18 February 2013

Liberia: PPCC's Heroic Breakthrough Saves the Day at LAA

Public procurement, particularly in a country recovering from conflict, presents an ideal stepping stone for kleptocratic public servants in collaboration with mischievous concessionaries   to catapult themselves to financial glory. Even before the Liberian civil war, procurement and concession arrangements in the public sector were a chief source of personal aggrandizement. The combination of these historical circumstances informed post-conflict peace and development engineers to mainstream public procurement in the country's recovery and development agenda, as represented in the creation of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission regulating and monitoring all forms of public procurement and concessions practices in Liberia. Though an offspring of the country's 2003 peace agreement and formally legislated in 2005, PPCC has been making redemptive advances lately, including unraveling the recent syndicate at the Liberia Airport Authority that could have cost state coffers millions of offshore monies.  The Analyst reports.

It was on December 4, 2012 when the now beleaguered Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority, Madam Ellen Corkrum penned a well-worded communication to the management of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission seeking the Commission's approval to award two mouth-watering contracts to two companies. The communication was replete with what appeared to be "supporting documents" justifying not only reasons why the PPCC should allow the LAA sole source the two contracts to the two companies but also the competence the two contractors—SSF Entrepreur Inc and Diaspora Consulting Engineering.

Sole source, by definition, is designating a company contracted, without competition, to be the sole supplier of a product or service, as a firm having an exclusive contract for certain services.

Madam Corkrum's communication sought the total of US$1,538,333, for "the emergency rehabilitation of Roberts International Airport's runway and other payments". Out of that amount, the LAA wanted a PPCC approval to allot US$1,283,333 for the SSF Entrepreneur Inc and US$255,000 for the Diaspora Consultant Engineering.

The Analyst was not privy to the "supporting documents" submitted by the LAA now estranged managing director, but a response from the PPCC indicates that, as a result of due diligence conducted by the Commission, the two companies vouched for by Madam Corkrum were questionable.

In a formal reply to request for sole sourcing the over $1.5m contracts, the Executive Director of PPCC Peggy Varfley Meres wrote: "The Commission wishes to bring to your attention that, in the performance of its due diligence, it was unable to confirm the existence of Diaspora Consulting, as written on the company's letterhead, and/or Diaspora Consulting Engineering, as per the submitted Expression of Interest, could not be verified."

In addition to spotting what seems to be the suicidal contradiction over the company's real name, the PPCC said the Consumer Affairs Division in New York, USA, could not find evidence of the company's listing in its database, and other companies resident within the building listed on its address (228 Part Ave South, No. 61967, New York, NY 10003, USA) could not find any listing which confirmed the residency of Disapora Consulting Engineering at said address.

The PPCC said it also visited the website of the company, and from December 4, the date of LAA's sole source request letter, the website was found inactive with a message indicating, "site undergoing maintenance."

According to the PPCC, it was unable to find the past performance history and references validating that Diaspora Consulting Engineering has performed similar services for other such clients and that the company was certified by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Regarding the other contractor, the PPCC wrote: "Further review of submitted documents revealed that the contract amount of SSF Entrepreneur Inc, US$1,283,333 is inconsistent with the amount indicated on its bill submitted to the Liberia Airport Authority for the proposed works, which totals $948,611.35. The Commission, however, was unable to find justification for such an increase."

Based on its due diligence findings, the Commission told the LAA consequently that it was constrained to inform the Authority that it cannot honor the LAA request for "no objection" to single source Diaspora Consulting Engineering for supervision of the proposed, since the project sought is a highly specialized terrain and that it has national safety implications.

The PPCC only granted a "conditional" "no objection" in favor of the SSF Entrepreneur Inc in the amount of US$948,611.35 instead of the requested $1,283,333 with the caveat that the company "cannot begin work until such a time when a suitable engineering company is identified and contracted, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Works, to provide technical guidance to SSF Entrepreneur Inc., for the implementation of the project."

LAA Board Awakes

It was only the official response from the PPCC that alerted the Board of Directors of the LAA that the Authority's coffers came under harm's way, even though in a statement the Chairman of the Board confessed that the recruitment of Madam Corkrum was "one of the best contracts any head of a Public corporation has signed in this country."

Chairman Musa Bility later revealed a horde of impropriators to which he said the former managing director of the LAA is linked.

Bility alleged Ms. Corkrum paid a Mr. Melvin Johnson US$60,000 to have RIA's fence painted when employees had fore-informed her that the total cost for painting the fence has always been around $5,000.

According to Bility, Ms Corkrum responded that she was using oil paint and that that she was still then new to the job pointing out that it was a mistake not to be repeated.

Prior to Ms Corkrum appointment as managing director of the LAA, Bility said the LAA had already contracted the Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) to update the existing Master plan of the Airport but the former director rather chose 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.

According to the LAA Board Chair, Ms Cockrum proceeded to write to the PPCC for single source and no objection. 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.

He 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 or a shell 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 Executive Director that she took to invectives, shouting obscenities and insulting the PPCC Executive Director.

"One such meeting took place at the Executive Mansion, another at the Ministry of Finance. The PPCC Executive Director wrote a formal complaint to LAA in which she complained of Ms Corkcrum's behavior going beyond the bounds of civilities expected among public officials.    Other high government officials who witnessed the ruddy behavior of Ms Corkcrum offered this and other similar views," Board Chair Bility said, observing that the letter from the PPCC Executive Director is professionally written, showing cause why the request could not be positively considered when no formal human or electronic contacts were made with this shell or bogus company.

Bility recalled that when Madam Corkrum rained insults at the Executive Director during a meeting at the Ministry of Finance, she refused to apologize when asked by other colleagues to do so.

"Again Our MD might want to come back to provide further reasons why she proceeded to transfer the next and final payment of  $ 125,000.00 USD to this Shell or Bogus company, for work not done and to a company which is now being challenged after due diligence by the PPCC as non existence," Bility contends. "The Amount was again paid via wire transfer from LBDI on December 13, 2012 a good 7 days after the PPCC denial letter was sent out.  Public Funds, paid out with no contract for no work done by an individual who has no authority to disburse the people's money in such manner."

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