Letter to editor

On corruption at the Ministry of Health

23 November 2009 at 23:11 | 930 views

By Jose Tenga, USA.

I have followed your discussions about the sacking of the MOH over the award of contracts by the Ministry of Health with interest and, at times, exasperation. Corruption in the MOH will never end! That is my experience from working with the Ministry as the National Professional Officer for Procurement, Supply and Logistics at UNICEF Sierra Leone from 1986 until 1992 when we (UNICEF and GOSL) implemented the National ‘Essential Drugs Programme’.

This programme was a resounding success because it achieved all its objectives and laid firm foundations for streamlining GOSL procurement procedures for hospital drugs, equipment and supplies. Most of you may remember the days of the EPI ‘Marklate” program when we supplied Toyota Hilux 4 x 4 pick-ups to MOH. Both the Marklate program and the essential drugs programme were complimentary and Sierra Leone achieved Universal child Immunization coverage of over 75% of children fully immunized.

Procurement of essential drugs was done as follows: GOSL made their requests to UNICEF, WHO and the UNDP to order essential drugs. The UN provided the required foreign currency and GOSL paid the Leone equivalent for the UN to use in their local operations in Sierra Leone. This was the best deal ever: GOSL did not need to use their meager foreign exchange; they received patent high quality drugs and supplies and at factory costs. There were little or no overheads or mark-ups because there was no sub-contracting or bribery involved in the business.

For orders of complex hospital equipment like a CT scan, the UN would assign international experts to install and train local personnel to care for, maintain and ensure successful and productive use of the equipment they supply. This was the case with the central vaccine cold room at the Medical Stores complex in New England. Italian engineers installed the cold room and trained local technicians for the cold room supplied from Italy.

Any sane and patriotic Sierra Leonean would expect that such an arrangement should have remained the standard operating procedure for procurement for MOH. But alas, corrupt and greedy politicians never accepted such departure from the status quo. GOSL under the NPRC reverted to doing business with the Wansas, the Shallops and other shady characters who have no business dealing in drugs and hospital equipment at the national level. But they pay kick-backs and bribes and today, the Lebanese even have the power to cause the sacking of a Minister for what they see as not toeing the line of bribery and crooked award of contracts. How Salone would ever get out of such a mess that engenders poverty and deprivation remains a mystery.