Somalia Sets Example of Dealing with Officials Stealing COVID-19 Funds

With rising cases of the novel coronavirus being experienced in Africa, so is the need for funding to help majority of the poor and middle-income countries cope with the demanding need for healthcare.

What is baffling is the corresponding revelations across many African countries of the looting of public funds meant to help the sick and mitigate against spread of Covid-19. The script is the same from Southern Africa Countries, Central Africa, Western Africa, Eastern Africa to Northern Africa.

Ironically, Somalia, a country regarded globally as being lawless and ungovernable became the first example among countries in Africa to crack the whip on looters suspected to have stolen funds meant for the sick.

A court in Somali’s capital Mogadishu handed jail sentences of between 3 to 18 years to four senior officials of Somali’s health ministry implicated in the theft of millions of dollars meant to fight Covid-19 in the Horn of Africa.

The country’s director-general of health services Abdullahi Hashi Ali was handed a nine-year jail term with a fine of US$2,366 while the director of administration and finance Mohamud Bule Mohamud will serve 18 years in prison.

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Mahdi Abshir, the ministry’s head of accounting, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment while the head of Malaria and HIV/AIDs in Somali Bashir Abdi got the least sentence of three years.

According to the country’s prosecutors, it was irresponsible and heartless for the officials to embezzle funds donated to curb the virus which has so far infected more than 3,269 Somalis with 93 confirmed deaths.

However, Somali is not alone as many African countries has witnessed the rise and creation of new millionaires through corruption and embezzlement of donor funds meant to take care of Covid-19 patients and provide sufficient protective equipments for frontline healthcare workers.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a recent interview in Geneva, Switzerland, described corruption being witnessed in managing Covid-19 in various countries as unacceptable and likened it to murder.

“If health workers work without Personal Protective Equipments because of corruption then we are risking their lives, and that also risks the lives of the people they serve. It is criminal, and it is murder, and it has to stop,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

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In Kenya, a multi-agency team of Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC), the Criminal Investigations Department (DCI) and the country’s Senate have launched investigations that millions of dollars were lost through supplies of PPEs to medical workers.

Civil society activists have also taken to the streets in recent days to protest under the theme #ArrestCovid19Thieves, and to demand accountability for the use of the funds after reports emerged that billions allocated to deal with the pandemic were diverted to personal gains while leaving patients and medical workers suffering.

As a result of the allegations, two international donors, the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the Global Fund threatened to withdraw their funding to health projects in Kenya and wrote to the Kenyan government expressing concern over the alleged corruption.

 The situation is not any better in Southern Africa. A report by global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) raised concerns about the misuse of funds especially from international donors meant to fight the pandemic in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland.

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“Southern African countries face serious corruption risks in addressing vulnerabilities across national health care systems. The governments should take serious action to combat corruption during Covid-19 including in the process of public procurement and development aid,” said TI.

Other African countries have also not been spared allegations of misappropriating COVID-19 funds including Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Ghana and Zambia.

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