By Omar Bah
Health Minister Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh has expressed government’s dismay and dissatisfaction over the National Audit Office’s report which alleged that the government expended over D500 million unapproved payments.
Minister Samateh described the report as “deeply shocking” and premeditated to tarnish the government’s image.
“The report portrays a seemingly grim scenario over the government handling of Covid-19 funds which the ministry as the implementing agency has strong reservation with,” Minister Samateh told journalists in Banjul on Saturday.
The ministry said the NAO’s choice of launching its report with a media conference is “uncommon” in the history of its work.
“We have strong conviction that some of the information they advanced are not objectively representative and fall short of reflecting the true picture as far as the health component is concerned,” he added.
He claimed the auditors’ alleged findings are somehow exaggerated and don’t reflect what transpired because the auditors refused to take onboard most of the tangible testimonies and supporting documents the ministry presented to them.
“We consider the NAO’s disregard of our views as deeply shocking and a manifestation of the audit team’s adamant resolve to only attract cheap public attention and also a reflection of the aggressive intent seen in some members of the audit team during the ministry’s interaction with them,” he said.
Dr Samateh said his permanent secretary was not given enough time to provide all the needed responses and documents.
“There was a lot of ill-will in the audit process because it was carried out by three young auditors who came in with a lot of arrogance as they work with some of our staff. They demonstrated a lot of arrogance to our PS who was their principal partner in the audit process. This made us believe that they came in with a preconceived position and mindset making them neglect the explanation and management responses,” he said.
The minster said an audit of “this magnitude” should not be left with three young auditors. “It is very unfortunate that the very senior auditors would rather sit in the office or go to audit embassies in London, Washington or Saudi Arabia than take the lead in this very important local exercise. This, we believe, has led to the subjective nature of the process and the audit report,” he said.
Minister Samateh recommended for the National Audit Office to have more experienced auditors handle large and complex audit exercises and also for the auditors to be sworn to an oath that they will perform their responsibilities without fear, favour, ill-will or affection.
Responding to the queries made by auditors on the World Bank grant, Minister Samateh said the procurement of the $3,946,637.10 medical equipment and consumables was carried out by the PCU with the supervision of the World Bank team leader.
“The D100 million transferred from the Covid -19 funds to PCU is the ministry’s contribution to the construction of the treatment center at Farato since the world Bank ended up carrying out the entire procurement of the equipment,” he said.
Dr Samateh said the auditors were asked to interview the WB team leader who was responsible for all the communications for the signing of the contract. “So the auditors’ claims that we could have saved over D2 million are untrue,” he added.
Reacting to the auditors’ queries on his ministry’s failure to obtain approvals from the GPPA for single sourcing, Minister Samateh said some contracts were awarded using the emergency laws.
Samateh also justified the ministry’s decision to spend over D2 million to airlift Madagascar Covid-19 Organic from Bissau. He said contrary to the auditors’ claims, all the items purchased by the government were necessary for the fight against Covid-19.