Liberia: Failed Court Contractor to Face Supreme Court

After venting frustration about major setback due to 'mismanagement' of funds to build magisterial court in Botota, Chief Justice Korkpor says contractor will get "free, fair and transparent justice... "

Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor recently expressed dismay over the effects of the Semoh Group of Companies' failure to complete the Botota Magisterial Court in Bong County, having received about US$138,269.96 for the construction, equipping and furnishing of the project when completed.

"The judiciary sued the contractor, Semoh Group, for defaulting on the contract. The case was ruled in favor of the judiciary at the lower court, and the contractor announced an appeal to the Supreme Court, as done in all other cases," Justice Korkpor informed the gathering, which included President George Weah, at the opening of the October 2019 Term of the Supreme Court.

He added that Semoh Group will have "free, fair and transparent justice based on law during the hearing, and determination of its appeal during the October Term of the Court."

The US$138,269.96 Botota Magisterial Court's project is one of the four magisterial courts funded by the Swedish government through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

It can be recalled that in 2018, Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court 'C' in Monrovia brought down a guilty verdict against Semoh Group of Companies, a contracting entity, after the Judiciary complained about the company's failure to complete the project, even though the Judiciary said it had made 90 percent payment of the amount estimated for the project, a claim the company did not deny.

Semoh Group of Companies is reportedly owned by Moseray Momoh, currently the deputy managing director for administration at the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC).

At the opening of the Supreme Court, which was also attended by House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Albert Chie and Chief Justice Korkpor, it was said that the project started in 2016 and should have been completed the same year; but up to date it is at a standstill.

According to Korkpor, the three other UNDP-funded courts are the Vahun Magisterial Court in Lofa County, the Karnplay Magisterial Court in Nimba County, and the Omega Magisterial Court in Montserrado County. "They have long been completed and are actively functional," Korkpor said.

The delay to complete the courthouse's construction is now denying over 40,000 inhabitants access to justice, several residents told the Daily Observer in an interview, shortly after Justice Korkpor made the disclosure.

Justice Korkpor said the renovation and extension of courts throughout the country as well as infrastructure development play a critical role in strengthening judicial independence, access to justice and productive work output.

"This is why we remain committed to erecting court facilities throughout the country. In this regard, I am pleased to report that the construction, furnishing and equipping of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court Complex in Grand Gedeh County has been completed," Justice Korkpor told his audience.

However, Korkpor said the facility has not yet been dedicated due to bad road condition, and was quick to point out that "plans are being made for the dedication of the complex in early 2020."

Korkpor also disclosed that the judiciary is renovating and extending the premises of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in River Gee County to transform it into a judicial complex.

Justice Korkpor also said that when completed, the facility will house the 15th Judicial Circuit Court, all specialized courts and the magisterial court in Fishtown, the Capital City of River Gee County, as well as offices for the county attorney and the public defenders.

He however said that work on the project is slow at the moment due to the death of the hired contractor.

The case arose when the judiciary claimed that in November 2015 it executed a construction contract agreement for the construction of the Botota Magisterial Court in the amount of US$138,402 with Semoh Group of Companies. But before the work could start, US$124,402 was already paid to Semoh.

Semoh Group of Companies is reportedly owned by Moseray Momoh (pictured), the deputy managing director for administration at the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC).

Contrary to that payment, a contract document signed by Cllr. Elizabeth J. Nelson, court administrator for the Supreme Court, and James P. Mator, administrative and financial manager of Semoh Group of Companies, and obtained by the Daily Observer, added: "The judiciary shall pay to the contractor the amount of US$55,307.98 as the first installment payment representing 40.0 percent of the agreed contract and duly inspected by the project management team or the project consultant and certified as true and correct to the court administrator."

The document also said that "As to the payment for the second phase of this project, the judiciary shall pay to the contractor the full amount of US$48,394.49 as the second installment payment representing a total of 75.0 percent of the agreed contract price.

"This payment shall be made to the contractor upon 75 percent completion of the construction, equipping and furnishing works and upon certification and verification of that the construction; equipping and furnishing works have been satisfactorily completed by the project management team or the project consultant and, thence, upon the turning over of the newly built magisterial court to the judiciary for use.

"As to the payment of the third phase of the project, the judiciary shall pay to the contractor the full amount of US$20,740.49 as the third installment payment representing a total of 90% of the agreed contract price. And, upon 100 percent completion of the construction, equipping and furnishing works; and upon certification and verification of the construction, equipping and furnishing works have been satisfactorily completed by the project management team or the project consultant and, thence, upon the turning over of the newly built magisterial court to the judiciary for use."

On the issue about the final payment, the document said that "The judiciary shall pay to the contractor the amount of US$13,827 representing the final 10 percent payment of the agreed contract price and payable 60 days after the project has been completed and turned over to the judiciary, in order words, at the expiry of the maintenance period."

However, in the judiciary's complaint against Semoh Group of Companies, Cllr. Nelson claimed that despite the fact that the contractor (Semoh Group of Companies) has received a total disbursement of 90 percent of the amount of US$124,442.96 of the contract value in the amount of US$138,269.96, to achieve a satisfactory completion of the Kokoyah District Magisterial Court to 100 percent, the court remains at 75 percent completion with various scopes of works as indicated in the observations, incomplete to render the court a functional one."

Cllr. Nelson further said that "Consistent with the no-cost extension granted the contract covering January 1-31, 2018, it is affirmed that the only real works on-going at the Kokoyah District Magisterial Court as of the February 9, 2018, final inspection and certification mission up to the writing of this report, was the contractor's attempt at delivering a portion of the required quantity of the approved terrazzo tiles for the re-tiling of the building."

Cllr. Nelson further indicated that "The outstanding balance of 10% in the amount of US$13,827, which is retention to be disbursed following satisfactory completion and certification at the expiry of the maintenance period of 90 days is grossly inadequate to address the unfinished requirements for the court reflected by the outstanding works, and in view of the supplies noted in the storeroom in Botota."

The parties agreed to complete the construction work within 18 months following its signing in 2015, but could not be completed due to what Momoh described as intervening factors.

But the judiciary is claiming that Semoh should pay back US$48,000 of the US$124,402 that was given to him for the remaining work that he is yet to do.

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