FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

4 February 2014

Liberia: LTA Boss Issues Partial Response to U.S.$1.1 Million Saga, Sidesteps Questions

Photo: Liberia Government
President Sirleaf (file photo).

Monrovia — The Chair of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) Angelique Weeks finally responded to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry regarding her decision to enter into a $US1 million lease agreement with a Chinese Company, Qinjian International for a building the LTA intends to use as an office space.

What the chair has not been able to answer are the following: Why didn't LTA use such enormous amount to build a building of their own? Is spending one million plus dollars on a lease property a good investment for the LTA and value for money for Liberia and its international partners? Did the LTA seek approval from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission before advancing on the leased property? Documents in our possession prove otherwise...

On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, FrontPageAfrica submitted a list of questions to the Chair of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Hon Angelique Weeks, regarding documents in our possession which suggesting a serious waste of taxpayers money when the LTA subleased a building from a Chinese company, Qinjian International for a reported US$1. 1 million dollars for three years.

The chair initially appeared reluctant to respond to the questions submitted, but finally did so on Monday, February 03, 2014, after the publication of our story. For the benefit of our readers, we bring you the following exchange which we hope will shed some light on the matter. Please note the LTA chair did not answer three key questions in her response to our inquiry. Documents in our possession prove contrary.

We have not received responses from Ms. Weeks on the following:

D. Couldn't the LTA use such funds, if they have it to actually build a building of their own?

E. Do you think spending one million plus dollars on a lease property is a good investment for the LTA and value for money for Liberia and its international partners?

F. Finally, did the LTA seek approval from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission before advancing on the lease property?

THE ORIGINAL INQUIRY

Hon Weeks,

Hope all is well. We recently came in possession of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Liberia Telecommunications Authority(LTA) and Qingjian International(Lib) Group Development Co. Ltd.(CNQC) to sublease a four-story office building containing thirty-one rooms and six bathrooms situated on two lots of land, lying and situated on the Congotown Back Road, approximately 100 yards from the First Baptist Church, Congo Town.

The price tag is said to be in the tone of S$385,000.00(three hundred eighty five thousand United States Dollars per year, and to pay three years up front. The total LTA would pay the Chinese landlord would come to US$1,155,000.00(one million, one hundred, fifty five thousand united states dollars)

We plan on running a story and are seeking clarification on the following:

A. Would this building replace the current two rental properties the LTA is currently using?

B. How does the LTA intend to fund this project? Who will pay?

C. During your recent confirmation hearing before the Senate you insinuated that the LTA was unable to effectively carry out its functions because of lack of funds to procure certain equipment. Don't you think the purchase of such an elaborate building would raise a red flag, especially in the wake of the recent declaration from the Minister of Finance that the LTA has not met its commitments to support the national budget?

D. Couldn't the LTA use such funds, if they have it to actually build a building of their own?

E. Do you think spending one million plus dollars on a lease property is a good investment for the LTA and value for money for Liberia and its international partners?

F. Finally, did the LTA seek approval from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission before advancing on the lease property?

Looking forward to hearing from you before going to press. We are also open to conduct an interview with you regarding this at a time of your convenience.

Sincerely

Rodney D. Sieh

Publisher, FrontPageAfrica

www.frontpageafricaonline.com

Ms. Weeks' Response

Mr. Sieh: Please find below, the LTA's written responses to the questions you have raised relative to our New Office Building. I've just learned that my staff has not yet arranged the interview you requested. However, I am still amenable to doing said interview if you wish.

Thanks, CHAIR

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: The price tag is said to be in the tone of US$385, 000.00 (three hundred eighty five thousand United States Dollars per year, and to pay three years up front. The total LTA would pay the Chinese landlord would come to US$1,155,000.00 (one million, one hundred, fifty five thousand united states dollars)*

ANGELIQUE WEEKS: The initial term of the Lease Agreement between LTA and CNQC for LTA's New Office Building is for three (3) years, at $385,000 per year, payable yearly at the commencement of each Lease year. While this amount might seem significant, it is not, taking into consideration, the Cost Benefit Analysis conducted in connection with selecting the subject property, which indicates overall annual cost savings for the LTA through the consolidation of all offices and staff.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: Would this building replace the current two rental properties the LTA is currently renting?

WEEKS: The LTA offices were housed in *three* rental properties, not two. In addition, the World Bank financed WARCIP Liberia Project, for which the LTA is Project Implementing Agency, occupies a fourth rental property. Staff from all four buildings can be accommodated in the LTA's New Office Building. The three (3) properties leased by the LTA over the past several years preceding lease of the New Office Building are:

1. Third floor of the United Methodist Church LAC Building and generator house on 12th Street. This site housed three (3) of LTA's five Departments (Engineering & Technology; Licensing & Regulations; and Government & Consumer Affairs. 2. Entire building on the V.P. Road in Congo Town to accommodate our Administration Operations and Legal Department and the Office of the Chairperson of the LTA.

3. Second floor of the Pan African Travel Agency Building In Congo Town, which houses the International Gateway Services Department. The LTA's New Office Building provides a single location to house all of our operations, staff and Spectrum Monitoring Equipment when acquired, while we continue to look for a suitable location to build our very own facility with enough space to accommodate the anticipated growth of the LTA.

FRONTPAGEPAGEAFRICA: How does the LTA intend to fund the project? Who will pay?

WEEKS: The LTA's New Office Building is funded by LTA's 2013-2014 Budget, which allocated adequate funding in contemplation of consolidating all of our offices in one property. The process was executed transparently through a public tender process pursuant to the PPC Act; several other buildings were considered prior to the final decision of the LTA's Procurement Committee.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA: During your recent confirmation hearing before the Senate you insinuated that the LTA was unable to effectively carry out its functions because of lack of funds to procure certain equipment. Don't you think the purchase of such an elaborate building would raise a red flag, especially in the wake of the recent declaration from the Minister of Finance that the LTA has not met its commitments to support the national budget? Couldn't the LTA use such funds if they have it to actually build a building of their own?

WEEKS: The lack of Spectrum Monitoring Equipment was the specific mention made during the Senate hearing as a set back to the LTA's ability to monitor and manage the nation's scarce spectrum resource. The LTA has compelling information that suggests that a significant number of radio stations in Liberia are operating with frequencies that have not been assigned by the LTA. The ability to monitor spectrum will enable us to curb the practice and collect much needed revenue through the licensing process. The equipment costs over US$2 Million dollars and will be paid for over a number of years, including a down payment in the current budget year. The LTA has completed the required PPCC public tender process to select a vendor willing to pre-finance the procurement. We are now awaiting feedback from the Ministry of Finance in order to move the process forward.

The LTA's New Office Building is being *leased, not purchased, as mentioned in your question; however, bringing our entire work force together in one location adds tremendous value to our collective synergy and productivity; and as previously stated, our Cost Benefit Analysis indicates that the LTA should realize annual cost savings from been housed in the New Office Building. The reference to the shortfall in the LTA contribution to the budget is inaccurate.

The LTA and Ministry of Finance (MoF) agreed to a revenue sharing model, whereby the LTA would retain 55% of revenue for its operations and 45% would be contributed to the National Budget. Pursuant to this understanding, the estimated US$3.8Million revenues from re-farming Libercell's license and related frequency authorization would be retained by the LTA and thus, should not be considered as a contributing factor accounting for the MoF's budget shortfall. The LTA acknowledges that there may be a very small shortfall of revenues payable to the MoF, estimated at US$370,876.05. This calculation is based on projected and actual revenue collections to date from international calls to Liberia, which is far less than the US$601,000 revenue shortfall claimed by the MoF in a recent letter to the LTA.

The LTA took the requisite steps to revoke and re-farm Libercell's license and frequency authorization because of Libercell's failure to pay license, spectrum and regulatory fees owed to both the MOF and the LTA for a number of years, to present. The value of the license and frequency authorization, if re-farmed, is approximately 3.8 Million US Dollars. Libercell responded by taking the LTA to court, which has delayed the revocation and re-farming process.

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