Liberia: Investigation Shows 27K Gallons of Gasoline Went Missing Amid Probe Into Acute Shortage

A petrol pump (file photo).

Monrovia — In the wake of the ongoing gasoline crisis faced by the country, a FrontPageAfrica investigation has found that 27,000 gallons of gasoline were allegedly stolen by former senior employees of the Liberian Petroleum and Refining Company (LPRC).

The investigation also revealed that there have been alarming operational losses over a period of 14 years at LPRC, culminating into "bulk stock verification."

The investigation also showed that 27,000 gallons of gasoline were allegedly stolen from Tank (TX# 408) on June 20, 2012 on the grounds of the LPRC by Mohammed Darblah, former Operations Manager of the LPRC.

Ironically, Mr. Darblah currently serves as Petroleum Consultant at the LPRC.

Investgation into the alleged theft, FPA has discovered, was sanctioned by Aaron J. Wheagar, who was LPRC's Deputy Managing Director for Operations in 2014.

In an interview with Mr. Wheagar via mobile phone on Monday, February 17, he admitted that the theft occurred at the corporation's racks, prompting an authorized investigation by the management.

However, Wheagar failed to state the recommendations made against the accused, Mr. Darblah. FPA further discovered that Darblah was suspended for a period of four months.

FPA cannot, however, confirmed whether the 27,000 gallons of stolen gasoline were restituted by the accused.

When asked via mobile phone, Mr. Darblah said: "It is not to my knowledge," and the phone went off.

But documents in this paper's possession show that he was suspended after the investigation.

Amid acute shortage of gasoline in the country, the LPRC has come under pressure as news surfaced that the corporation has been embroiled in allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of petroleum products.

There have been several calls from both the opposition and ruling establishment to launch an intensive investigation into the situation concerning thefts and actual operational loses.

A communication (memo) in the possession of this newspaper, the then Deputy Managing Director for Operations at LPRC, Aaron J. Wheagar, constituted and authorized a five-man specialized investigation team to probe the "bulk stock verification" covering the period from 2010 - 2014.

The five-man specialized investigative committee included Mr. Bobby G. Brown (Chairman) and the members were Mr. Joseph B. Dennis, Charles Sherman, Leelar Dymacole ad Albert Tarpeh.

The job of the committee was spell-out in consonance with the communication from the then LPRC DMD for Operations: "In 2010, a committee headed by Sarlee Sartee, II, then Maintenance Manager reported the difference between the book stock and the bulk stock in our shore tanks.

In 2012, Universal Surveyor Incorporated also confirmed that there is a disparity between the actual stock in the tanks and the importer's stock balances. And On April 17, 2014, Compliance also came up with a report that showed a huge difference between bulk stock and the importer's stock balances."

Mr. Wheagar furthered: "Considering the above reports, I request that you reconcile the importers balances and the bulk stock in the tanks and come out with the following: 1. Contributing factor(s) for the differences; 2. Recommend how to avoid reoccurrence and, 3. Propose to management how the difference should be handled."

Nearly two months later, the specialized Investigative Committee reported on June 9, 2014 that, among other things, contributing to the variances, there was water drained of 4,113 gallons in TX# 407; and theft of 27,000 gallon of gasoline in TX# 408.

The reports confirmed the disparity in the Universal Surveyor Incorporated report between the actual stock in the tanks and the importer's stock balances.

The LPRC independent Intelligence and Investigation (I & I) which investigated the theft further said the cost of the stolen 27,000 gallons of gasoline should be defrayed on the LPRC and make Mr. Darblah to restitute the money or be sued.

Meanwhile, President George M. Weah recently commissioned a special taskforce headed by Trokon Kpui, Minister of state Without Portfolio to investigate and establish what caused an estimated 60 percent discrepancy between importers' inventory reports of products at the LPRC and actual stock of products as its petroleum facilities.

Prior to the establishment of the presidential taskforce, the Minister of Commerce, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh and the LPRC Managing Director, Marie Urey Coleman, appearing before the Plenary of the House of Representatives denied there that was no shortage of gasoline on the market.

House Speaker Chambers, acting upon a decision by plenary, constituted a 21-member specialized committee to verify whether their assertions were true, and if it were the contrary, the committee should establish the factors behind the shortage of gasoline in Liberia.

The Committee, headed by Rep. Zoe Emmanuel Pennue (District #1, Grand Gedeh County), in its preliminary report, debunked the two officials claims and hinted the acute shortage of gasoline to several underlying factors and requested for more time to fully complete its investigation.

This prompted majority members of the House to back a popular motion giving the committee the added time requested for and to also hold in contempt Minister Tarpeh and Madam Coleman in contempt for lying under oath and misleading plenary.

However, to the dismay of several lawmakers, the Speaker ceased the motion.

During the debate, Reps. Acarous Gray and Munah Pelham Youngblood high ranking members of the House and the ruling party, leading the charge to hold the two officials in contempt, called for the investigation and decisions of plenary over the 'embarrassing' situation to be void of politics.

Rep. Gray stated that the preliminary report revealed that some members of the executives have been looting the LPRC for years.

"This is not about the politic because the preliminary report shows a historicity of looters looting our petroleum for many years. So, what do we do as a body? Should we fold our hands? Should we play politics? We need to bring the perpetrators to book. This is what we need to do," he cautioned.

Rep. Youngblood called on her colleagues at the House to set a precedent against the two officials for misleading plenary.

"It is just about time that the Executive takes us serous. They have to take us seriously because this place is not a place for joke. I think we should be exercising our oversight responsibilities here and no one from the Executives will come before this august body and gives us fallacies and we accept. We must set precedent," Rep. Youngblood added.

"As much as we want to find a common ground, when you come before the Legislature, the people's deputies, you approach them with the facts and nothing but the truth. We are the last group of people you must come to with fallacies. So, let us now decide as the highest decision making body in the land. Let us not prolong. It will just be fair if this body will take a decision."

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