Liberia: Sen. Dillon Takes Govt to Task Over Lack of Transparency Over U.S.$9 Million of COVID-19 Food Distribution Fund

A motorcyclist and a passenger wear their face masks in Monrovia

Monrovia — Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Grand Bassa) has taken Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh and the World Food Programme Liberia to task over the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the COVID-19 food distribution.

"The way they are proceeding, something is smelling - and we need the deodorant to spray the place," the Senator Monday during an appearance on Sky FM's 50-50 Show Monday.

Senator Dillon expressed grave disappointment in Minister Tarpeh's handling of the program. "I am disappointed that Mr. Wilson Tarpeh and the Executive branch of government has up to date failed, refused and neglected to submit the contract between the Liberian government and the World Food Program regarding this food distribution."

Senator Dillon says the main reason for demanding transparency on the issue is to allay fears in the minds of Liberians skeptical about the process. "The reason I would demand openness and transparency for the sake of accountability is to erase suspicions, speculations, rumors and lies. When you operate under the cloud of darkness then you create suspicions in the eyes of the people."

Minister 'Lied Under Oath'

The Senator recalled that when Minister Tarpeh appeared before the Senate a month ago, it was plenary decision to have him, as head of the Steering Committee of the food distribution, submit to the body, the contract and the full detail of the time for the distribution.

To his amazement, Senator Dillon said, the minister reneged. "He didn't do so. Last week, when he appeared before this body, normally, I would remind these public officials that they're under oath, meaning they should say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Mr. Wilson Tarpeh under oath, lied and said that the Plenary of the Liberian Senate did not instruct him to submit the contract. That contract issue was brought up by me."

The Senator said, during the minister's second appearance the issue was again brought up but he refused to submit the contract.

Senator Dillon said is reason for pushing the minister was to put everything on the record. "During his first appearance I had already heard that government had entered into a contract with World Food Programme - and that the contract would be around seven to nine million United States dollars and because I did not want to dwell on rumors and speculations, especially as a lawmaker, I made it a Plenary discussion. I made it form part of Plenary discussion and we all agreed as the Liberian Senate for us to be presented with the contract."

To his surprise, the Senator averred, nothing has been submitted. "One month passed and Wilson Tarpeh was summoned, when I particularly, was granted the time to speak, I reminded him. Mr. Tarpeh told the Liberian Senate that we didn't ask him to bring contract. I reminded him about that he just said was untrue under oath. In fact, he said, he did not sign the contract, that it was signed by the Minister of Finance because it had to do with the fiscal aspect."

Sadly, the Senator explained, the steering committee is chaired by Minister Tarpeh while the minister of Finance is a member of that committee. "The chairman of the steering committee should be in possession of the contract and submit it to the Plenary of the Senate."

Senator Dillon said initially, the Liberian populace were under the impression that the WFP was making the money available and giving free food.

Now, it has been reported that Liberia is in fact using a loan from the IMF to fund the project. "I wonder why we as a country would be borrowing money and we giving some to WFP to feed us as though we do not have national institutions to handle such things. These are some of the things that turned me off after we passed the recast budget the way we did because if we had done proper scrutiny to that budget, a lot of things would have been brought to the table to clear doubts."

'Something Just Not Right'

Senator Dillon said this is the first time in the history of Liberia that one house of the legislature, passed the budget on a resolution. "We have two kinds of resolution, one is simple resolution, a resolution binding on one house and a joint resolution with a binding force of law, that is why the both houses, the both chambers concur then the President will approve and print it into handbill so that it can have the binding force of law to be implemented. When you the Senate pass the budget with a resolution - and the house of representative does not act on that resolution, then it's crazy."

According to the Senator, the House of Representative is the first institution that passes on revenue bill. "The budget is law but it's more than a revenue bill. So, the house passes by procedure, when the house passes the budget, the house passes it to the Senate. When the House pass it to the Senate it becomes engrossed bill because it's not law yet because the Senate has not concurred. When the Senate concurs, it is called Enrolled Bill, then that is a law; but it is not enforced until it is sent to the President for approval. When the President approves it and publishes it into a handbill, then it becomes an enforceable law. But when the house sends an engrossed bill and we the Senate acts on a resolution, it is troubling. We have not met the benchmark required to get something enacted legally. So, the recast budget for Liberia as is, is just crazy."

This is why the Senator says something is just not right about the entire process. "There is something fishy here and we will not rest until we clear this doubt. When we borrow in a credit facility so to speak, from the IMF, US$25-$30 million in keeping with the resolution under the State of Emergency, I don't know how many of us lawmakers know what the credit facility is, what is the interest rate we are going to pay, when we are going to start paying back and what are those terms. When the country borrows money, whether it's US$10 or ten cents, the legislature must ratify it. So, that it can be legally binding under the republic for the future generation of this country."

The Senator said as far as he knows the Senate did not sign off on a loan. "I know as a Senator we did not ratify any such loan agreement. There is not instrument that can show proof, that we took this credit facility from the IMF and it was ratify in keeping with law. I am not aware of that; I hope I can be proven wrong."

No 'Righteous Anger' in Senate

The Senator alarmed that Liberia is borrowing money under strange circumstances. "We are using 32 percent of the amount, one-third of the amount on administrative cost and logistical stuff. No breakdown. You take bulk figure and put it in a column, named for NGO. What's the name of the NGO? What are they doing? You take bulk figure, you put it for administrative cost. WFP already taking US$1.8 million out of the US$9 million - that's the overall administrative cost, then public officials who are part of the steering committee, are taking US$300,000. They are already been paid to do this work. Then the money they supposed to feed this country with, they are using it for their administrative cost. What is this administrative cost - for Wilson Tarpeh, for Samuel Tweah them - and all of those on that steering committee. What is it? What are the names of the NGOs. What is the breakdown on vehicle and logistics?"

Added the Senator: "If we are using US1 million dollars to take food into the rural areas, why don't we use common sense by giving rural farmers a chance to make some money of their own by buying locally. The economies in those counties will boom if this is done."

The Senator said he will not rest until the contract is made public. "The contract must be submitted. Whether they do the distribution today, whether they end it tomorrow, we will continue to demand the contract because no fair play was done to the people of Liberia over this money."

The Senator appealed to his colleagues to do the right thing by the Liberian people by asking the right questions and holding members of the Executive Branch to the fire. "If the leadership of the Senate were asking the tough questions, these and many other things won't be happening. But the people in the Cabinet and the Executive work at the will and pleasure of the president. We in the legislature cannot serve at the will and pleasure of the president, we should not serve at the pleasure of the President. That is why we have constitutional guarantee tenure so that we can serve the people. If both we in the legislature and the executive serve at the pleasure of the President, who will stand up for the people? If we have a strong leadership that don't think we should stand up at all, many times for the people, Wilson Tarpeh won't be walking around. We insisted that no food should be distributed until we see the contract between the government and the WFP. But Wilson Tarpeh is distributing food. Do you see any righteous anger from the legislature? It is business as usual."

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