Liberia: World Bank Slams Govt Over Financial Improprieties

-Demands restitution of ineligible funds and project assets

The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government continues to dampen its image with major bilateral and multilateral partners as the issue of transparency and accountability remains elusive. Partners have been berating some of the administration's "unwarranted" fiscal dealings--a situation that presents a bleak future or puts future budgetary support the government at stake.

Many of the country's international partners are feeling uneasy about the government's failure to demonstrate financial discipline and have urged President George Weah and his officials to do better in order to gain their confidence and trust. But this seems to be falling on deaf ears as things, as some would say, continue to get worse.

With just few months ago when the government found itself in hot water with the diplomatic community for clandestinely withdrawing funds from their accounts at the Central Bank, the administration has once again found itself at odd with World Bank which is reacting sternly to acts of financial impropriety exhibited by some top government officials. The bank is raising yet another red flag over the issue of transparency and accountability.

In a series of communications from the WB to various ministries of government, copies of which are in the possession of the Daily Observer, the Bank slammed the Liberian government for acts of financial indiscipline and is calling on the government to restitute funds that have been illegally used y the administration.

A letter from WB Country Director, Mr. Pierre Laporte, dated October 2, 2019 and addressed to Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, called for a restitution of USD$11,800.00, which the bank said was ineligibly expended under the Liberia Social Safety Nets Project (LSSNP) that is being implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP).

"This letter requests the government refund to the association the amount totally USD11,800.00 (covering all times outlined in this letter for the reported ineligible expenditures) by making a payment to the association though details that provided in an invoice attached to this letter. Please confirm the refund on or before November 30, 2019," it said. The government is yet to confirm the refund, a source said.

The review, conducted last August, identified ineligible expenditures in the amount of USD11,800.00 under category 1, which needs to be reimbursed by the government to the association.

"Ineligible expenditures were identified in the amount of USD1,000.00 upon reviewing the petty cash procedure and in the amount of USD10,800.00 upon reviewing the PIU financial management officer's short listing report. These amount need to be reimbursed to the association," the WB letter said.

The letter also indicated that petty cash of USD1,000.00 cannot be reconciled in the books of accounts and both the cash and receipt cannot be established.

The letter was meant to inform the minister and his team about a report of a review of the financial management supervision by the International Development Association (IDA) that was conducted by the Financial Management Specialist (FMS). The review focused on withdrawal applications (Was) Payment Vouchers (PVs) bank statement, and the cashbook to confirm that the above mentioned project is meeting the legal convenient and that the submitted Was reflect credible expenditure.

Per the handover note of the previous Financial Management Officer (FMO) of the LSSNP, the petty cash usage report containing the receipt, the letter said, was handed over to the Deputy Minister for Children and Social Protection in November 2018.

The letter said that the same amount was accounted for and up to the time of financial management review, but the ministry and the PIU could not account for the cash. "As such, it was agreed that USD1,000.00 be declared ineligible."

During the financial management review, it was discovered that the FMO recruited for the project did not meet the minimal requirement.

"A shortlisting report for the recruitment of the PIU's FMO was also evaluated, a report that couldn't come but after multiple requests. On reviewing the report it was established that the selected candidate that was shortlisted and eventually offer the job, didn't have either the minimal qualifications or experience required," it said.

The leaked letter disclosed that IDA task team and the representatives of the MGCSP agreed to terminate the contract of the FMO and, as such, the payments for the salary of the FMO for the six months (April 2019-September 2019) was declared ineligible.

One of the letters, dated October 23, 2019 from the WB Country Director, Mr. Khwima Nthara to the Acting Chairman of the Liberia Land Authority (LAA) also requested accountability.

The Bank declared a vehicle and laptop purchased under the Land Administration Project as 'ineligible expenditures', thereby asking the government to refund. If the government fails to do so, the Bank warned that the financial management and overall ratings of the project would be affected. "This declaration would also impact the performance rating of the entire Government of Liberia World Bank Program," the Bank said.

However, according to sources, who asked not to be named as they are not the authorized individual to speak on the issue, the LAA has not been able to retrieve US$11,000 and a laptop from an official that was on the project. "The LAA was only able to get the vehicle," one of the sources said.

World Bank officials could not confirm or deny the authenticity of the letters, but said the bank would respond officially if the need be.

The LAA on October 3, 2019 wrote the World Bank seeking a month-long extension of time to retrieve the assets and the project fund from the former Project Coordinator of the Project Implementation Unit of the Liberia Land Authority Administration Project (LLAAP)

The World Bank granted the request with a warning. The letter noted: "We want to strongly emphasize that failure to comply with the request will require that the World Bank declare these assets as 'ineligible expenditures' and the government of Liberia will be asked to refund."

Meanwhile, some Liberians have said these actions on the part of government officials are clear signs that the Weah led government's rapport with major bilateral partners continues to dwindle and, in fact, is not getting any better a worry for many Liberians--a situation that is of no help to remedying the dire economic and financial crises that the country currently faces.

The Weah's government rapport with its international friends has been under scrutiny since its inception, hitting its lowest ebb in May this year when a communication signed by diplomatic missions, expressing concerns over how the government is "stealing" and mismanaging donor funds. The multilateral and bilateral partners also complained about of ministries and agencies failure to make reports on projects.

Signed by the ambassadors of United States, Sweden, France, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, Japan, and European Union, the letter sends a warning to President Weah, who is seemed overwhelmed by a ravaged economy.

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