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Friday, June 14, 2024

CENTAL DEMANDS GOL ADDRESS CRITICAL QUESTIONS ON SOURCING OF 285 EARTH-MOVING EQUIPMENT, SAYS RESPONSE SO FAR INADEQUATE

Date:

MONROVIA – As debate mounts regarding President Joseph Boakai’s Minister of State Without Portfolio Madam Mamaka Bility’s recent announcement of procuring 285 pieces of heavy equipment, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) voiced its concerns at a press conference today in Monrovia.

CENTAL Executive Director Mr. Anderson D. Miamen noted that last week, the Government of Liberia (GoL) held a Three-Day Cabinet Retreat during which Madam Bility announced that 285 pieces of earth-moving equipment had been presented to the Government of Liberia in a virtual turnover ceremony attended by her, Hon. Sylvester M. Grigsby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, and Hon. Roland Layfette Giddings, Minister of Public Works.

A video released in this regard also featured Mr. Xu Ming, Senior Vice President of Sany Group, a Chinese multinational heavy equipment manufacturing company, and Robert Gumede, Chairman of the Guma Group based in South Africa. The pronouncement has been greeted with mixed reactions from the public. While many Liberians have welcomed the development, there are strong calls for transparency, accountability, and full compliance with procurement and other related laws in acquiring the equipment.

At a press briefing at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs, and Tourism on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, Information Minister Jerolinmek Piah stated that the announcement made by Minister Bility was not the result of an agreement reached but rather an update on government plans. He stressed that although the government of Liberia has the power to negotiate deals in the country’s interest, such deals will be negotiated with respect for the rule of law and separation of powers.

“We have closely followed developments and discussions surrounding the saga, especially the Government of Liberia’s official position, as communicated by the Minister of Information. We wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s plans to acquire multiple key assets and logistics to facilitate works and development in different sectors, including road infrastructure in this instance. If used for the intended purposes, this will help bring much-needed development to the country and transform the lives of Liberians in the wake of increased levels of poverty and infrastructure deficit. Who wouldn’t want development for the country? Who wouldn’t want their county, district, town, or village roads constructed, rehabilitated, or maintained?

“However, we are deeply concerned about the pronouncement and the entire process surrounding it. Equally, we are appalled by the Liberian Government’s official response, which leaves more questions than answers. First, Minister Bility’s pronouncement lacked the required details to adequately inform the public about the process. The Government was not compelled to speak on the matter, since it claims that the arrangement is premature or in its formative stage. Yet, if the video presented by Minister Bility is anything to go by, the pieces of equipment have already been marked with the photos of President Joseph N. Boakai, decorated with the Liberian Flag, and in motion as if en route to Liberia.

“Secondly, there is no publicly available information regarding a competitive bidding or tendering process that informed the government’s decision to begin negotiation with a group to provide such a huge quantity of earth-moving equipment reportedly valued over 20 million USD, above the 1 million USD required for International Competitive Bidding by the amended Public Procurement and Concessions Commission Act of 2010. Many questions linger. At what point in the process would the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission have been involved? When the deal is in an advanced stage or concluded, as it appears to be? How then will the process be competitive and transparent?”

Third, that the government is reneging on divulging the source of the equipment nor the company behind the deal, which reportedly has business interests in Liberia is highly concerning. This singular act raises more questions about transparency, robustness and integrity of ongoing discussion and even have implications for future processes that will occasion the award of any contract or concession to them (the company or those at the center of saga) for works and services in Liberia.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Media, Liberia’s history is replete with government negotiating deals that end up benefiting businesses and the officials involved, at the expense of Liberians. We are also aware of the dangers of government receiving donations or gifts from companies with business interests in Liberia. May we remind the Government of the situation involving the 100 Toyota Hilux DXD4 double cabin pickups donated to members of the 52nd National Legislature by Arcelor Mittal, the company mining iron ore in Nimba County. Following the donation, the Liberian Legislature ratified the company’s new Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) in 2007. Since then, there have been claims and counterclaims about the Pickups influencing the decision of the government to ratify the new deal, which is believed to be largely favorable to the Company. There have been multiple incidences of violence, resulting from reported poor treatment of citizens by the company, especially those within the concession area, with little to no redress. It would be very difficult, if not impossible to argue against the thought that the 100 Pickups given then, in the midst of the negotiation of the deal played a key role in government’s treatment of the Company.

Recommendations:

Fellow Liberians, the Country deserves more transparency, openness, and integrity from her leaders. We urge President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, Sr. and his team to look into history and proceed with extreme caution in initiating discussions around potential support from individuals and groups, especially those with business interest in Liberia. The ‘no business as usual’  promise of the President should be applied in this instant case. As important as the procurement of this equipment may be in alleviating the deplorable road constraints faced by citizens, the lack of transparency around the acquisition, source of funding, and tendering may paint a dark picture and erode public trust and acceptability of the project. We call for more transparency, competition, and inclusiveness of processes around transfer of our national assets as well as acquisition of equipment for road, agriculture and other critical sectors and activities. We urge President Boakai and his team to fully comply with the PPCC Guidelines in any procurement related matters. Equally, we call on the Legislature to lead by example and be robust and independent in performing its duties, especially through ensuring transparency, accountability, and integrity around this and other related critical matters.

In conclusion, we applaud Liberians for their courage in speaking out on governance, accountability and other issues bordering on their interest and the wellbeing of the country. We applaud their stance on this issue and encourage them to keep constructively engaged with their government to ensure more transparency, accountability, inclusion and robustness in decision-making and implementation, especially those with implications for the future and well-being of the state.

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