14 January 2010

Liberia: I Won't Do It Again

Former Monrovia City Mayor Mrs. Ophelia Hoff-Seytumah has admitted to 'conflict of Interest' when she ran City Hall, saying that "on hindsight", she will never do it again. "...Yes, it was a conflict of interest. I must admit...and on hindsight, I will never do it again. I will never help an institution again because it can be misconstrued."

In an exclusive interview with this paper on Wednesday at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCL), where she now serves as Vice President for Administration, the former City Mayor who ran City Hall dating from the Charles Taylor years, admitted that a company she owns, HELP Inc., rendered services to the city corporation for which HELP, Inc. received remunerations.

HELP, Inc. was mentioned in an August 8, 2009 memo to Acting City Mary Broh after a "Review of selected checks issued by MCC, January - May 2009".

The memo from Deb Kumar Dwibedi, Municipal Governance Advisor, World Bank and Thomas Downing, GEMAP Advisor noted: "...By memo of August 8 we reported on a number of irregularities in the disbursements from one of the MCC's bank accounts during the month of June 2009".

Memo: "To determine whether the irregularities occurred only during that month-or whether, in the alternative, they were common practice-we reviewed selected disbursements from several USD accounts for the period January through May of 2009".

The memo goes only to say that the review team found a US$188,000 was paid but with no proof of delivery. It also said US$190,000 was paid out to City Hall employees rather than to the vendor or service provided. "...In June, we noted large payments to a vendor for fuel. During the five months under review, payments to this same vendor totaled $49 thousand."

In her interview with this paper, Mrs. Seytumah, whose company deals in fuel and gasoline, said her company had to step in because City Hall was strapped for cash.

"...No vendor wants to deal in checks; they want cash. It was either that I stepped in or lots of projects would not have been done. I did what I thought was best.

She explained that: "...A copy of that memo was never shown to me nor did anyone call me. I would have explained some of the things we did and why we did it".

The Acting Mayor, Mary Broh, has neither deny nor confirmed she knew about the August 8, 2009 memo, although the writers suggest that the review was carried at the request of Ms. Broh.

"At your request, we review the records relating to the MCC's US dollar account at First International Bank for the month of June of 2009."

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