Sierra Leone Association of Journalists in Disarray Over Le300 Million Ebola Funds
Over 200 journalists at the annual general meeting of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) have asked their executive to account for some Le300 Million the organization’s leaders received as funding support for sensitization programs on the Ebola Virus Disease.
The funds were received for Ebola sensitization and radio teaching programs from international organizations and government, according to a financial statement prepared by a private auditing firm Freetown Nominees. However, no internally audited report was provided by the executive as per procedure, which caused protest from most of the membership.
“We are surprised that our executive cannot properly account for what they received. This is shameful to say the least,” observed Mohamed Massaquoi, a member and President of the Sierra Leone Reporters Union.
After some serious tension, the financial statement was read but ended with confusion. There were claims and counter claims of who received what and how it was spent by certain individuals, especially when there was no audited report. Allegations of corruption were made against former Information Minister and Director of Premier Media Consultancy, Dr. Julius Spencer, who serves as Chairman of the Association’s Ebola Response Committee. Dr. Spencer was alleged to have received about 15,000 USD out of 16,000 USD that was received from the Public Affairs Department of the US Embassy in Sierra Leone following the approval of a proposal for radio sensitization jingles on ebola.
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“This is an act of alleged corruption and we must notify the Anti-Corruption Commission, ” suggested Theo Harding, acting President of the Guild of Editors and Publisher of the Salone Times Newspaper.
The session on the financial statement was cut short and deferred after a majority of SLAJ members walked out of the hall, some in protest and other to find food.
“These are my ideas and my institution Premier Media provided the service so I committed no crime,” Dr.Spencer clarified.
It was also alleged that certain individuals and institutions were given kickbacks for approval of some of the ebola sensitization projects. SLAJ President, Kelvin Lewis said that SLAJ’s role in the ebola fight has been at best as an intermediary making sure that monies received were spent on media institutions for their services.
“We ensured that media houses who were volunteering their services benefitted from most of the monies received, ” Lewis said.
Meanwhile, there has been a divide amongst executive members of the association so much so that the financial secretary, Abibatu Kamara, and President Kelvin Lewis are not in speaking terms with the former resigning from her job as reporter of the Awoko Newspaper.
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The current Ebola funds financial mishap within SLAJ is yet another example of mismanagement in Sierra Leone. We have found that while the tragic Ebola disease was devastating communities across the country, for certain individuals and businesses it was a major pay day.