By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s Health Minister Hon. Ahmadu Lamin Samateh told Journalist that only one active case remains in The Gambia. The Finance Minister announced that D160 million has been disbursed from the total D512 million Covid 19 Emergency Fund. Finance Minister Njie explained that he cannot spend the 1 Billion Dalasis currently sitting in the Bank without the National Assembly approval. The press conference took place on the 24th of April 2020 the same day that the European Union announced a D512.6 million grant to boost The Gambia’s efforts to overcome the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Health Minister, Dr Samateh: “Only One Active Case, Eight Recovered, One Deceased”
Delivering a summary of the 34th National Situation Report since the first confirmed Covid 19 case which took place on 17th March, the Hon. Health Minister Samateh announced that “one Gambian was intercepted at Giborrah border post and taken into quarantine” however, “four people were discharged after testing negative for Covid 19 upon completing mandatory quarantine”. According to Dr Samateh “over the past 24 hours, six tests have returned negative including two repeat cases showing negative meaning those two have recovered from Covid 19.” From the 10 positive cases, 8 have recovered, one died leaving one active case.
Despite the low number of cases, the Health Minister warned that “there is no need to be complacent and [that everyone] must continue to maintain the hygiene procedures of washing hands and using sanitizers and maintaining social distancing”. Dr Samateh also spoke about the issue of spitting highlighting that “during Ramadan people spit more often”, this he warned was unhygienic but worse still “helps to spread the disease”. He is calling on support from religious leaders during these trying times.
As of 24th April 2020, Corona Virus in Numbers
- People Traced – 642
- People Completed Follow-Ups – 310
- Tests Conducted – 401
- Positive Test Results – 10
- Coronavirus Death – 1
- Active Case – 1
- Recovered – 8
- Contact Tracing (24hrs) – 105
- People Completed Quarantine – 269
- Persons in Quarantine – 99
- Zero Probable Case
Finance Minister, Hon. Njie: “D163 Million Disbursed for Health Spending”
The Finance Minister updated the media on the funding arrangement of Covid 19 which appears to be going into the Billions of Dalasis. On Tuesday the Hon. Minister explained to a National Assembly Committee that 1 Billion Dalasis was sitting in Gambia’s Bank accounts. Today the Minister explained that “I will be going to the National Assembly to seek for authority to spend it. I will be going to seek for a Supplementary Appropriation because this was not part of the budget. Therefore, in line with the laws, I have to go to the National Assembly to request for the additional spending.”
According to Minister Njie, “the budgeted amount for Covid from our local fund is D512 million. Last week I reported that we had released from our books D143 million. As of yesterday, we have released a total of D160 million to the Ministry of Health. The balance we have is D352 million.”
Speaking after the Finance Minister, the Accountant General explained that “in terms of actual expenditure only D60 million has been spent. The D100 million is relating to a procurement process which is still ongoing.”
According to him the items which the monies have been spent on include; “allowances for Health workers, travel expenses relating to the Burial Team, impress (monies paid to various health teams across the country), hotel accommodation for quarantine team, procurement of specialised technical materials including sanitisers, training for quarantine team, food and drinks for quarantine team, Health workers in the field, procurement of vehicles (Pickups), medical Hospital equipment related to the instalment of ventilators and office equipment.”
Is D512.6 million EU Grant Different from Gov D512 million?
During the press conference, I managed to ask the Minister the press release from the European Union highlighting they had granted the Gambia D512.6 million. My question sought to ascertain if this D512.6 million was different from Government’s local fund of D512 million?
In response the Finance Minister, Njie explained that “the money that has been stated in the press release has not yet reached us. It’s a press release, it’s a procedural but even if that comes now, we cannot spend it unless and until we go to the National Assembly for authorisation. Just like the 1 Billion Dalasis from the IMF that is now sitting in our account.”
There has been a lot of public concerns raised over the D143 million and the Hon. Finance Minister had promised to send a breakdown to the National Assembly by Wednesday. In an attempt to ascertain if this had been done and the Minister was willing to share such information I asked him when we [Gambians] would get to see the breakdown of the D143 Million in pursuant of transparency mentioned by the Health Minister.
According to Finance Minister Njie prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, his Ministry published their revenue and expenditure online every quarter. However, “now we are converting the Covid information to be monthly. After every end of the month, the following first week we will make sure the actuals” are published online.
Covid 19 Budget tripled from $2.5 million to $8 million?
During the question and answer session, I queried the Health Minister on the $2.5 million US Dollar Covid 19 three-month plan which more than tripled to $8 million US Dollars. Asking that “sometime in early March, your Ministry revealed a 3-month plan totalling 2.5 million Dollars (the equivalent of D125 million). Yesterday your colleague revealed that the plan had expanded to $8 Million Dollars (the equivalent of D400 million) how did it get to that point, sir? Why is it now over three times the initial amount?”
Director of Health Promotions, Mr Modou Njia first explained that “the first three-month plan, WHO [World Health Organisation] helped the Ministry to get a consultant because we were in an emergency. When we brought it to the Minister, he advised us to broaden up our plan. So, we extended from three months to a one-year plan. As a result of that, we have to increase the number of activities and funding.”
In addition, Minister of Health, Dr Samateh highlighted the uncertainty around the Corona Virus saying “when the initial plan was being made nobody knows the pattern it was going to take. How long it was going to last. Nobody knows. So, it is just a projection. So that’s why it was extended for over that period.”
“Quite a lot of the activities in the plan are also procurement of equipment. That equipment some of their lifespans will last for 10 years, 5 years. They are all part of the plan. It became known as the number of cases increased elsewhere that most of the health systems were weak. There is a lot of health system strengthening needed to be able to deal with Covid 19. Even in developed countries. Their plans keep being upgraded now and then based on the realities on the issue.”
“So, the plan keeps on getting upgraded. But each time there is an upgrading of the plan it will be done transparently for all to see and what warrants it will also be known to everybody.” At this point, a follow-up question questioned when the various plans would be shared with the public “to get this transparency your mention?”
In response, Dr Samateh explained that “the plan is not a secret, its available. It was an open plan because it was a big team that put it together”. However, he expressed his disapproval to people whom he believes should treat the plan “truthfully and fairly” citing the condom expenditure saga which has gripped social media.
He lamented that “I heard they went ahead to the Social Media to say the Gambia is spending 10 Million Dalasis on condoms after seeing the plan. How can people behave that way? And unfortunately, when they do that people believe it. It’s strange isn’t it.”