11 January 2010

Liberia: MCC Jackpot Scam Busted

A World Bank document detailing how thousands of dollars left the Monrovia City Hall via a calculated schemes under former Mayor Ophelia Hoff Saytumah, now the Vice President for Administration at the Liberia Oil Company (NICOL), has been unearthed.

The document, which the World Bank Municipal Governance Advisor prepared along with GEMAP Advisor, Thomas Downing, who has now left the country, reveals that donor funds totaling over US$26,000 was disbursed from the City Corporation's account without proper documentation, while over US$90,000 intended for vendor payments was transferred to senior City Call officials with no record to show that those vendors received the money or that the goods were actually delivered.

In June,2009, a payment totaling US$49,000 was also made to a vendor Identified as Help Inc for fuel. Mrs. Saytumah, wife of the Minister of State for Legal Affairs within the presidency, is said to be the owner of this company.

The World Bank financial review that focused only on one out of eight bank accounts that belong to the City Hall, over a five month period, noted that the city government has a "dangerous financial practice" that could jeopardize international support.

The financial system at the City Hall is such that payments are made to employees for onward transmission in cash to vendors and others employees, but with no indication that the intended beneficiaries received the money or that goods and services were actually procured, the document said.

The document said that at the City Hall, there exists Lack of basic control over expenditure, fees and tax collection and deposits. The financial review noted, citing instances where fees and taxes were collected but not deposited, that customers checks valuing over a thousand dollar (USD) bounced without followup being made.

"In the absence of such control, it is impossible to determine what percentage of businesses are being billed, how many are paying, whether payments are being made to MCC or diverted elsewhere, whether payments collected are being deposited and whether companies that don't pay are subject to continuing collection efforts", the document noted. It added:

"Other payments made have benefited a former senior official. Staff members report that this former official is a beneficial owner of Help Inc.

"Procurement is not centralized in a procurement department. Many staff members are able to make commitments on their own authority and without adherence to any standards" portion of the World Bank financial review findings, obtained from City Hall sources stated "

The report recommended a radical reform of the city government, but informed sources have told this paper since report was submitted to Acting City Mayor Mary Broh, no measure has been taken to ensure that the former Mayor accounts. Moreover, the report has been kept secret until a whistleblower approached this paper with it. All efforts to contact Acting Mayor Broh and former Mayor Seytumah proved fruitless.

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