FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

10 June 2014

Liberia: 'Made in China' Hits New Low in Liberia After Executive Mansion Flop

Photo: Bai Best and Pewu Flomo/Liberian Observer
Fire gutted the Executive Mansion in Monrovia during the country's 159th independence anniversary in 2006.

In the aftermath of the fire incident at the Executive Mansion in 2006, a deal for the renovation of the building was consummated in April 2011 with a Chinese Company, Qingfian International (Lib) Group Development Co. Ltd to perform the work, which should have been completed in five months for US$2.9 million.

A Liberian company, Milton and Richards were hired to provide the architectural engineering consultancy for at cost of $240K. According to sources, On February, 18, 2013, the Ministry of State wrote to say they needed to add another consultant to set up CCTV and needed an electrical consultant for which $US120, 000 contract was single sourced to - Ian Yhap, Cape Resources for supervision of the work.

Ironically, Milton and Richards with whom the government signed a contract with for $240K back in 2011 were already doing the original architecture work. In early 2013, the Ministry of State (MOS) awarded another architectural contract, half of what they were paying to Milton and Richards to do the same work.

According to highly placed sources, the MOS put the presidency under the impression that the project had been completed and needed security features including the CCTV for the presidency to move in. In the wake of all the arrangements and contracts for the renovation of the Executive Mansion, the question now is what is the status of the fourth floor renovation for which two payments were made to complete the work?

Frustrated? Sirleaf awards contract

Apparently angry over the delay in the renovation of the Executive Mansion, President Ellen Johnson has over the years suspended several officials of government for violations of the Public Procurement and Concession laws of Liberia slipped on Friday when she publicly declared that the contract for the renovation of the Executive Mansion, official seat of the President, will be awarded to a particular company, a statement that indicates that President has sidestepped the PPCC regulations regarding the awarding of contracts.

More importantly, the President's comments validate the widely held belief by many Liberians that Chinese contractors have piled up millions of dollars in construction work in Liberia but a lot of those works have been substandard.

UL Fendell Campus scenario

The University of Liberia Campus at Fendell, the Ministry of Health and several dilapidating road projects with a short lifespan, has added to the growing sentiments among Liberians that the Chinese monopoly of road projects in Liberia is adversely affecting the post-war development.

Critics say the President comments also mean that the law for which she has been suspending and dismissing several officials does not apply to her; as publicly declaring the awarding of the contract to a particular company as an all-powerful President is in flagrant violation of the law she is to uphold. President Sirleaf on Friday, June 6 during the dedication of a new complex constructed by the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation of Liberia said a contract for the renovation of the Executive Mansion would be given to the same company that constructed the NASSCORP complex.

Executive Mansion confirms Sirleaf's comment

In confirming that statement of awarding the contract for the renovation of the Executive Mansion to a particular company without bidding, the Executive Mansion in a statement indicated. "The Liberian leader, particularly expressed delight that the project is owned by Liberia and was built by a Liberian company, ECOCON Incorporated, owned by Henry Q. Taylor demonstrating the realization of the Liberianization policy.

In demonstration of the satisfactory work done by the company, President Sirleaf informed the company to get ready to take over the renovation of the Executive Mansion. The Executive Mansion has been under renovation since the fourth floor was gutted by fire in July 2006. President Sirleaf believes that if the Executive Mansion is renovated by a Liberian company, one will see the demonstration of commitment and passion to the country through their work as was done in the construction of the complex".

Sirleaf comments violates PPC Act

Some critics say the comment by the Liberian leader publicly supporting the awarding of a construction contract to a particular construction company in the absence of a competitive bidding process violates provisions of the PPC Act, 2005 amended in 2010.

Under the schedule on threshold of the PPC, Act, it is provided that before contracts are awarded, a national competitive bidding shall be conducted for contracts for procurement of goods, procurement of services and works when the contract price is at a particular threshold.

Under Part IX, general Provisions, schedule on thresholds it is provided "National Competitive Bidding shall be used when the estimated value of the procurement is below: a. In the case of contracts for the procurement of goods, US$100,000 b. In the case of contracts for the procurement of services, US$50,000 c. In the case of contracts for the procurement of works, US$200,000"

The PPC Act provides that when the contract price is much higher for procurement of goods, services and works, the process should be subjected to international competitive bidding.

"International Competitive Bidding shall be held when the estimated value of the procurement exceeds: a. In the case of contracts for the procurement of goods US$100,000. b. In the case of contracts for the procurement of services, US$50,000. In the case of contracts for the procurement of works, US$200,000" the PPC Act provides.

Dismissals for violations

In Liberia the President has the appointing power and the power to influence nearly every decision. President Sirleaf in keeping with her constitutional mandate to appoint and dismiss officials of the Executive Branch of Government has used violations of the PPC Law and other regulations to dismiss and in some instances suspend several officials of the government.

In dismissing former Auditor General Robert Kilby, President Sirleaf said: "I am today formally requesting the concurrence of the Honorable Legislature to dismiss the Auditor General, Robert Kilby, for failure to disclose private business activities that represent a clear conflict of interest with his official duties as Head of the institution with prime responsibility to investigate and advise on non-compliance with our public financial management and procurement laws."

The President also dismissed General Services Agency Director General, Ms. Pearine Davis-Parkinson for the same violation. In dismissing Ms. Parkinson, the Executive Mansion stated: "For the same reason, the Liberian leader said, she has dismissed the Director General of the GSA, Ms. Pearine Davis-Parkinson, who approved those contracts in violation of the country's procurement laws and procedures".

Besides the auditor general and GSA Director, President Sirleaf has suspended other officials, including the suspension of the Deputy Minister for Public Works for Operations, Mr. Victor Smith, for failure to adhere to the public procurement and financial rules of the Government as relates to the awarding of construction contracts. For the same violations, other officials of government have gone free like the case of the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Angelique Weeks.

Weeks signed a contract worth around US$1.5 million with a Chinese Landlord without going through the requisite processes as required by the PPC, Act, 2005 and 2010. Under the schedule on the threshold of the PPC, Act, 2005 and 2010 it is provided that the Ministry of Finance shall take part in negotiations of contracts above US$250,000.

The lease contract was signed without the involvement of the Ministries of Finance and Justice, as the President through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism pronounced that the Ministry of Justice has been instructed to work to nullify the contract.

A Lot of Contradictions

The contract is yet to be nullified as the LTA is currently occupying the building in question.

Statements by the President become policy statements and are respected across the length and breadth of the country. The major question now lingering is who will take action against an all-powerful President Sirleaf for making a public pronouncement that shows attempts to violate existing laws. Many believe that President's Statement is an indication of some of the maneuvering behind the scenes in the awarding of contracts of high dollar value in Liberia based on interest from senior government officials.

Portion of the Executive Mansion was destroyed by fire that gutted the building in July, 2006 but since that time building currently lies in ruins with the President using the 6th floor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as her official office.

For over 10 years the Government of Liberia has not been able to renovate the Executive Mansion, providing no reason for the delay in renovation work, prompting a Liberian journalist to recently file an Access to Information request using the existing Freedom to Information Law of Liberia. Under the FOI law, journalists and other Liberians are to be provided information without restriction.

Over four Million allotted EM project in Vain

Budgetary allotments have been made for several years for the renovation of the Executive Mansion, but still the building lies in ruins. In the 2006-2007 budget an amount of US$500 was allotted for renovation work on the mansion but the project was not implemented. Again in the 2007--2008 national budget under the budget code 2504-01-02 Substantial Renovation/Executive Mansion an amount of 1,500,000 was allotted the project. In 2008-2009, under the budget code 2504-03 Substantial maintenance & renovation/Executive Mansion, amount of 1,000,000 was allotted.

During the implementation of the 2008-2009 budgets an additional US$ 1 million was allotted to the Executive Mansion renovation and recorded under General Claims. It is stated in the budget "42 Gen Claims Executive Mansion renovation - US$1m 1,000,000, additional revenue allotted". In the fiscal outrun report, it was indicated that the final budget for the Executive Mansion project during the 2008-2009 budget year was US$3,000,000.

In the 2009, 2010 national budget under the budget code 2504-03-01 Substantial maintenance and renovation/ Executive Mansion an amount of 3,000,000 was allotted the Executive mansion project. In 2010-2011 budget allotment to the Executive Mansion renovation process disappeared from the national budget.

With the pronouncement by the President in 2014 about awarding the contract for the renovation of the Executive Mansion to a company it now raises questions as to what has been done with budgetary allotments for the project.

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