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Saturday, July 20, 2024

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY SURROUNDS ARRIVAL OF CONTROVERSIAL EARTH-MOVING EQUIPMENT  

Date:

MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Some of the heavily criticized 285 earth-moving yellow machines have arrived in the country, according to Information Minister Jerolimek Matthew Piah. The procurement of these machines has been under scrutiny since its announcement on Friday, May 24, during a three-day Cabinet retreat at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, Monrovia. Madam Mamaka Bility, the Minister of State Without Portfolio, announced that 285 pieces of earth-moving equipment had been presented to the Government of Liberia in a virtual turnover ceremony. Attendees included Hon. Sylvester M. Grigsby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Hon. Roland Layfette Giddings, Minister of Public Works, Mr. Xu Ming, Senior Vice President of Sany Group, and Robert Gumede, Chairman of the Guma Group.

The announcement sparked heated debate among government officials. Senator Cllr. Augustine S. Chea of Sinoe County, Senator Amara Konneh of Gbarpolu County, and Representative Frank Saah Foko of District #9 Montserrado County raised serious questions about the procurement process. Senator Chea questioned the transparency and accountability of the procurement process, noting the lack of information about the funding source for these machines, which are worth millions of USD. He highlighted that there was no mention of this procurement in the national budget, no loan agreement, and no known grant or donation. Chea emphasized that if the equipment were donated, the President is obliged to disclose the sources to the Liberian people.

“Disappointingly, some of my Senate colleagues don’t think transparency and accountability matter here; some argue that the equipment will make our highways pliable, so nothing else matters,” Chea lamented. He pledged that the Senate would uphold its oversight responsibilities and ensure that the Executive is held accountable.

The government, through the Ministry of Information, quickly responded to the increasing criticism. Minister Piah’s subsequent assertion at the MICAT press briefing on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, claimed that the government had not made a final determination about the procurement of these machines. Piah described Bility’s pronouncement as merely a briefing for fellow cabinet ministers, not an official declaration.

However, on Thursday, June 27, at a MICAT press briefing, Minister Piah revealed the arrival of some of the 285 pieces of earth-moving equipment into the country. Piah disclosed that the yellow machines have started to come into the country to undertake massive road construction, adding that the machines are meant to keep roads pliable. Though the Information Minister did not state the exact number of earth-moving equipment that had arrived, he assured Liberians that all 285 yellow machines are expected. He explained that it would take a couple of weeks or months for all to be in the country because of the nature of the country’s port, which restricts the size of vessels that can dock.

Piah further noted that four of the country’s largest counties will have two maintenance zones, naming Nimba, Lofa, Bong, and Grand Bassa counties. According to him, the UP government is working on plans to transform the country through developments that will attract investment and make it easier for farmers to transport their produce to Monrovia.

The government spokesperson did not mention whether all necessary laws required to procure the machines were followed. The process remains tainted as the government has been unable to provide the required details to adequately inform the public about the procurement. The pieces of equipment have already been marked with photos of President Joseph N. Boakai, decorated with the Liberian Flag, and in motion as if en route to Liberia. There is no publicly available information regarding a competitive bidding or tendering process that informed the government’s decision to begin negotiations with the group providing such a huge quantity of earth-moving equipment reportedly valued at over 20 million USD, well above the 1 million USD threshold for International Competitive Bidding as required 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? Critics, political commentators, and ordinary citizens are wondering why the Boakai administration is delaying providing proper information surrounding the machines.

Adding to the controversy, there have been reports of a potential conflict of interest involving key figures in the procurement process. Allegations suggest that individuals within the government may have personal ties to the companies involved, raising further concerns about the integrity of the transaction. The lack of a transparent bidding process only fuels these suspicions, leaving many to question whether the procurement was conducted in the best interest of the Liberian people.

Public outcry has also extended to social media, where citizens are using platforms to express their dissatisfaction and demand accountability. Hashtags such as #LiberiaTransparency and #AccountabilityNow have gained traction, reflecting the public’s growing impatience with the government’s handling of the situation. Civil society organizations are calling for an independent investigation into the procurement process to ensure that any malfeasance is identified and addressed.

As the debate intensifies, the government faces mounting pressure to clarify the procurement details and ensure full transparency moving forward. The successful integration of the earth-moving equipment into country’s development plans depends heavily on restoring public trust and demonstrating a commitment to accountability. How the administration handles these concerns will likely have lasting implications for its credibility and the country’s progress in infrastructure development.

Socrates Smythe Saywon
Socrates Smythe Saywon is a Liberian journalist. You can contact me at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or reach out via email at saywonsocrates@smartnewsliberia.com or saywonsocrates3@gmail.com.

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