained in detail his duties and responsibilities. Mr. Kamara said that pursuant to Section 117 of the Income Tax Act of 2000, any contract that is above Five Hundred Thousand Leones is taxable and that payment of taxes should be made fifteen days after the contract has been awarded.
Mr. Kamara presented a document which was addressed to the Attorney General dated 10th February, 2017 in response to a letter of request on the update from the National Revenue Authority in respect of statement of withholding taxes from various contractors who were awarded Ebola contracts in 2014.
He submitted another second document containing breakdown of suppliers for which taxes were never withheld amounting to Le525,721,555.96.
He presented another Excel document showing the non-deduction of withholding taxes from some contractors.
Another witness presented was Aiah Gbondo Tugbawa from the Auditor General`s Department of Sierra Leone, who tendered audit reports from 2007 to 2017. In his testimony, he said that they instituted ‘Real Time Audit’ in 2014 at the height of massive deaths of Sierra Leoneans even though Billions of Leones had been spent to combat the Virus. He said that they then submitted their May to October 2014 Report to Parliament and the second phase of their audit, with the recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament was also released in April 2015.
Some of the findings of the 2014 Auditor General’s Report, he mentioned, were that out of the sum of Le 15,815,495,120 Leones from the Health Emergency Response account #003001014138030 at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank which was withdrawn, only Le 1,964,950 was justified and Le 453,571,500 Leones from the Miscellaneous Account #003001115131030175 at the (SLCB) were withdrawn without any supporting document or justification.
Mr. Tugba from the Auditor General’s office said that the Ministry of Health could only provide supporting document to the team for Le 575,753,000, meaning the sum of Le 11, 692, 16,650 Leones was not accounted for and several contracts were awarded without observance of procurement rules.
Contractors such as C.F Group were awarded Le, 2,689,500,000 for the Construction of Gbomsamba Hospital. Premier Logistics and Supplies was awarded Le, 12,700,885,120 Leones for the purchasing of ten ambulances. Amjam Company Limited was also awarded Le, 646,700,000 contracts for Chlorine and ECHO Construction Company was also awarded the sum of Le, 709,112,500 Leones for the overhauling of electrical. Le, 708,442,300 was made available to the Architectural Service Manager at the Ministry of Health for the construction of the Lakka Government Hospital on diverse dates between June to September 2014 and the sum of Le 1,760,000,000 was awarded by MoHS to a sole source, without due consideration of procurement rules for the construction of a 90 bed treatment center,” he maintained.
Two of the Persons of Interest that were requested to appear before the Commission of Inquiry Room One, yesterday witnessed the testimonies of witnesses presented by State Counsels in the on-going COI.
Dr. Bash Taqi; former EOC Head of Ebola and the current Director of Planning, Kawusu Kebbay of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development were asked on several occasions by Justice Georgewill whether they have any question for the witnesses since they were not represented by any lawyer. But they answered in the negative, noting that they need to read through the presented documents.
Lawyer Ady Macauley also appeared for the Former CEO of the National Ebola Response Center and Deputy Minister of Health, Madina S. Rahman and said that his clients heard their names on the news without any formal invitation and that they are already seeking redress at the Supreme Court on the legality of the Commission of Inquiry.
Justice Georgewill said that until the Supreme Court rules on their claims, the COI will continue.