Dear Editor Standard Newspaper,
Your Paper’s news edition captioned as above and reported by one Omar Bah on your 23rd December 2021 publication, came to our attention with stark disappointment and disgust about the publisher’s intent of malicious and smear campaign against the Ministry of Health.
Please allow me therefore to respond in no uncertain terms to Mr. Bah’s story which he carried without any second verification.
First of all, it appears Mr. Bah is quoting an audit Report that to my knowledge is in draft version because each of those so-called millions claimed in the report, the Ministry had explicitly and adequately explained with a full write up that is backed with supporting evidence which either your paper deliberately failed to reflect as the Ministry’s standpoint, or the auditors have failed to do so with ill motive.
It is quite disappointing and perplexing that a report of this nature, will be carelessly made available to the Press even before a final version of it is shared with the Ministry as the primary respondent and more so the National Assembly as the foremost oversight body to whom the National Audit Office is answerable as the representative of the people. I strongly believe this is at odds with the mandate and procedures of the National Audit Office. I further hold strongly that the story by Mr. Omar Bah is pre-meditated for malice because it has by its nature, deviated from the Audit standard of presenting both the audit findings and the attendant Management (Ministry’s) responses alongside each other for the readers. Your paper has failed to observe the tenets of balance reporting in this regard. Rather, the paper unprofessionally picked on only those points it desires to use as points of earning cheap popularity – a style of reporting the Standards newspaper has become notorious for, as against professional and balanced reporting.
Secondly, the report clearly demonstrates Mr. Bah’s ignorance and lack of understanding of government payment procedures and requirements, because if he does then he would have asked himself a lot of questions about the barrage of inconsistencies carried in the draft audit report before relying on it. If you understand the payment procedures and or if you care to find out at all, you would have realized that the payment of the magnitude of D1, 978,500 quoted for Dicko Enterprise and D1, 300,000 for Marr Banta Supplies (see letters ref GPPA/MOHSW/TR 10/20/(2)/(J.J) of 9th April 2020 and GPPA/MOHSW/TR 10/20/(2)/(J.J) of 9th April 2020) could not have passed the scrutiny of the various levels of the payment cycle without the prior formal approval letter from the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) represented by its Director General on the Multi-sector Procurement Committee, alongside the other members like the Accountant General, the Director General of Internal Audit, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health. At least, as the professional Newspaper that Standard claims to be, the paper owe it to its esteem readership to go the extra mile to dig out the relevant facts and back up evidence from either the author of the source document or by consulting the leadership of the Ministry of Health for clarity before publication.
In the same vein, if not for the reporter’s malicious intent or lack of awareness of events in his surroundings, he would have noticed that an earlier attempt by another journalist to smear the image of the Ministry using the same report failed woefully after receiving a rebuff in the social media when he published his story. The positive difference that that particular journalist had over Mr. Bah is that at least he made an effort and had met the Ministry’s leadership and was able to collect firsthand information and evidence from them, even though that one also equally decided not publish some of the facts he obtained from the Ministry because they were counteracting his own malicious assertions.
With the aforesaid, please allow me to now present to your readership the Ministry’s version in refutation of the points quoted in your Standards newspaper report of 23rd December 2021 as follows:
In the opening paragraph the reporter stated “ …..The standard has revealed that tens of millions of dalasis was expended by the government in its Covid-19 response (procurement and distribution of medical and food items) without following due process”.
Evidence contravening these allegations are presented here from the review of our records which show copies of the GPPA approval Ref: GPPA/MOHSW/TR 7/20 (2)(J.J) of 1st April 2020 for the amount of D12,800,000; GPPA/MOHSW/TR17/20/ (2)/(B.S) dated 10th June 2020 for the amount of D2,489,249.93; GPPA/MOHSW/TR10/20/(2)/(J.J) dated 9th April 2020; GPPA/MOHSW/TR10/20/(2)/(J.J) for the sums of D1,300,000 (Marr Banta Supplies) and D1,978,500.00 (Dicko Enterprise); GPPA/MOHSW/TR31/20(B.J) dated 21st August 2020 for the sum of D400,000 (Atlas Trading) are all proofs of due process followed. These facts are verifiable and had been made available to the auditors unless denied with ill-motive.
In addition, the relevant supporting documents listed below are quotations based on the prescribed procurement method for items within the Request For Quotation (RFQ) threshold, in line with Clause 12 (1), which is further explained in schedule (1) of the table of thresholds in Gambian dalasis as contained in the 2019 GPPA Regulation. Evidence of the RFQ process is here presented for your verification. Note that for each of the categories, only the most responsive quotation is selected and for MP. Trading, our records show the amount of D32, 200 instead of the erroneous figure of D10, 000 quoted in your story.
Procurement of Printer and Catridge:
• MP Trading Company (invoice No. 024326) D32,200
• AA Consotuim Ltd (invoice N0. 002119) D49,500
• Sonko Jileng Enterprise (invoice No. 39079) D63,250
• Prime Stationary (invoice No. 0000642) D34,500
Procurement of locally made face mask
• WWG@ Door Step (invoice No. 00088) D255,780
• IFA Trading (invoice No. 000123) D369,460
• Dems Trading (invoice No. 000602) D483,140
Procurement of Hand Sanitizer
• Dems Trading (invoice No. 000652) D426,300
• IFA Trading (invoice No. 000123) D468,930
• WWG@ Door Step (invoice No. 00004) D468,930
Procurement of Hand Sanitizer
• Sadia Trading (invoice No. 000054) D244,000
• Njileng Trading (invoice No. 004524) D283,000
• Arcolley’s Enterprise (invoice No. 007003) D266,000
Procurement of Mattresses:
• Nasser Foam (invoice No.019673) D420,000
• Adonis Supplier (invoice No. 000610) D975,000
• M Sumareh Ent (invoice No. 000566) D819,375
Procurement of biolavicides
• GHE (invoice No.2006030) D257,100
• Afric-Agro Action (invoice No. 000054) D385,170
• Dems Trading Ent.(invoice No.000553) D343,500
• Korr Jorr (invoice No. 000166) D641,350
• Anfatz Trading (invoice No. 000053) D1,975,500
• Marams Trading (invoice No. 001106) D1,197,000
Your story’s assertion under the above sub-heading refers to finding 2.4 of the referenced audit report. In the Ministry’s management response to audit, it was categorically stated that during the Covid-19 pandemic a major challenge has been to know what the exact treatment of Covid-19 is. The pandemic might not have gone out of hand if the exact treatment was known and accepted worldwide. A lot of conventional treatment regime including drugs previously used to treat other ailments, were used in various countries
The issue of Covid Organic from Madagascar gained the attention of all especially during those desperate times of surging infections and mortality. The President of Madagascar donated some covid-19 Organic to some African countries including The Gambia. The Bissau Guinean President facilitated the transport of the quantities meant for The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau etc. This was transported from Madagascar by a chartered flight arranged for by the Bissau Guinean government and all the countries which benefited from the gesture were meant to contribute to the cost of freight. This D2, 217,987.87 is not for procurement of the Covid organics or for single sourcing of the transportation. It was The Gambia’s contribution to the cost of the hiring of the aircraft that brought the Covid organics from Madagascar to our country.
The Covid organic were never said to be useless by the WHO in the fight against Covid-19 it was said that more research needs to be done on it.
At a time when people were searching for a cure for Covid-19 to save lives, we think it was not out of place to get the Covid organics as a country. Part of what we planned to do is use it in clinical trials. That plan is still on, so covid organics are not wasted. Collaboration with Senegal for the trial is being explored.
Therefore points 2.6 (failure to obtain GPPA approval on single sourcing) and 2.7 (Non-assessment of alternative sources of transportation) do not apply since the situation did not warrant those.
Medical items: Finding 2.10
The Standard report of …”significant time elapsed which resulted in excessive transportation cost” featured under sub-head 4.2.1 of the draft report and it should be understood that the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it challenges in transportation with global shipping and airfreight being affected. The planned mode of transportation of the items procured from Turkey had always been from the beginning, to airfreight the items to The Gambia. This suggestion was received from our technical support teams who are very conversant with the trends in the international arena at that time. The Ministry was tasked to approach government to make a request to the Turkish government to help airfreight the items for us probably using a Military Cargo plane. The Executive was briefed and upon approval, a letter of request Ref: AD 229/407/01 TEMP: (49-M.L.J) dated 9th April 2020 was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate this process. The Turkish government was engaged through the Embassy in Banjul. The request was being looked into by the Turkish government. It took a while and we were told that the request was being processed. A letter of reminder referenced AD 229/407/01 TEMP: (M.L.J) dated 24th June 2020 was sent to our Foreign Ministry but we were told that the request was still being processed.
During the period, the Ministry was constantly monitoring the stock levels which remained very high from the numerous donations obtained from partners. As time went by, we noticed that there might be a challenge on the Turkish side in getting a transport support from the Turkish government. The Executive was contacted with this information and the go ahead was given for the Ministry to transport the items. At this juncture the World Bank Task Team Leader (TTL) mentioned that the items be airfreighted considering the fact that there were increasing number of cases of Covid-19 worldwide including in The Gambia. Many countries had also locked down at that time. He went ahead to say he had secured an additional funding of $1 million from his institution for the airfreighting and other activities.
The argument that the items could have been transported cheaper if they were shipped is defeated considering that we were in a pandemic and a seemingly stable situation could deteriorate within a very short period. This showed the high unpredictable nature of Covid-19 as seen in most parts of the world. We seriously believe that your quoted figure of $665,827.95 spent on airfreighting from the extra $1 million funding secured from the World Bank for this and other purposes was put to good use.
It must be emphasized that the additional funding of $1 million was requested for by the World Bank Official (Health Team Task Leader-TTL) just for airfreighting and any extra for other activities. So we strongly believe that using the fund that was specifically provided by World Bank for airfreighting the goods including the ten Covid-19 ambulances for that purpose is very much in line with good practice and value for money.
3.1.2 Needs Assessment
Predicting the course of a pandemic is one of the biggest challenges in epidemiology especially a pandemic caused by a previously unknown micro-organism. The Covid 19 pandemic is of such nature. However, based on what was seen as the pattern of the disease in the countries affected earlier on, various thematic areas in the Covid -19 response came up with lists of items that would potentially be used in the response. New treatment centers are needed to be established and another is to be restructured. Equipment and supplies challenge in health facilities need to be addressed as Covid-19 patients could present at any facility in the country and they need to be taken care of. The Director of Health Services, the chief technical officer of the Ministry in clinical care, with his team know the needs in the health facilities. These needs were put together in the list of items procured. The items procured are in line with what is needed in those facilities for the potential projections in managing the pandemic. Specifications were provided by the team and the World Bank Task Team Leader.
Fuel from GNPC for Security:
The fuel procured by the Ministry of Health (MoH) was done in accordance with the budget approved by the multi-stakeholder Committee on procurement and finance for the operations of security in support of the Covid-19 response activities. However, as part of the coordination arrangement agreed among the various security apparatuses, the offices of the National Security Adviser and the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) were responsible of the management of the fuel which MoH procured at the GNPC. GPPA approval Ref: GPPA/MOHSW/TR 17/20/(2)/(B.S) of 10th June 2020 was sought and obtained for the amount of D2,489,249.93 for the single source purchase of 48,296.51 litres of diesel and10,312.50 litres of petrol. For the understanding of your audience however, it should be noted that the pump price for diesel and petrol are virtually the same for all players in the Gambian market and thus, in that time of an emergency, it does not make much sense for MOH to waste time collecting quotations only to generate the same values. The Ministry therefore as part of the approved budgeted quantities for the Security a letter was formally written to GNPC for quotations for amounts within the RFQ threshold (different allocations executed on different dates) and made direct settlement for those payments captured in your reporter’s quoted D5, 745,596.76.
As a matter of fact imprests are retired after the completion of activities they are issued for, or before end of the particular year at 31st December. It should be noted however that at the time of the audit exercise, implementation of the training of health staff was yet to be completed and therefore not due to be retired. Subsequently, all retirement documents have been put together and are in the process of being retired before end of December.
It is very important for Standard Newspaper to stop misleading the General public creating doubts in the minds of the public against the very hard working, committed, dedicated staff of the Ministry of Health who have been sacrificing and spending sleepless nights working both days and night even over the week-ends to ensure that the country have a successful Covid-19 response to save the lives of the people.
Please publish above for the consumption of your wider readership.
Muhamadou Lamin Jaiteh
Permanent Secretary 1
Ministry of Health