The ECOWAS Court of Justice will on 10th May 2023 deliver judgment in a case brought by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and two health workers alleging the misappropriation of 14 million USD earmarked for the management of the Ebola epidemic by the government of Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2015.

At the court hearing on February 13, 2023, the lead counsel to the Applicants, Mr Oludayo Fagbemi, told the court that the matter was last adjourned to allow time for settlement but that while the terms of settlement has been drafted, the Sierra Leonean government, has not committed to its implementation.

He therefore urged the Court to resume hearing of the substance of the matter which relate to the management of the funds that were realized from individual donations, contributions from organisations and tax revenue.

On their part, Mr Osman Kanu, counsel to the Respondent State, the government of Sierra Leone reassured the Court of the government’s commitment to the settlement but needed time to evaluate the implications and obtain cabinet approval for implementation because of the cost implication.

Thereafter, the presiding judge, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, requested both parties to present their arguments after which the Court fixed the date for the judgment.

In the initiating application ECW/CCJ/APP/07/18 filed on January 23, 2018, the Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law, Hawa Jalloh, and Fatima Sessay, asked the Court to hold the Sierra Leonean government liable for its negligence and mismanagement of the funds which resulted in increased infections and deaths.

He added that the misuse of funds led to the dearth of critical goods and services leaving the State with shortages of ambulances and the delayed construction of a treatment centre and the provision of inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for health officers.

The counsel argued that government’s obligation to protect life should be extended to include preemptive measures to preserve lives and that government’s failure to investigate the mismanagement of the Ebola funds is a continuous violation of their rights.    

He claimed that eight years after the incident, the government has not taken measures to prosecute any official for the misappropriation despite the reports of the country’s Auditor General and Commission of inquiry, both of which established the loss of funds. He urged the Court to compel the government to review its processes, investigate the allegations of mismanagement of the funds and pay damages to Hawa Jalloh and Fatimata Sesay.

In its defense filed on October 28, 2019, Mr Kanu said the Applicants failed to mention that Sierra Leone was among the least developed countries and recently emerged from years of civil war that destroyed its health infrastructure and that prior to the Ebola outbreak, the country was faced with limited doctors and health workers.

Mr Kanu further said that Sierra Leone lacked the capacity to manage the Ebola epidemic and that the high rate of spread was not due to mismanagement of funds as claimed by the Applicants but that the Ebola virus was virulent and difficult to control.

The Respondent added that its anti-corruption agency was investigating the allegations and that continuation of the court proceeding could jeopardise the result of the investigations and urged the Court to dismiss the case.

In his reply to the Respondent’s defence, Mr Fagbemi argued that the Respondent failed to show evidence of the investigations and dismissed the government’s argument as unfounded, maintaining that the government mismanaged Ebola funds that led to over 14,000 infections and death of 4,000 persons.

At an earlier hearing, a group – Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES) filed an affidavit before the Court seeking to be joined as fourth Applicant in the case. But the application was opposed by the Respondent which expressed its desire for out-of-court settlement.

The request was eventually rejected by the Court.

Also on the panel for the case are Justices Gberi-Be Ouattara and Dupe Atoki.