Neither the World Bank (WB) nor the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) responded to questions sent by Confidencial regarding the Nicaraguan Health Ministry’s (Minsa) lack of transparency. Last year, these banks provided more than US $63 million dollars to finance approved Minsa projects. Despite this, the Health Ministry has been notoriously secretive in its management of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also taken over properties that were illegally confiscated between 2018 and 2020.
The current Minsa occupation of the former offices of Confidencial, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh) and the television station 100% Noticias violates the Nicaraguan Constitution. Article 44 clearly prohibits confiscations.
Confidencial requested an interview with the WB and the IDB to clarify their assessment of Minsa’s lack of transparency regarding the scope of the humanitarian crisis in Nicaragua. The Ministry of Health has never offered official information on the Covid-19 tests they’ve processed and their results. Meanwhile, the death tolls they’ve announced show clear evidence of a very sizable sub-registry.
According to Minsa, 171 Nicaraguans have died from COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. However, independent physicians and public health analysts have studied the official data on deaths attributed to pneumonia, heart attacks and other diseases. They find a high degree of excess mortality from these causes, when compared with 2019. Based on this evidence, independent experts believe the real death toll from COVID-19 in Nicaragua is over 7,000.
The Inter-American Development Bank asked Confidencial to submit a written list of questions. The provided list included:
Has the IBD received confirmed information on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths?
Has the IBD observed any progress or evidence that the [Nicaraguan] government is complying with its commitment to transparency?
To date, there’s been no response.
Signatures verify the use of WB and IDB funds
Both multilateral financial organizations emphasized that the approved projects would be subject to supervision via verifying signatures that guarantee adequate use of the assigned resources.
“The project financed by this credit will be implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). They will apply strict fiduciary requirements to guarantee opportune implementation and that the aid reaches all the beneficiaries.” The World Bank offered this explanation to Confidencial. The multilateral bank approved a loan of US $20 million dollars to Nicaragua. The financing was aimed at purchasing critically needed medical equipment for hospitals affected by the pandemic and by the two hurricanes: Eta and Iota. The hurricanes hit the country within fifteen days of each other, in November 2020.
This fund, the World Bank added, was to be disbursed “as soon as all the preliminary requirements were fulfilled.”
The UNOPS was also involved in the execution of a different loan the IDB approved for Nicaragua. That loan was for US $43 million dollars. The project it covered was also supervised by the firm known as Project Concern International. They were charged with “verifying the adequate and opportune realization of the activities.” The WB confirmed that US $5.5 million dollars of these project monies have already been disbursed.
“These disbursements, according to Program stipulations, were made directly to the specialized international agencies (UNOPS) in charge of executing the different components,” the IDB affirmed.
“Minsa occupies offices of Confidencial, Cenidh and 100% Noticias”
At the end of January 2021, Minsa began occupying the buildings taken over by the police in December 2018. At that moment, the regime of Daniel Ortega illegally confiscated the offices of Confidencial. They also took over the building belonging to the television station “100% Noticias” and the installations of nine non-governmental organizations. Among the latter were the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), the Popul Na Foundation, the Institute for Democracy and Development (Ipade) and the Institute for Strategic and Public Policy Studies.
On December 23, 2020, the rightful owners of these buildings learned that the regime had given these buildings to Minsa. The information was gleaned from signs that were posted outside the occupied buildings. The spaces were supposedly to be used to construct a Center for Expectant Mothers for a Managua district, a health center, an alcohol and drug treatment center and a national center for diabetes.
These “investments” weren’t specified in the budget that Minsa approved for 2021. Nor were these projects announced in the official media. As such, it’s not known whether these confiscated entities are being modified with internal government funds.
For the last two weeks, a number of transport trucks and pick-ups have been spotted in the parking lot of the former Confidencial offices. It’s presumed they’re taking out the furnishings and personal objects that were left in the editorial offices when they were assaulted in on December 13, 2018. The following night, these installations were permanently occupied by the police. This past week, in mid-February 2021, workers were seen in the occupied building belonging to 100% Noticias.
These properties have remained under permanent police custody since they were illegally taken over by the police. Observers outside the shuttered Managua offices of Cenidh and Popol Na confirmed that the dismantling began at the end of January. This has already occurred with the offices belonging to Cenidh in Juigalpa, Chontales. The regime highlighted their inauguration of a health clinic there.
Confidencial asked the multilateral financial institutions about these actions, which make the Health Department a participant in deeds which violate the Nicaraguan Constitution. The investigative journalism site has questioned whether such initiatives are compatible with the obligations established by the multilateral organizations in their contracts with The Nicaragua government. This query, also, received no response.
Organizations demand more transparency from Nicaragua
During 2020, the Ortega government obtained direct financing from three sources to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, they amount to US $248.3 million dollars. Of these funds, $185.3 million came from the International Monetary Fund; $43 million from the IDB and $20 million from the WB. These contracts all involved State commitments for transparency.
According to the document from the WB project, Nicaragua agreed to create a “protocol for public information.” As part of this the Ministry of Health was to reveal information regarding Covid-19 tests processed, with the number of positive and negative results. They also committed to release data on the age, gender and localities of confirmed cases; accumulated totals of infection and deaths; and the mortality rate. However, this information was never released. At the same time, independent monitoring and analysis confirm that the regime continues trying to cover up the real impact of the pandemic.
“The IDB reiterates its commitment with the country to join efforts that lead to strengthening the response capacity before the great challenges the pandemic presents. Also for improvements in the information facilitated to the public on progress in the public health crisis,” this organization assured Confidencial. In order to gain access to financing from the IMF, the government was also obligated to publish a list of the acquisitions made during the pandemic.
In November 2020, Confidencial confirmed that the government has invested over 10 million dollars in 19 state contracts for purchase in order to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. These contracts were signed between June 15 and September 22, 2020, according to some of the documents posted by the Ministry of Finance and Credit. Posting the contracts were part of the requirements established by the IMF.
Nonetheless, although some of the “Covid Contracts” agreed on by Minsa as well as the Ministry of Education were published, the government has yet to publish complete information on the purchases realized as part of this financing.
This past week Confidencial posted an investigation done by the Latin American journalism platform “Connectas”. This report revealed that at least five of those contracts benefited companies linked to the governing party.