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Of Greed and Profiting from Disaster Funds -The Day Samateh Laid Bare A Culture of Corruption In Gambia’s Health Sector

An ocean of abyss will be the only fitting description of an ailment that has not merely stalled the globe’s progress but infected over four million people.

Grants have been doled out by money-lending bodies to governments across the world seeking to fend off an epidemic-turned pandemic human-killer.

Gambia is one of recipients of the grants. Before this, the Barrow government had set aside a whopping 500million dalasis meant to be doled out to the health ministry to combat the fast-spreading disease.

The funds were for the “effective, adequate and timely respond to the outbreak” as Barrow’s government puts it in a dispatch issued March 19 about two days after Gambia experienced its first coronavirus case.

A great deal of apprehension hovered about this time amid news the first covid patient self-reported after flying in capitalising on the late closure of the airport via Air Royal Maroc.

Typical of the Gambian, panic set in fueled by genuine wary over how matters will pan out for a country with a grossly under-funded health sector and whose majority surgeries are referred to Senegal.

However, diversion of public attention occurred with focus centered around funds flooding in from grant-giving international institutions instead of actual containment of the covid.

Soon , temporary sigh of relief from the public greeted shortly after this period amid hopes funds will be injected enough to limit whatever impact the rampaging coronavirus will have.

There were also naysayers convinced the loans would be embezzled – a notion sort of engineered by a circular dispatched by a whistle-blower at the health ministry hinting of possible gross misappropriation of the covid funds.

The hastily written communique appearing to depict what the author called “a looming disaster”, warned of ongoing plans allegedly being hatched by “a select few” at the ministry through setting up bogus committees, then installing themselves as members of the front-liners to be awarded astronomical allowance packages.

Murmuring followed after the piece’s release, seen by Gambia News. Vociferous bloggers -opposed to the current regime -made much of the circular’s content -some of it exaggerated -while predicting doom.

Appearing to lend credence to this soon-to-be unraveled plot is the surface of a leaked government document. It all teed off after government revealed intentions to put frontline health workers of the pandemic on a risk-allowance for being at the fore of a deepening crisis .

Health minister Dr Lamin Samateh, in the letter dated April 1st and labelled MH/C/125, gave a stiff warning to director of planning and information of ramifications to follow if they ever repeat including his name on the covid allowance package.

Photo: the leaked document

This unearthed scandal sort of gave credit to the whistle-blower’s claim of graft allegations. Resultant public reaction to the leaked statement won most reverence of the minister and laid bare to the public doorstep of the level of corrupt subordinates working alongside Samateh.

It was even lot more telling when the minister took to the podium yesterday to expose the depth graft hanging around his ministry during parliament’s debate over whether or not to extend the state of emergency.

Below is full text of what Lamin Samateh had to say in his expose’.

“Instead of us to deal with the response to Covid-19, strategise and develop the policies, we deal with the allowances and this and that and that. The Gambia is unique in the sense that things that are not supposed to be dealt with just come to the bare and if you don’t deal with it, there is disaster. So you end up dealing with it. It’s very unfortunate government came up with the idea of the allowance issue and as we have been saying no one can ever pay front-line health workers risking their lives to provide healthcare for our people. But government said “let’s give them a token to say thank you very much.” Now we say provide us the list of people at the frontline. The problem started unfortunately when the 500 million was announced that is when our problem as a health ministry started. Unfortunately people started to talk about the money, the money that is why I said our work is very, very difficult. Now this is just in the minority -the majority are dedicated and sacrificing their lives. When you look at the list of the estimate (of people drafted to be given tokens), it consumed almost the entire 500million for allowances -that was the suggestion. Of course we said to them it’s a non-starter. They went back and brought another list. That list was so big they were over 300 volunteers. Nobody knows where those volunteers come from. That means they’re not working in the health sector. We said no. Another list came of core people. We saw names appearing in one section, and another and another…Then we went to Kotu that is where our central operators are. We wanted to give some of them something. Sometimes they will overstay beyond their time. They brought a list and I was there with them till 2:00am in the morning. I don’t think any health minister does that. That’s not my responsibility but if I don’t, what will follow is disaster. We removed 300 names that night. So we asked the names be arranged alphabetically and we realised there were names again repeated. Eventually we settled D5,000 for each volunteers.

“Now at one point, some people started to put in their friends, their relatives to be in that front-line. This is what delayed the list. I think we inherited a bad system, that’s the bottom line. The ebola funds were wasted here. What that would have done today, our health system wouldn’t have been like this. Equipment were said to have been procured to this country but nobody sees them. We have some people taking funds in this ministry and building storey buildings. Some of them position people at the front line, going around collecting little , little fees. We said no, so we removed them. It’s these people who are going to the media . They will hear few things and they will fabricate things. And instead of focusing on the pandemic, we also will be focused on debunking these claims. If a former minister can call a programme manager and tell him send me coupons, then we have a problem in this country,” Samateh said.

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