Features — 06 December 2013 — by Adele Ramos
NHI $350,000 embezzlement case still being investigated

Dr. Peter Allen, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, told journalists today that the Office of the Auditor General, Dangriga police and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) are working on an investigation into a report of substantial embezzlement of funds for the National Health Insurance Scheme at the Southern Regional Hospital in Dangriga.

Allen confirmed today that, “It’s over $350,000″ which has apparently gone missing.

The CEO said that the hospital administrator, Ms. Nasley Sommerville, is on suspension pending the results of the investigation.

Allen said that Sommerville, who he understands is still in Dangriga, has declared her innocence and is concerned that her name has been called in relation to the alleged embezzlement. She has indicated that the Ministry of Health may be sued as a result, Allen told the press.

The Health CEO, who said he had just met last week with the Audit team for an update, informed the media of the status of ongoing police investigations:

“There are many different pieces of evidence which they are collecting to see if indeed this is the case and if indeed they have all the evidence they need to proceed. All evidence that the Audit team is collecting is being made available to the police, and police are cooperating with the Financial Intelligence Unit in this regard. The Financial Intelligence Unit, we feel, has a little more expertise in this particular area,” Allen said.

He said that he was updated yesterday by the officer in charge of the Dangriga Police Station, and has been trying to reach the FIU director to get an update.

According to Allen, Dangriga police have been trying to secure documentation from the Belize Bank and other banks to look for evidence of monetary deposits. He was assured that more information would be available next week.

In 2006, the Government of Belize extended the NHI purchase services to the south of the country and that particular system requires that the clinics and hospitals involved have a greater degree of independence in their financial arrangements and the staffing arrangements, Allen explained.

He said that the idea was sound in that it put decision-making authority closer to those affected by decisions and gave them administrative authority, in theory, to act swiftly to ensure patients get the best possible service.

The CEO conceded that “there have been weaknesses which allowed for what would appear to be substantial embezzlement,” and he added that they have begun to revise procedures.

Allen said that the Ministry has since asked the Audit team to review every other clinic with similar accounts, a total of 6 in the south.

“We will make sure that we take every action possible for us to recover funds that have been misappropriated and certainly to make sure that we put in place all the actions that we possibly can to try to ensure it never happens again,” Allen said.

Meanwhile, investigations into allegations of misappropriation of funds in the Central Health Region are also ongoing.

Allen said that this second case is more a question of improper accounting, and about 10 days ago, the Audit team presented a comprehensive report and invited principals involved to make comments on the main findings. The report has also been submitted, on the advice of the Attorney General, to the Public Services Commission (PSC) – which should decide on appropriate action.

The allegation made to the press is that the NHI allocation in this second case had been used to buy laptops and iPods for family members. Allen said that indeed, the allegations the Ministry has received are similar in nature – but he did not get into the details.

He told the press that anyone named as an alleged participant “in things that may not have followed proper procedure” has been removed from having any authority for accounts, and they are now running those accounts from the Ministry of Health.

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