Togo’s government denies misappropriation claims in Covid-19 fund scandal

LOME— The Togolese government has dismissed allegations of malfeasance in the management of the fund intended to fight the coronavirus epidemic, saying that spending is “compliant, regular and sincere”.

Significant irregularities have been pinpointed in an audit report by the Court of Auditors, sparking outrage in the West African country.

In a press release, the government is “delighted that this report considers that the expenditure relating to barrier, response or health measures is compliant, regular and sincere”.

“The Court recognizes that the possible ineligibility of an expenditure may arise from a context marked by extreme urgency due to the unpredictability of the crisis (…) This does not mean that the expenditure is fictitious or that the funds have been used in an illegal or even misappropriated way”, considers the government.

For the executive, the Court “did not establish a report of embezzlement or fraud”.

The Covid-19 Response and Solidarity Fund (FRSC) was created by the government the day after the discovery of the first case of coronavirus in March 2020. In particular, it received technical and financial support from international partners, such as the Union European, the IMF, and even the World Bank.

Out of 108 billion CFA francs (165 million euros) spent in 2020, says the Court’s report, “certain payments (…) related to non-priority expenditure or not having direct links with the implementation of response measures against Covid 19”.

This 86-page document published on Feb 1 also points to cash transfers, a measure intended to support the poorest, which sometimes benefited people who were not eligible.

Above all, the report notes an expenditure of 13 million euros spent on the purchase of 31,500 tonnes of rice by the Ministry of Commerce, without any trace of an order.

The court’s report made headlines this week and is being widely discussed on social media, with several opposition figures calling on Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé to take action.

In a press release published on Friday, the Dynamic Monsignor Kpodzro (DMK) – which brings together seven opposition political parties and six civil society organizations – invites the public prosecutor to “self-seize in this case”.

“The DMK believes that once again, the Togolese people have just been betrayed by men and women who do not have their trust, and Faure Gnassingbé must draw all the necessary consequences,” the statement added.