Investigation gathered by the GNN has discovered that the ongoing Stimulus Package being made available for the vulnerable people in Liberia by the Government seems to have some deficiencies, lack of transparency and accountability in its operations.
According to our investigation, prior to the signing of the agreement between the Liberian Government, the World Food Programme of the United Nations, and the Supplying West Africa Traders (SWAT), for the procurement of the Stimulus Package (Rice, Beans and Cooking Oil), it has been reliably learnt that there was no bidding process applied to provide the much-needed package.
In April 2020, the Liberian leader, President George Weah set up the COVID-19 Food Support Steering Committee to provide oversight to the COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP).
In his State of Emergency Letter to the National Legislature, President Weah requested the re-appropriation of US$25 million from the FY 2019/20 National Budget for COHFSP, to be implemented by the World Food Program.
Membership of COHFSP’s National Steering Committee includes: the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; Chair, Ministry of Agriculture; Co-Chair, World Food Program, Secretary, the Ministry of State, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Ministry of Justice, Executive Committee on Coronavirus, National Security Council, two representatives from Civil Society, two representatives from the CPP, Two representatives from Other Political parties, two representative from the Christian community, the representative from the Muslim community, two representatives from the Youth and student community, one representative from Women Groups, one representative from the Coalition of Political Parties Women of Liberia, representative from United Nations Organizations, representative from the International Monetary Fund, Ministry of Gender, Children & social Protection, one Representative of Disabled Community, and a representative from the World Bank.
But it can be recalled the media reported on 22 May 2020, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) withdrew from the committee set up by President Weah to steer the affairs of the distribution of food and relief items for the COVID-19 lockdown. The conglomeration of four opposition political parties – All Liberia Party (ALP), Alternative National Congress (ANC), Liberty Party (LP) and former governing Unity Party (UP) – noted that their withdrawal was due to the lack of serious leadership, improper planning, and the absence of transparency and accountability characterizing the overall response effort, to which “we cannot reasonably be exposed and/or associated.”
A month later, on June 23, 2020, Senator Abraham Darius Dillon (Liberty Party, Montserrado) took Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh and the World Food Programme Liberia to task over the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the COVID-19 food distribution, as was reported by FrontPage Africa quoting a local radio station, SKY FM 107.1.
Senator Dillon expressed grave disappointment in Minister Tarpeh’s handling of the program. “I am disappointed that Mr. Wilson Tarpeh and the Executive branch of government has up to date failed, refused and neglected to submit the contract between the Liberian government and the World Food Program regarding this food distribution.”
Senator Dillon said the main reason he demanded transparency on the issue was to allay fears in the minds of Liberians skeptical about the process. “The reason I would demand openness and transparency for the sake of accountability is to erase suspicions, speculations, rumors and lies. When you operate under the cloud of darkness then you create suspicions in the eyes of the people.”
The Senator recalled that when Minister Tarpeh appeared before the Senate a month earlier, it was Plenary decision to have him, as head of the Steering Committee of the food distribution, submit to the body, the contract and the full detail of the time for the distribution. To his amazement, Senator Dillon said, the Minister reneged.
Sadly, the Senator explained, the steering committee is chaired by Minister Tarpeh while the Minister of Finance is a member of that committee. “The chairman of the steering committee should be in possession of the contract and submit it to the Plenary of the Senate.”
Senator Dillon said initially, the Liberian populace were under the impression that the WFP was making the money available and giving free food.
With all of these bottlenecks and lack of transparency accountability previously highlighted by the likes of Senator Dillon, along with the CPP withdrawing from the Committee, the distribution of food to vulnerable Liberians have begun in Monrovia and its environs with reports that the Supplying West Africa Traders (SWAT), a Lebanese-owned rice importer, was awarded the contract to supply rice, beans and cooking oil to the Committee for onward distribution, reportedly worth millions of United States dollars without records of any bidding process in keeping with PPCC regulations.
Media investigations have gathered that the Minister of Commerce, Wilson Tarpeh, who heads the Committee reportedly awarded the contract to SWAT in the absence of a bidding process. Efforts to contact him proved futile as he refused to pick up calls to ascertain the truth regarding the awarding of the contracts for almost a week. Also the CEO of SWAT, George N. Nehme failed to pick up calls to respond to inquiries.