‘Sanctioned Corruption’ OLiberia Descends On Govt’s 13M Executive Mansion Renovation

A local pro-democracy group has condemned what it terms as sanctioned Corruption over the placement of US $13m in the 2018/2019 budget by President George Manneh Weah for renovation work of the Executive Mansion.

Open Liberia noted that the president is glaringly sanctioning corruption with said placement as well as an additional US$26m in projection for the next two fiscal years for the same project.

A total of 13m has been placed in this year’s 2018/2019 budget for the renovation of the executive mansion. Monies have been repeatedly apportioned in past budget years for renovation works. The 2017/2018 budget carried 11m for renovation works, yet work on the mansion is currently ongoing as the government is yet to reveal the actual completion date for the work.

According to the Group, it is utterly shocked 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 shreds of evidence has been marred by corruption.

The renovation came as a result of what was termed as a fire outbreak in the mansion during the first term of the former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The Group claimed that there is absolutely no justification for the president to allow the multi-year allocations amid clear pieces of evidence of financial improprieties, ill-governance, including those cited by the May 2017 GAC report, which remains shelved like many other audit reports.

OLiberia Program Officer Aisha Kamara stated

“We are not sure where 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?”

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 shreds of evidence that nothing was attained from initial first payments? Isn’t it prudent to use more 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 clear commitment to change for better in the appropriation of state resources. Dumping in more money for the same project that has yielded nothing is a heartbreaking reminder of business as usual or worst; it’s continuation of a repugnant state of the situation the poor desperately voted for you to change.”

In 2017, the GAC released findings of its first-ever audit of the Executive Mansion renovation, which 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, ‘ahead of government agency shall ensure that money is 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 terminated the contract but did not demand 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.

OLiberia Program Officer Aisha ponders over the constant allocation of public funds to renovate the executive mansion amid acts of solecisms and corruption reported by the GAC,

“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 meager 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$39 million to complete the same project? Do we still need three years to complete that same old project?”

Since the fire incident in July 2006, the head of the executive branch of government has been housed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which political pundits believe that the delay in completing the mansion renovation is completely unfair to the running of the state.

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