Top: One of the controversial projects highlighted in the report. Photo Credit: The Bong Accountability Project
By Varney Kamara
MONROVIA – Officials of Bong County misappropriated over US$2 million of the county’s social development funds (CSDF) between 2018 and 2020, a new report has found.
The report unearthed the project management committee (PMC) awarded contracts without competitive bidding, allotment of funds to contractors without proper documentation, huge financial discrepancies, overstated expenses, granting of multiple projects to individual companies, lack of project implementation, poor supervision and monitoring, among other violations.
It recommends an investigation of financial discrepancies to be led by anti-graft institutions and the office of Bong County Attorney, and the freezing of the County’s development accounts.
“We are calling on President George Weah and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to consider bringing those mentioned in the report to justice,” said Moses Bailey, project coordinator for the three CSOs that produced the report. “We want those recommendations taken seriously and implemented by the relevant authorities. Implementing these recommendations will open a positive chapter in the management of public funds in Bong and across Liberia.”
The Bong Accountability Project report was produced by the Media and Civic Education Rural Liberia (MACE-Rural Liberia), Foundation for International Dignity (FIND), and the Development Education Leadership Training in Action Human Rights Foundation (DELTA-HRF), civil society organizations working to promote accountability and development. Funding for the report was provided by ForumCiv, a Swedish nongovernmental organization working with 170 civil society and human rights organizations across the world.
CSDF is a combination of funds from the National Budget and fees paid by concession companies meant to develop counties where natural resources like iron ore, gold, diamond, are being extracted. In March 2020, the Liberian House of Representatives amended the Public Financial Management Act, which calls for greater accountability and transparency in the administering of the CSDF. Penalties range from administrative to criminal.
Bong County receives US$200,000 from the Government of Liberia, US$1.75million from China Union, US$500,000 from ArcelorMittal and US$12,000 from MNG Gold.
A total of 30 construction contracts were awarded to 11 companies across Bong County’s seven districts, with a focus on health, education, and agriculture. Some companies received six different contacts, the investigation uncovered. PMC JAEMCO Construction received US$45,000 to implement five projects, including construction of Commissioner’s residence in Kokoya, Behwe Elementary, Malonkai Elementary School, a clinic in Ula Town, and the Superintendent Compound in Gbarnga. However, only US$15,000 of the amount was expended, according to records of the payment. The PMC financial report failed to provide details on payment.
Between January 2019 and February 2021, PMC said it transferred US$41,295 and LD288, 000 as a three-month honorarium for late County Engineer Marcus Berrian but the deceased’s widow Etta Berrian informed investigators that she only received US$6,900 and the full Liberian Dollar payment.
In total, US$2,297,759.08 was apportioned for the different projects. Of this amount, US$1,537,379 was expended on new development projects without contract-based information, the report said.
The PMC awarded companies up to six projects without a competitive bidding process, a contravention of the Code of Conduct Act, which calls for the protection of the integrity of public service and guides against conflict of interest by public officials. Multiple granting of contracts to individual companies without a competitive also violates the Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act of 2006, which guarantees efficient use of public funds. The amended PPCC regulation of 2010 mandates companies to submit original and updated versions of the approved procurement plan, bidding documents, minutes of bid opening, memo constituting evaluation panel, evaluation report, minutes of the meeting of procurement committee, draft contract, among other requirements. Companies that were granted contracts did not provide those documents, the report said.
It blamed poor monitoring and implementation of projects for the multiple awarding of contracts and criticized Bong County legislators for not providing oversight of the fund as required by law. Bong County Caucus Chairperson Moima Briggs Mensah denied that criticism, promising to make an official response to the groups’ findings at a later date.
The report urged Bong citizens to petition the Legislature for the restitution of the allegedly squandered funds. It called on citizens of the county to file a petition against companies and the PMC and the restitution of funds that have not been accounted for.
Other recommendations include the freezing of Bong County’s development accounts pending the implementation of the Local Government Act and a committee for project appraisal. “More than US$3 million could be lost to corruption and mismanagement if the government fails to reform the governance of development funds contributed by mining companies,” it warned.
Stephen Mulbah, PMC Chairman, denied the civil society investigators contacted the committee, though sections of the report showed that Mulbah was contacted but declined to comment at the time. “They are telling lies against us,” he told The DayLight in a mobile phone interview. “This is not a report to trust.”