29 October 2018

Liberian Construction Companies Snubbed As Lebanese Firms Win Big On Contracts

Monrovia — President George Manneh Weah pledged in his inaugural address in January that under his watch Liberians will not be marginalized or become spectators to the economy, but a massive investigation by FrontPageAfrica has found that a number of major contracts including the construction of the 14 Military Hospital have been contracted to Lebanese nationals with closed ties to the President.

"As we open our doors to all foreign direct investments, we will not permit Liberian-owned businesses to be marginalized. We cannot remain spectators in our own economy," said President George Manneh Weah, at his inaugural address in January.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, FPA received confirmation from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission that Lebanese national Mohamad Bittar has been contracted for work on the 14 Military Hospital. Another Lebanese National, Ali Kobiessi of Building Materials Center (BMC) is reportedly contracted to revamp the VIP terminal at the RIA.

Both Bittar and Ali of BMC are also said to be involved in construction of several of President Weah's private properties including the reconstruction of the 9th Street property, the Jamaica Lodge Resort, and what is believed to be his dream house near the Baptist Seminary on the Roberts field highway.

Bittar was also awarded the Doe Community road contract.

The PPCC informed FrontPageAfrica that the Bittar Construction Company was awarded the contract for the supply of building materials worth US$2,977,230.31 for the construction of the 14 Military Hospital.

In a confirmation letter to the FrontPageAfrica, PPCC noted that the Ministry of Defense which requested 'No Objection to Bittar Construction Company for the supply of building materials, the Ministry assured the PPCC that construction works would be carried out by the Engineering battalion of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

It is, however, unclear why the Ministry of Defense would single source the contract to Bittar.

According to the PPCC law, a procuring entity can only sole source when:

(a) When only one (1) supplier has the exclusive right to manufacture the goods, carry out the works or perform the services to be procured and no suitable alternative is available;

(b) For additional deliveries of goods by the original supplier which are intended either as replacement parts for existing goods, services or installations or as the extension of existing goods, services or installations where a change of supplier would compel the Procuring Entity to procure equipment or services not meeting requirements of interchangeability with already existing equipment or services;

(c) When additional works not included in the initial contract have, through unforeseeable circumstances, become necessary and the separation of the additional works or services from the initial contract would be difficult for technical or economic reasons, among others.

Bittar Listed Among Weah's Assets?

FrontPageAfrica, however, gathered that the President's interest in the Bittar and BMC is not only linked to the fact they are helping out this personal construction projects, but Mohamad Bittar has been an old-time friend and business partner to the President.

A source familiar with the President's recently declared assets informed this paper that Bittar Construction Company is listed amongst the President's assets.

FrontPageAfrica has, however, been unable to verify this information. An August 1, 2018 FOI request sent to the General Auditing Commission (GAC) for a copy of President Weah's asset declaration form was denied. The GAC referred FPA to the civil law court. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) has also denied FOI requests from other entities and individuals request copies of President Weah's asset declaration forms.

Scrutiny of Declared Asset Made 'Impossible'

President Weah's last known assets declared were in 2005. President Weah's 2005 declaration puts his overall income per annum at US$335,000.00 on properties in Liberia and the United States.

According to the declaration, he earned US$60,000 from his supermarket in Florida, USA; US$250,000 from real estate in the USA and US$25,000.00 from his real estate in Liberia.

President Weah in 2005 declared that his combined assets both in Liberia and the USA were more than US$2.8 million. His residence in Florida, USA was said to worth US$1.5 million, while his Supermarket in Miami, Florida was said to worth US$1.2 million.

Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica indicate that the Florida supermarket - Flavors West Indian Supermarket and Restaurant - which is registered in his wife's name has been inactive.

His two residences in Liberia were said to be valued US$250,000, with the one in which he currently resides as President in the ELWA Rehab Road area outside Monrovia being put at US$100,000.

The demolished residence on 9 th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia was valued in 2005 at US$150,000. He, however, failed to state his bank balances in the declared assets.

Several years later, Weah in 2014 won the Senatorial elections and became Senator of Montserrado for three years until his election as President in December 2017, earning a monthly income of somewhere around US$15,000. His total worth as Senator for the three years is estimated to be US$540,000.

Walking in EJS Shoes

During Sirleaf administration, the government came under fire for single sourcing Sinkor Streets road contract including all avenues to West Africa Enterprise, a company owned by Lebanese national, Shawki Fawaz.

Shawki Fawaz also served as CEO of SSF construction company which was also awarded several road construction projects including the construction of Gbarpolu road and asphalt pavement on various roads in and around Monrovia.

Analysis shows that SSF Entrepreneur Inc. 17 contracts constituting 32.69% of the total number of projects awarded during Madam Sirleaf's era based on sole source procurement method amounting to US$48,576,700.28. The second contractor, CHICO received eight (8) contracts constituting 15.38% of the total number of projects awarded on a sole source basis amounting to US$17,054,714.79.

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