Open Liberia, a pro-democracy group says Liberian president George Weah is glaringly sanctioning corruption with the placement of US$ 13m in the 2018/2019 fiscal budget as well as an additional US$26m in projection for the next two fiscal years for same project.
Open Liberia says it is utterly shocked and bereft that the president, who assured citizens of his mandate to fight corruption and bring about change, sees nothing wrong with dumping huge amount of money for a project which from all indications and evidences has been marred by corruption.
Aisha A. Konneh, OLiberia’s program officer, says there is absolutely no justification for the president to allow the multi-year allocations amid clear evidences of financial improprieties, ill-governance, including those cited by the May 2017 GAC report, which remains shelves like many other audit reports.
“We are not sure where from the president got the courage to allow that allocation and those projections, especially knowing fully well what has been reported about that project. Didn’t the GAC say all six contracts awarded for the renovation of that very mansion were marred by huge improprieties and acts of corruption that cost the national coffers tens of millions? Doesn’t it make sense to the president to first understand why the building he would eventually inhabit still lies in ruins even after more than eight years of budget allocations,” Aisha asks.
The OL official added: “Assuming the executive mansion renovation was a personal project for the president, would he had given more money to contractors even though there are evidences that nothing was attained from initial first payments? Isn’t it prudent to use a little judgment in matters like this – where there is no need to use a spyglass to see acts of corruption? Mr. President, your people deserve a better change. Dumping in more money for the same project that has yielded nothing is no change; it’s continuation of what we voted you to change.”
In 2017, the GAC released findings of its first ever audit of the executive mansion renovation, which it among other things concluded that the government of Liberia awarded seven contracts in the amounts of $31,705,72.50, out of which $15,769,800.21 was paid to contractors. The audit covered from July 1, 2006 to December 31, 2015.
The GAC said that for the periods under audit, a total amount of US$8,000,000.00 was appropriated for fiscal years 2006/2007 through 2009/2010 for project per the approved national budgets without evidence of allotment. Additionally, as per the Ministry of Finance Development Planning template, an amount of US$1,500,000.00 was transferred from the appropriation during the 2007/2008 fiscal year without documenting the purpose of the transfer.
According to Regulation B.25 (1), (2c), & (3d) of the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act of 2009, ‘a head of government agency shall ensure that moneys are utilized in a manner that secures both optimum value for money and the intention of the Legislature. Within the limit or the maximum amount in the approved budget for that fiscal year and subsequent allotments for those specific budget items. Transactions are properly tracked, approval levels clearly documented and records maintained at each level.’
The report continued: “It was observed during the conduct of audit that the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs did not provide supporting documentation for US$5,161,767.22 of the $8,496,564.97 expended for the fiscal years 2012-2014.” This is in violation of Regulation P.9 (2) of the PFM Act of 2009 which states that ‘’payments except for statutory transfers and debt service shall be supported by invoices, bills and other documents in addition to the payment vouchers.’’
The report also specifically noted that both ministries of state for presidential affairs and finance & development planning paid US$ 10,443,959.61 on two contracts to a Chinese Company, Qingjan International, without any evidence of payment. Due to lack of performance, GoL terminate the contract but did not demand for restitution of monies it paid on grounds of ‘diplomatic relationship.’
Liberia’s Auditor General, Yusador S. Gaye, noted that both ministries of state for presidential affairs and finance made unexplained and unsupported payments in millions of dollar; this the OLiberia says is sufficient reason to caution the president not to proceed to make payment for the same project until appropriate steps have been taken to prosecute those accused in the GAC report and clear mechanism and timeline are derived for the continuation of the renovation project.
The report cited that payments made outside of the project’s scope could lead to non-achievement of the project’s objectives.
Aisha: “Doesn’t all this bother you, Mr. President, that amid all these acts of improprieties and corruption reported by the GAC, you still think dumping in more of our money is wise decision?”
Among other recommendations, the GAC says going forward, money should not be appropriated without commitment to avoid tying up of the nation’s meagre resources which could be subjected to budgetary manipulation.
Meanwhile, OLiberia says the allotment of $13m and projection of US$ 26m for the next two fiscal years is indicative that the president himself is not committed to completing the renovation. “Do we really still need US$39million to complete the same project? Do we still need three years to complete that same old project?