23 January 2013

Liberia: Public Money At Stake - No Arrest in Big Stealing At MOF

Four days after the Ministry of Finance alarmed that 500 pay checks had gone missing at the ministry, no single arrest has been made up to press time yesterday and officials seem to be tightlipped on the issue.

Efforts by this paper to get an update on the saga from both the Liberia National Police and the Communication Division of the Ministry (which released the information Sunday) failed.

Both entities promised to call back Monday, but failed. Several attempts Tuesday proved fruitless as officials of the Ministry's Communication Division could not respond to repeated calls, while Police spokesman Sam Collins, who on Monday promised to check with his bosses, switched of his phone Tuesday when approached on the issue.

The more than 500 Pension Checks amount to at least US$12,000 of taxpayer's money in the face of an unconfirmed report that the government has gone broke, after the alleged crashing of the 2012/13 fiscal budget (this is being investigated).

The Ministry has concealed the identity of the employee in whose care the checks were entrusted before they went missing, saying that said employee has been suspended.

"An employee (name withheld) who was in charge of the checks told senior management Friday evening that "some unknown persons reportedly walked into her office and made away with a bag containing the checks," a release issued Sunday claimed.

The Ministry said "a stop payment request has been submitted to the Central Bank and other commercial Banks to ensure that checks with marching series numbers cannot be cashed."

"Authorities of the Ministry of Finance, including the internal security unit, have launched an immediate investigation into the incident. The authorities also notified the Ministry of Justice and the Liberia National Police to investigate the stolen checks incident," the Communication Division, but has left the public in doubt, like in the case of previous incidents, which Are still being probed.

The Ministry last year claimed that petrol bomb were planted under the Minister's officials vehicle at him Sinkor's home, but police and Finance officials have yet to give update on the incident. Many critics said the incident was a makeup, and security investigations are yet to show otherwise.

Investigations into the lighting of fire on the third floor of the Ministry, and the discovery of voodoo (ju-ju) in the Minister's office are yet to conclude, as the disappearance of the check as added to the roll call.

"This is very mysterious at the Finance Ministry," Peter K. Giddings, a caller, said on one of the radio stations Monday morning. "Every day you hear something new; if the place is not dirty, the place is on fire; if it is not on fire, then the minister is sacking someone; and if that's not the case, he is bring his country people there," he stated angrily.

"I hope this check issue will not just die like that as usual," Williammena B. Togba said. "Otherwise, it means they are playing game with money and livelihood."

"The employee who was in possession of the stolen checks has been recommended for suspension without pay pending the outcome of the investigation," the Finance release noted, stating that Finance Minister Amara Konneh has called on the police to accelerate the investigation in order for the culprits to be apprehended and prosecuted in accordance with the laws of Liberia.

The Ministry of Finance has been a center of massive corruption in the recent past with checks and payroll scandals being the order of the day. Even after several years of efforts of transforming the system--from manual to computerize--the in many areas of operations, it is still be manipulated to facilitate corruption.

Former Finance Minister (now Foreign Minister) Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan spent years at the Ministry "jarring the still waters for crocodiles" (corrupt individuals) to come out, but many did not come out until he left. Under his regime the Public Financial Management Law was passed, while many ghost names were deleted from government's payroll.

Several persons were fired for corruption while many "crocodiles" remained uneasy at the Ministry, until Amara Konneh took over and fired nearly two dozen employees perceived to have been involved in a corruption syndicate.

Konneh claimed that the ministry was "dirty" and he would clean it, but is himself faced with even greater challenges when he has to fight nepotism of which he is accused, the existing corruption and the looming crashing of the current budget.

"I can confirm to you that this government is really catching hell. No money to underwrite all of our development initiatives; the major investments are not going the right way, millions of dollars expected in the first sector will no longer come as a result of the President's moratorium on the sector, one insider said.

Sources at the Ministry told this paper that they believe that the check was stolen by a "planted individual" with the aim of putting Konneh's effort in disrepute, while others allege that Konneh has created several unnecessary sections including "implementation units" to bring on his colleagues. "We try to advice him but he doesn't listen to us; so, we can't do anything about it; he's our boss," said another insider.

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