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HomeGambia NewsGAMBIA: SATANG HOUMA TESTIFIES GLOBAL FUNDS GRANTS UNDERGO THOROUGH AUDIT PROCESS

GAMBIA: SATANG HOUMA TESTIFIES GLOBAL FUNDS GRANTS UNDERGO THOROUGH AUDIT PROCESS

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The Ministry of Health Project Coordination Unit’s financial controller, Mrs. Santang B. Houma, testified in court today that the Global Fund grants go through a rigorous audit procedure once projects are finished.

Lamin S. Camara, the defense attorney, questioned Mrs. Houma, the first prosecution witness (PW1) in the corruption, stealing, and economic crimes trial involving three Ministry of Health officials.

Mrs. Houma shared her extensive institutional expertise of the Ministry of Health’s 2018–present program execution.

Mrs. Houma revealed that she was involved in the distribution of GMD 11,470,023 to sub-recipients for project execution inside the Health Ministry in her role as the Financial Controller. She made it clear that the payment complies with the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding that the Ministry of Health and its implementation partners signed.
Counsel LS Camara questioned the witness, “Does the Ministry of Health have a say on how these funds are utilized when they are disbursed to the sub-recipients, except that it must be for the eligible activities.”

Mrs. Houma said, “The Ministry of Health’s only say is that the sub-recipient used the funds for the purpose it was disbursed for.”

Mrs. Houma informed the court that she was unaware of any concerns the Ministry of Health had about the monies.

Counsel LS Camara questioned the witness, saying, “It is standard financial procedure that there is a periodic audit of these funds from Global Fund.”
“Yes, that is accurate; it is subjected to three separate financial assessments or audits by three separate entities. The task of reviewing the money’ usage has been given to a local company in the nation called Global Fund. The local fund agent, also called the LSA, completes this every six months. The witness informed the court that the project’s external auditors and the Ministry of Finance both have an internal audit directorate.

Mrs. Houma claims that LSA is the fiduciary agent that the Global Fund has appointed to oversee the financial evaluations of its contributions. She said that the LSA team is led by Pa Soli Kanyi, and that Modou Nyang is a financial specialist. Mrs. Houma also saw Sulayman, another financial specialist, but she couldn’t remember his last name because of his short stay. Saihou Ceesay, the monitoring and assessment expert, was also named by her.
“So, in order to ensure compliance, these funds go through a fairly rigorous review system or procedure?” The witness was questioned by Attorney LS Camara.

Mrs. Houma gave a good reaction and clarified that the Ministry of Finance audit team is in charge of the audit.

Regarding the ongoing court case, Mrs. Houma mentioned that an audit took place sometime between late 2020 and 2021. However, she couldn’t recall the exact end date, noting that the audit commenced in June 2018.

As the head of the Finance Coordination Unit, Mrs. Houma said during her testimony that she had looked over the auditors’ report. The final internal audit report, she explained, is submitted to the head of the audited program.
She informed the court that upon completion of an internal audit, the report is sent to the Global Fund. Subsequently, the Global Fund engaged a local firm to conduct a further review.

“I supposed the report by the local firm sent by Global Funds to do a review would be sent to the Global Fund. Is that not the case?” The witness was questioned by Attorney LS Camara.

AM Yusuf, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Counsel, raised an objection to Counsel LS Camara’s question, asserting that it was more of an opinion than a genuine inquiry. Counsel LS Camara, according to DPP Yusuf, was asking the witness to vouch for a viewpoint.

Despite the objection, Hon. Justice Jaiteh overruled it and directed the witness to respond to the question. The witness went on to say that the report is usually forwarded straight to the Global Fund when a review is finished.

“I am not sure whether that is the case in this scenario. But that is the normal process,” she told the court.

“Is it correct to say that HePDO has been an existing partner to Global Funds and the Ministry of Health?” The witness was questioned by Attorney LS Camara.

“When I joined in 2018, HePDO was one of the Sub-sub recipients in the implementation of the Global Fund grant,” the witness answered.

When asked about CRS and MRC being sub-recipients, Mrs. Houma clarified that CRS functions as a sub-recipient, occupying a higher tier than a sub-sub-recipient.
She explained that the Ministry of Health entered into an agreement with a sub-recipient, and subsequently, the sub-recipient entered into an agreement with a sub-sub-recipient.

Mrs. Houma affirmed during her testimony that MRC has never operated as a sub-recipient or a sub-sub-recipient.

She did acknowledge that entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was a standard practice with MRC while carrying out the grant implementation for sample testing and research.

“Would I be correct to say that the funds in respect to the four components you outlined, were disbursed first to CRS and then HePDO?” Counsel LS Camara asked the witness.

“That was not the case for these four activities. Like I mentioned the other day, there is an MOU between CRS and HePDO,” the witness answered.

Mrs. Houma clarified that HePDO was not classified as either a sub-recipient or a sub-sub-recipient. Contrary to the Ministry of Health’s absence of implementing partners, HePDO was designated as an implementing partner in this instance.

Additionally, she attested that the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed between the Ministry of Health and sub-recipients detail the prescribed procedures for fund utilization.

In her testimony, Mrs. Houma highlighted that implementing partners follow their own set of financial procurement guidelines.

“Since they are not public institutions, they are not bound by the GPPA guidelines,” Counsel LS Camara asked.
“My expertise is not in procurement, but I know as I used to work with an NGO that has its own procurement guidelines and was not using the GPPA guidelines,” she answered.

Background of the Case

Mr. Balla Kandeh (the 1st accused), Mr. Omar Malleh Ceesay (the 2nd accused), and Mr. Muhammadou Lamin Jaiteh (the 3rd accused) are facing a total of 19 charges against them.

The charges brought forth by the State encompass official corruption, violating Section 86(a) of the Criminal Code; failure to fulfil statutory duties under Section 115 of the Criminal Code; conspiracy to commit a felony under Section 368 of the Criminal Code; and two counts of economic crimes as specified in Section 5(a) of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act, cap 13:07, punishable under Section 6(1) of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act.

Furthermore, the accused are also facing eight counts of forgery, as stipulated in Section 318 of the Criminal Code, and five counts of theft, in violation of Section 252 of the Criminal Code.

These individuals are alleged to have embezzled and stolen a substantial sum of D24,313,332.26 (Twenty-Four Million, Three Hundred and Thirteen Thousand, Three Hundred and Thirty-Two Dalasis Twenty-Six Bututs) during their tenure at the Ministry of Health. Additionally, they are accused of stealing USD 59,256.00, equivalent to D3,901,829.83 (three million, nine hundred and one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-nine dalasis, and eighty-three bututs) while serving at the Ministry of Health.

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