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Thursday, May 23, 2024

CSO COUNCIL URGES IMMEDIATE PROBE INTO ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION SURROUNDING ASSET RECOVERY

Date:

MONROVIA – Amid smells of corruption and abuse of authority at the Office of Asset Recovery and Property Retrieval Taskforce (AREPT), which prompted the sudden resignation of a key member of the Taskforce, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) has raised a red flag and called for an immediate probe into the matter of “serious public concern.”

The CSO Council in a statement signed by Chairperson Madam Loretta Alethea Pope-Kai said the allegation levied by a member in person of Activist Martin K.N. Kollie against Chairperson Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin in a communication, are seriously scaring for an institution that was established to boost the fight against corruption and ensure honesty in the governance process with the redemption of stolen wealth.

Establishment of the Taskforce:

In an effort to restore credibility, accountability, and transparency in the governance process, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai Sr. on March 5, 2024 issued Executive Order #126, for the retrieval and recovery of national assets.

The order established an Assets Recovery Task Force and an Office under the Minister of State for Special Services, with the mandate to put into place the necessary legal framework for the recovery of assets wrongfully acquired by current and former government officials. President Boakai stated that the order is issued with the intent to retrieve, recover, restore, and reinstate fixed and liquid assets from within and outside Liberia that have been converted to private use by unscrupulous government officials and employees who were placed in positions of trust. The decision aims to address the alarming trend of officials converting public assets to private use while in positions of power.

The Taskforce is also required to initiate criminal prosecution and civil litigation on behalf of the Government, return confiscated assets to Liberia upon adjudication, and place travel and other restrictions on all individuals identified as suspects while undergoing investigation for stolen and suspicious assets.

Taskforce slips into “corruption web

Evident by a communication from Member Martin K.N. Kollie to the Chairperson of the Taskforce, occasioned by the immediate resignation of another member in Emmanuel Gonquoi, the integrity of the taskforce seems to have been thwarted. It seems that the integrity of the taskforce is at stake.

In a communication dated May 5, 2024 by Mr. Kollie addressed to Chairperson Kla Martin, a copy which is in the possession of this paper, he (Kollie) indicated that the Taskforce has been unable to achieve anything substantial due to lack of communication and coordination; lack of consensus and c commonality; lack of methodological framework to operate, lack of mutual respect, motivation, and refusal to prioritize EXPERTISE over inadequacy; and lack of leadership and a clear vision.

Kollie also alarmed over the he abrupt, arbitrary arrest and subsequent seizure of “Grace Ride” and the hasty and unauthorized expenditure of US$9,800 per month for “billboards.”

He also decried the signing of a US$311,200 lease agreement to rent an office space for taskforce without even discussing the decision with any member of the taskforce or without any process of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

“The crafting of AREPT’s budget, to date, some of us, AREPT’s members, haven’t seen that fiscal instrument as though it’s a society bush. Shouldn’t this be discussed and debated by ALL commissioners of AREPT? The signing of a US$311,200 lease agreement to rent an office space for AREPT without even discussing this decision with everyone is a concern. This is very concerning. After signing this lease agreement, you sent me a note this evening that a US5311,200 deal was reached,” said Kollie in his letter.

Gonquoi resigns amid claims of corruption:

With activities of the Taskforce already receiving thoughtful public lashes, thus prompting key policymakers including the Speaker of the House of Representatives Jonathan Fonati Koffa calling for reconstitution of the Committee with its mandates redefined, the recent allegation of corruption has further exacerbated the problem, especially so, on the immediate resignation of Gonquoi on the heels of these allegations and infightings.

Gonquoi in a post on his official Facebook page wrote: “I just stepped down from the Assets Recovery Code Team by submitting my official letter of resignation to the office of the President. I’m particularly grateful to the president for always trusting me and my leadership. I’m still committed to your agenda, not just as a leader of the EFFL but also as your son. I believe in your agenda for better Liberia, and you can count on me as always for support. We will think of Liberia, love Liberia, and build Liberia together.”

CSO Council concerned about developments, wants immediate and impartial probe

The National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) commonly known as the CSO Council, on the back of these developments has released a short statement calling for an immediate and impartial investigation as these allegations are grave and cannot or should not be taken lightly.

The CSO Council is the umbrella organization for all civil society organizations in the country.

“The National Civil Society Council of Liberia has been following the developments at the Asset Recovery and Property Retrieval Taskforce (AREPT), and we think there is a need for urgent investigation into this matter. With the taskforce being clothed with the responsibility to restore public confidence in the governance process of this country, such news is disturbing and if nothing is done at all to investigate this issue, we are poised to lose all future fights against corruption,” the Council noted.

“To this end, the Council calls on the requisite authority to take charge of this matter so as to restore the sanity of the Taskforce and to restore public confidence in it.”

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