RTIwala Trending: Fraud by Red Cross workers and others has wasted at least $6 million meant to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organization handled more than $124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemics. The epidemic killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The Red Cross has uncovered several cases of fraud by officials during efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak. The epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014-2016, created a lot of loss to human life and estimated losses of $6 million (5.2 million Euros) incurred.
In a statement, the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was “outraged”. It also said that it would “ensure any staffs involved are held to account.” The Ebola virus killed more than 11,300 people. An astounding infected numbered an estimated 29,000, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The IFRC said the operations set up to contain the outbreak “were among the most complex in recent humanitarian history.” There were several groups who moved quickly to deploy staff and mobilize volunteers and spent tens of millions of dollars on medical equipment and other supplies.
Red Cross’s response to the fraud
The international aid response was initially slow. Money, once it arrived, was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field. As much as $2.13 million disappeared as the result of “likely collusion” between Red Cross staff and employees at a Sierra Leonean bank. It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic. Overbilling and fake invoices by a provider of customs clearance services in Guinea cost the organization $1.2 million, and two other investigations in the country are underway. The IFRC also said it had previously found that in Liberia, inflated prices for relief items and payroll costs had cost it $2.7 million.
It also said that since 2014 it has put in efforts to root out corruption in its operations, including cash spending limits in “high-risk settings” and deploying trained auditors when sending out teams. It plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and “the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.”
The action in the fraud
“These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response. They played a critical and widely recognized role in containing and ending the outbreak, and preventing further spread of the Ebola virus internationally,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC under secretary general for partnerships. The findings of the internal investigation were first posted online October 20. The IFRC confirmed the findings Saturday and said it was working with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission to “investigate and legally pursue any persons involved.”
This is an awakening call. In such a moment of crisis, such fraudulent activities in such a reputed Foundation are shocking. Red Cross has always been known for serving the society. But this shocking revelation has left everyone.
(Inputs by Gehna Kundra)
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