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Friday, July 19, 2024

OVER 31 UNITS OF CONTROVERSIAL EARTH-MOVING EQUIPMENT TRANSFERRED DUE TO LIMITED SPACE AT FREE PORT

Date:

MONROVIA – The Government of Liberia, represented by the Minister of State Without Portfolio, Madam Mamaka Bility, oversaw the transfer of over 31 units from the first batch of the highly criticized and controversial 285 yellow machines, including trucks, at the National Port Authority (NPA) on Saturday, July 6, 2024. The equipment are being moved to the Barclay Training Center (BTC) Barrack due to limited space at the port.

In a brief interview with journalists at the port, Madam Bility expressed joy and appreciation for the arrival of the equipment. “I am honestly happy for Liberia, this is a dream come true for any well-meaning Liberian. As I said in the presentation, if you know the condition of our roads and you know the situation of Liberia, you will be happy that we have these equipment here,” she stated. Madam Bility emphasized that half of Liberia is in the bush and many people lack access to roads and markets, which hampers agricultural development. She stressed that this initiative is part of the government’s ARREST agenda aimed at opening up the country.

Madam Bility further added that the maintenance of the equipment is covered under a contract with the manufacturer for one or two years, and over 100 Liberians will be trained to operate the machinery.

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. The virtual turnover ceremony 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 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.

“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.

In response to the criticism, the Ministry of Information claimed that the government had not made a final determination about the procurement of these machines. Minister Piah described Bility’s pronouncement as merely a briefing for fellow cabinet ministers, not an official declaration. The government has yet to inform the country whether all necessary laws required to procure the machines were followed.

The equipment, marked with photos of President Joseph N. Boakai and decorated with the Liberian flag, has raised further questions about the transparency of the procurement process. 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.

As the debate continues, the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability in this significant procurement will be closely watched by the Liberian public and international observers.

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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