14 February 2013

Liberia: Financial Improprieties

Additional reports on the activities of the dismissed Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) have been released with the Chairman of the LAA Board citing financial improprieties, abuse of office and privileges allegedly committed by Ellen Corkrum.

In a statement released Wednesday, Mr. Musa Bility, LAA Board Chairman, explained that apart from the wrongdoing, Ms. Corkrum paid US$125,000 twice in December 2012 to the Diaspora Consulting Engineering, a group she recommended to conduct emergency rehabilitation of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) runway.

Efforts to get Ms. Corkrum's side of the story proved fruitless amid reports that she has travelled to the United States.

However, the LAA Board Chairman said from investigation conducted by the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) the Diaspora Consulting Engineering (which Madam Corkrum recommended) has no record of existence or operation anywhere.

The PPCC, according to Mr. Bility further investigated and established that it could not find evidence of the company's listing anywhere in the United States. The company's website is not functioning and the telephone number that was provided for the company, which is the CEO's number (Mr. Momar Dieng), could not accept calls when dialed.

"As Chairman of the Board of Directors, I signed Ms Corkrum's contract in September 2012. It was one of the best contracts any head of a Public corporation has signed in this country. We offered her very generous incentives and financial remuneration in order to hire her services. We did it because we wanted the best talent. As you are aware, on paper, Ms Corkrum was an excellent candidate.

She has two graduate degrees from two very prestigious institutions - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Furthermore, she had risen to the rank of a Major in the US military. She had served in the military as a pilot and continued in the private sector as a commercial pilot," Mr. Bility asserted in the statement.

Madam Corkrum was tipped to become Liberia's first female Chief of Staff to replace the Nigerian Commander now serving as head of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

However, Ms. Corkrum's activities at the LAA appear to have cast dark cloud over her nomination as head of the Liberian military.

Mr. Bility's statement outlined series of malfeasance, financial improprieties, abuse of office and privileges as well as several other issues within a period of six months.

Madam Corkrum's involvement allegedly in these unethical activities prompted the LAA Board to dismiss her.

"I would like to speak to some basic facts: There are six members of the LAA Board of Directors. Per our Board guidelines, four members including the Chairman constitute a quorum. The Board met and unanimously resolved to terminate Ms Corkrum's contract for breach of her duties and responsibilities to LAA. The two members of the Board who were not physically present were informed of the Board meeting and subsequently gave their support to the decision of the Board," Bility stated.

Continuing, Mr. Bility added: "I hold nothing personal against Ms. Corkrum and if she claims to have evidence implicating me in any wrongdoing, I invite her to submit that evidence to the appropriate authority for investigation and action. As we speak, the Board has already commissioned an independent audit for the period between September 2012 and January 2013. At the same time, the LAA has been engaged by the GAC for an audit for the period between 2006 and 2012. We are pleased to inform you of these developments."

The LAA Board Chairman further disclosed that prior to Ms. Corkrum contract, the LAA had already contracted the Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) to update the existing Master plan of the Airport. According to Mr. Bility, the master plan is a 25-year development blue print for the airport.

He said the first part of their assignment was an assessment of the infrastructure and recommendation of emergency works.

He narrated that after several incidents on the runway the Board decided at the time that for any emergency works to commence, they had to hire airport construction engineers to supervise the work.

"Initially, we contacted our neighbors in Ghana and at the last minute the plan fell through. At that time, the MD informed us that she was aware of a Senegalese firm that could do the work. Because of the emergency nature of the work, she suggested that the contract be single-sourced. She was clearly informed at the time that it required a letter of approval from the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) especially since the quoted price exceeded US$250, 000," Bility indicated.

According to the LAA Board Chairman, Ms. Cockrum proceeded to write the PPCC for single source and there was no objection. He said when the letter for "no objection" was submitted to the PPCC, there were some very obvious anomalies and discrepancies which were immediately communicated back from PPCC to LAA.

As part of its due diligence, the PPCC observed in a letter dated 6 December 2012 that there were discrepancies and material misrepresentation from the firm purportedly headed by the Senegalese Momar Dieng. The request for "no objection" was out rightly and unambiguously denied.

Bility said after being denied the "no objection" letter from the PPCC, rather than adduce more evidence of proof of the existence of what appears as a bogus company, and direct the PPCC in its due diligence search, Ms. Corkrum took the rejection letter so personal and was henceforth in public so angry and resentful toward the PPCC Executive Director that she allegedly took to invectives, shouting obscenities and insulting the PPCC Executive Director.

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