#COVID19: Cameroon’s Supreme Audit Bench Confirms Inputs Were Overcharged By 30 Million USD

The Audit Bench of the Cameroon Supreme Court has published its report on the audit of the Special National Solidarity Fund for the Fight Against COVID-19 and its Economic and Social Repercussions, confirming that suppliers over-billed the government for the supply of COVID-19 inputs.

The release of the report was earlier slated to take place in the National Assembly on June 25, 2021 but it was annulled at the last minute raising fears that the government was trying to cover-up the grand misappropriation of the funds.

“In conclusion on this point, the company charged with importation operations of 1,400,000 tests was inexperienced and it over-billed to the tune of over 15,374,000,000 FCFA (about $30 million) in 2020 with the approval of officials of the Ministry of Public Health,” the 171-page report revealed.

“Financial jurisdiction reveals that these sums benefitted two entities, Mediline Medical Cameroon SA and the intermediary Moda Holding Hong Kong, which appear closely linked.”

According to documents made available by the Bank of Central African States, popularly known by the French acronym BEAC, the enterprise is controlled by the Cameroonian billionaire Mohamadou Dabo who received the payments though he was not the supplier of the tests.

“Though he is not a signatory of the contract for the acquisition of the tests, taking into consideration the amounts involved, it is very unlikely that the Minister of Public Health could have been ignorant or excluded from knowing the manoeuvres that led to the billing for the tests at a price disconnected from the market realities,” the report noted.

It further revealed that the Minister of Public Health, Dr Manaouda Malachie, on two occasions intervened at the Central Bank to fast-track the transfer of the money to Moda Holding Hong Kong in relation to the supply of the over-billed COVID-19 tests.

The Audit Bench report pointed out that Cameroonian officialdom decided to import drugs instead of having them manufactured locally.

“In reality, the Institute of Medicinal Research and Studies on Medicinal Plants (IMPM) was in negotiations with an importer to buy hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin tablets from India, and this, several months in advance of the decision by the Minister of State, Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic approving the proposition by the Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation to begin the local production of these medicines.”

The report made mention of a letter dated March 19, 2020 from Incredible India Import & Export, to the Director General of IMPM, Prof. Jean-Louis Essame Oyono on the delivery to Cameroon of hydroxy chloroquine and azithromycin as well as inputs for the manufacture of the said drugs locally.

“Thanks to the personal intervention of the Indian authorities, and taking into consideration the bilateral links of friendship between our two countries, the Indian laboratories that manufacture the pre-cited products have voluntarily accepted to place Cameroon on their priority list of beneficiaries. We would therefore wait for the delivery of these products within a reasonable delay,” the letter read.

“On July 29, 2020, IMPM received by DHL, a consignment of five million tablets of hydroxychloroquine, five hundred thousand tablets of azithromycin and inputs for azithromycin for an amount of 601,300,000 FCFA,” the report added.

“Though the command for the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin tablets were for bulk tablets, the Audit Bench has established that these drugs were delivered already processed. The IMPM decided to re-process these drugs in new packages. This operation cost 9,356,000 FCFA, corresponding to 45,000 boxes of hydroxychloroquine and 5,000 boxes of azithromycin by the Ets Pierre et les Anges company.”

The report also showed that a minister sold COVID-19 tests already paid for by the government, to the government.

“By transfer order number 038/20/L/MINSANTE/COVID-19 of May 11, 2020, the manager of BGFI Ministry of Public Health Covid-19 Retort account, paid the sum of 288,000,000 FCFA to the profit of the Ministry of Territorial Administration on an ad hoc account, which holder identity the Audit Bench does not know, for the purchase of 15,000 Covid-19 rapid tests.”

“The BGFI account was effectively debited with this sum on May 14, 2020. The Minister of Territorial Administration returned this sum into the BGFI account of the Ministry of Public Health on June 2, 2020 ‘on instruction of the Prime Minister, Head of Government’ according to the COVID-19 focal of the Minister of Public Health who is co-signatory of the said account.”

Meanwhile, in the “daily bank journal of the Ministry of Public Health, this payment operation was not annulled” and “in the absence of taking into account this return of the money in the daily bank journal of the Ministry of Public Health, there continues to be a risk that the sum of 288,000,000 FCFA may be the object of a private appropriation.”

In view of these discoveries, the Audit Bench underlines “the opacity maintained by the Minister of Territorial Administration, (Paul Atanga Nji) and the Minister of Public Health (Manaouda Malachie) in the management of this controversial transaction, whereas there subsists a risk of the distraction of this sum.”

There is also the disturbing disappearance of a stock of drugs valued at 536 million FCFA.

“No information on the management of stocks of these drugs has been put at the disposal of the Audit Chamber. These drugs have not been taken charge of by the Stores Accountant, and nobody in the Ministry of Public Health has been able to say where they are stocked today. In other words, there is no information relative to the payment of these contracts amounting to 536,443,636 FCFA, nor are there traces in the books of the special paymaster of the Ministry of Public Health, nor in the current account of payments in the Ministry of Public Health for 2020”, the report indicated. 

Taking into account these elements, and in particular the incapacity of the responsible officers of the Ministry of Public Health to identify their place of storage, the Audit Bench estimates that “these drugs have either been embezzled to the profit of private persons or they have been the object of fictive delivery”.

The report noted that some contracts were awarded by conflict of interest, revealing that “three enterprises, (Ets Aboa Perspective, Ets ABS Motors and Phase Engineering Cameroon SA), were awarded six contracts to the tune of 1,620,834,039 FCFA, and which controller is the younger brother of the president of the group of persons taking part in the award of contracts in the Ministry of Public Health”.

“In total, the Audit Chamber discovered that special contracts number 029, 035 and 022 were received and paid for between April and October 2020 for a total amount of 1,255,274,772 FCFA whereas the work was not completed by December 21, 2020”, the report revealed.

These contracts concerned the construction of a frontier health post at the Yaounde Nsimalen airport, work on the rehabilitation of the neurology pavilion in the Yaounde Central Hospital and work on the rehabilitation/extension of the Lagarde Pavilion of the Central Hospital, Yaounde.

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Chief Bisong Etahoben

Chief Bisong Etahoben is a Cameroonian investigative journalist and traditional ruler. He writes for international media and has participated in several transnational investigations. Etahoben won the first-ever Cameroon Investigative Journalist Award in 1992. He serves as a member of a number of international investigative journalism professional bodies including the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR). He is HumAngle's Francophone and Central Africa editor.

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