According to the press statement released today in Freetown by the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), “the Government of Sierra Leone violated its citizens’ right to life and health by mismanaging funds meant to respond to the Ebola virus disease”.
An investigation conducted by the Sierra Leone Auditor General found that about $14 million was missing from the Ebola funds, donated to the people of Sierra Leone to help provide care for those dying of and suffering from the Ebola virus disease.
Several Hundreds of doctors, nurses and ancillary health workers were allowed to die needlessly, as monies meant to buy protective wear disappeared into the personal bank accounts of government officials and private businesses.
The 15-page application filed today at the ECOWAS Court of Justice, claims that:
• That the government violated its citizens’ right to life by failing to adhere to relevant accounting and procurement controls which led to the loss of one third of the available resources, and was responsible for a greater number of deaths from Ebola than would otherwise have occurred.
• That the government violated its citizens’ right to health by failing to dedicate maximum available resources to the Ebola response, adding that the Government’s poor stewardship of the Ebola funds diminished the human and physical resources needed to handle the Ebola outbreak. This included the lack of healthcare workers, ambulances, basic medical supplies, and post-Ebola medical and psychosocial support.
• That the government has failed to conduct an effective investigation into the violations of the right to life and the right to health caused by mismanagement of the Ebola funds, and that such investigations are essential to ensure accountability and prevent future violations.
According to a statement issued by CARL today: The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone all guarantee the right to life and the right to health.
In February 2015, the Auditor-General of Sierra Leone issued a “Special Audit” report, which showed that 30% of the Ebola response funds managed by the Ministry of Health within five months of the outbreak could not be fully accounted for. Crucially, the report noted that the lapses in the management of the funds resulted in ‘a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the healthcare sector’.
In other words, mismanagement of the Ebola funds meant that the response was not as effective as it should have been, and as a result, more infections and deaths occurred. Nearly three years after the report was published, the Government of Sierra Leone has declined to investigate or otherwise meaningfully act upon the findings of the Audit Service.
“In the last three years, Sierra Leoneans have repeatedly demanded accountability and justice for the mismanagement of Ebola response funds, but their demands have fallen on deaf ears. This is an effort mainly by victims to hold the State to account as well as help them get a sense of closure,” said Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law.
The Registry of the ECOWAS Court of Justice is expected to serve the application on the Government of Sierra Leone shortly, but oral hearings may not be held until next year. The ECOWAS Court has jurisdiction to hear human rights claims brought by individuals or public interest plaintiffs.
If successful, this would be the first time the regional tribunal would establish a formal link between mismanagement of public funds and the violation of human rights. Sierra Leone was finally declared Ebola-free in January 2016, after 14,124 confirmed cases and 3,956 deaths.
The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), a Sierra Leonean civil society organisation, is committed to promoting human rights through accountability. Established more than a decade ago, CARL’s mission to work towards a just society for all persons in Sierra Leone through monitoring, advocacy for accountability and institutional transparency, and citizens’ empowerment.
There have been strong reactions to today’s unprecedented announcement, in support of the joint decision of CARL and the two Ebola victims to take the government to the ECOWAS Court for negligence, maladministration, and corruption.
This ECOWAS case will be much bigger than the recently concluded Sam Sumana case. The Ebola scourge was a terrible period in Sierra Leone’s history.
Some critics say that the Koroma government failed in tackling the Ebola virus, and that the ruling APC has some very nasty politicians, who should have been charged with corporate manslaughter and never allowed to continue in politics.
Others say that if ebola was a rebel leader causing so much deaths and suffering to the people of Sierra Leone, many politicians in the ruling APC would have been in jail as accomplice or for failing to use their public office to prevent or stop the killer virus.