13 February 2013

Liberia: Corruption Smells At LAA - Probe Unveils Bogus Contracts, Raw Cash Transactions, PPCC Evasion

While national and international attention might be focusing big institutions as flashpoints of corruption and broad day thievery in the public sectors, there are some low-profile but potentially lucrative state-owned enterprises witnessing untold pillage and plunder beyond the radars of anti-fraud crusaders. The Analyst investigation has uncovered a syndicate which if not quickly unraveled and contained by concerned state actors could leave the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) fully financially emaciated to the detriment to the national security and the economy.

The Analyst has credibly learned that the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) has been bleeding for quite a while, losing colossal sums of offshore monies to scoundrels using official powers to amass personal bounties at the expense of taxpayers.

Well-placed LAA insiders confided in The Analyst that high-ups of the state-owned enterprise have been awarding knee-jerking contracts to bogus vendors, in most instances making payments in raw cash and in total disregard to other precepts of Public Procurement and Concession laws of the country.

According to a middle-level staffer who does not want to be named in print, authority of the organization, for instance, expended US$60,000 for painting the fence of the Roberts International Airport. "This is a project that usually had cost the Authority less than US$5,000 in the past until the new management headed by Ellen Corkrum came in," the insider said.

Sources say Ms Corkrum and the Board of the LAA have been at loggerheads over what appears to be wasteful spending and financial improprieties under her leadership.

Though the Board reportedly has dismissed Ms Corkrum and ordered an audit of her leadership, it is not known whether the massive corruption under her administration had anything to do with the dismissal. The Chair of the Board declined to speak to The Analyst on the matter, promising to give the Board's position at any time soon.

However, The Analyst has gathered that the former Managing Director of the LAA, Ellen Cockrum, is widely blamed for the loot and plunder of the Authority's coffers and for running the affairs of the organization unilaterally.

Credible administrative sources told The Analyst Ms Corkrum, against the advice and approval of the PPCC, awarded a sole-sourced contract worth US$250,000 to a bogus company that never performed a service.

The sources revealed that Corkrum applied to the PPCC for "no objection" to sole source contracts to two companies that were later found by the PPCC to either be non-existent or lacking the history and experience to carry out the job for which they were being hired. One of the contracts worth over US$1.5m while the other worth $255,000.

Despite of the rejection of the "No Objection" request by the PPCC, The Analyst gathered, Ms Corkrum hurriedly made payments to the nonperforming company US$250,000 in the space of two weeks.

According to the sources, the money was transferred to the bogus company abroad from shifting from one account to another, even though the job was not done.

"This woman came to LAA and promised to do her best to improve port security, but turned to be a risk to port and nation security," one aggrieved worker said. "Because, if she was dishing out public money like she did wantonly, how did she expect workers to perform and demonstrate loyalty so badly security needed at airports?"

The same source revealed that Ms Corkrum was in the habit of bulldozing port security procedures, evading checks and allowing her visitors to pass through without submitting to Liberian security guards.

"If you want to get the details, contact the Board and the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority," the source said. "They have documents to that effect."

Though The Analyst could not reach port authority on this matter, credible sources say Ms Corkrum is put on record by a formal complaint against her from the Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) to the Board of LAA over her evasion of security scrutiny.

Efforts to get Ms Cockrum to get her side of the story did not succeed. However, Investigation continues.

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