Accountability Lab Launches Program Seeking Accountability of COVID-19 Expenditures

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Accountability Lab Liberia has launched a COVID-19 initiative to ensure accountability and responsible governance in the country’s COVID-19 response efforts.

The project was launched on Friday, June 19 with funding from the United Nations Development Programme.

The Lab’s country director, Lawrence Yealue, said the program will run for six months and is aimed at creating a system of accountability and transparency around COVID-19 donations and effective and efficient use of funds and materials provided the government and donors.

Yealue said the program also aims to demonstrate responsible governance to the public and various partners and donors that will increase public trust, especially in light of the tainted reputation of funds meant for the Ebola crisis being mismanaged and alleged fraud.

During the Ebola epidemic, there were reports of widespread misuse of funds intended to help in the relief efforts. A General Auditing Commission report that examined a three-month period in 2014 found that US$800,000 spent from the National Ebola Trust Fund during that period was not accounted for. In 2017, Red Cross auditors found that US$2.7 million was fraudulently siphoned in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic.

“The work comes off the back of ongoing efforts by Accountability Lab Liberia to debunk rumors and ensure greater accountability within the country’s response to COVID-19 through weekly bulletins,” Yealue said.

“The bulletin ensure that essential and validated information reaches citizens and help in curbing the potential for social conflicts.”

Accountability Lab also kicked off an advocacy campaign geared towards making the government account for all cash and in-kind donations received during the pandemic.

Yealue said his organization is lobbying the government to set up an independent oversight body for all Coronavirus expenditures and to develop a logical whistleblowing mechanism for safe reporting on Coronavirus spending.

Accountability Lab also wants the government to ensure transparent contracting and procurement processes that adhere to international standards and Liberia’s Public Procurement and Concessions Act. Additionally, the organization is asking for periodic and comprehensive reporting to the public on progress with the use of Coronavirus funding and conduct of an independent audit of all government bodies and agencies, including private contractors, that receive funding under the COVID-19 response.

Pa Lamin Beyai, the resident representative for UNDP who was present at the launch ceremony, said the partnership between UNDP and the Accountability Lab is important because misuse of COVID-19 resources will not only undermine the country’s response, but it will also deny the healthcare delivery system from receiving life-saving medical equipment.

“The critical role of all actors leading the fight against COVID-19 should be able to exhibit the highest standard of transparency and accountability [and] to enforce public trust,” he said.

“This should not be the responsibility of only government, development partners, [civil society organizations] such as Accountability Lab, but also, the media and the general public.”

Another organization present at the launch was the Institute for Research and Democratic Development, whose executive director, Harold Aidoo, underscored the importance of tracking the government’s spending during the pandemic. He encouraged the government to work with civil service organizations in documenting issues around the ongoing response efforts.

Mary Broh, who heads the government’s COVID-19 response efforts, attended the program and promised to ensure that the government’s COVID-19 response would remain open and accountable to the public.

Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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