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Saturday, July 20, 2024

MISAPPROPRIATION OF US$831,000 REVEALED IN LIBERIA’S FISHERIES PROJECT

Date:

MONROVIA – Recent findings from a World Bank review mission have revealed a shocking misappropriation of funds by officials of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) in Liberia. The mission, conducted from April 17-26, 2024, discovered that an amount of US$831,000 was misapplied from a total of US$3 million intended for the construction of the National headquarters of NaFAA under the Liberia Sustainable Management Fisheries Project (LSMFP).

According to the mission’s aide-memoire, the funds meant for the construction project were instead used for the procurement of vehicles, motorbikes, public awareness billboards, and electric generators. It has been revealed that these vehicles were reportedly used to support the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) campaign during the recent presidential elections, indicating a clear misuse of project resources for political purposes.

The review emphasized that the deviation from the original allocations needs to be corrected during the proposed project restructuring, and a justification must be provided to the World Bank. These findings have raised concerns about the integrity and progress of Liberia’s fisheries sector under the leadership of NaFAA officials.

The objectives of the review mission were to assess the overall implementation progress, review the achievement of targets, address issues impeding implementation, and discuss upcoming reviews and restructuring. However, the mission discovered several issues that have severely hindered the progress of the LSMFP, including financial mismanagement and a lack of accountability.

Furthermore, it was revealed that support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was exploited, with boat engines intended for fishermen being distributed to key political stakeholders to bolster CDC-led campaigns. Similarly, materials for post-harvest facilities provided through a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) project on sustainable fisheries were selectively distributed to individuals who supported the CDC during the elections.

The mission also highlighted significant delays and deviations in various project components due to internal fiduciary issues. Procurement processes faced extensive delays, and contracts required additional attestations from the Director General, causing substantial setbacks in achieving project milestones. Environmental and social compliance issues were also noted, particularly concerning the construction of the University of Liberia (UL) fisheries campus.

NaFAA’s association with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities has also hindered Liberia’s progress in being lifted from the European Union’s yellow card. The involvement of NaFAA’s Director General in illegal transshipments of distant water fishing fleets without implementing punitive measures exacerbates the situation, further hindering sustainable fisheries management.

The project’s financial management has been rated as moderately unsatisfactory, with an inability to account for $34,894 given to staff members for international travel. The absence of the Project Accountant due to illness has compounded these issues, significantly hampering the Project Implementation Unit’s ability to meet essential fiduciary responsibilities.

Meanwhile, all efforts to contact the Director of Communications and Media Services of NaFAA, Mr. Lewis E.B. Kono, to respond to allegations proved futile as his mobile phone rang endlessly with no response.

In light of these extensive issues, the World Bank has downgraded the project’s performance rating to a concerning level of ‘Moderately Satisfactory.’ The mission’s findings emphasize the urgent need for immediate restructuring and enhanced oversight to salvage the project and ensure its objectives are met.

The revelations of corruption and mismanagement within NaFAA have dealt a severe blow to Liberia’s fisheries sector, which is crucial for the country’s economy and food security. It is imperative for international partners and stakeholders to hold the NaFAA leadership accountable and ensure the prompt implementation of corrective measures to restore integrity and effectiveness to the project.

About the Liberia Sustainable Management Fisheries Project (LSMFP): The LSMFP is a World Bank-funded initiative launched in September 2021 to improve the management and governance of Liberia’s fisheries, enhance the value-addition of fish and fish products, support aquaculture development, and ensure effective project management. The project is scheduled to close in September 2026.

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