Liberia: Food Distributors Go Hungry in Nimba, Threaten to Sell Data Collection Materials

Nimba County — A group of enumerators contracted by the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) to gather data in Bahn City, Nimba County have threatened to sell the materials given them to buy food and transport themselves back to Monrovia.

The group, about 11 in total were hired by LISGIS to gather data in Bahn City and its surrounding towns and villages for the ongoing COVID-19 food distribution exercise.

However, with a day to complete the work, the group, through its spokesperson Moses T. Sonyah said LISGIS has not only refused to disburse their full transportation allowance, but the institution has failed to disclose their wages by holding to contract papers.

Since their arrival, Sonyah told FrontPageAfrica that they have been working under difficult conditions as they had to borrow money from residents to facilitate their transportation and beg for food.

With the alleged treatment meted out against them, he said they are left with no alternative but to give out LISGIS' gadgets including the cell phones used to collect the data and other safety materials as collaterals in order to borrow money to buy food and reunite with their families.

"Our coordinator told us that he was instructed by his supervisor to tell us to credit money and get to him in Ganta. But we find that as an act of insincerity because LISGIS is not operating a credit union here. And since up till now we do not have contract sheets and don't know how much we are working for, we, the enumerators have decided to give the phones and vests out as collaterals to borrow money and get to Ganta," said Sonyah in an angry mood while speaking to FrontPage Africa.

FrontPage Africa contacted LISGIS' Public Affairs Director Varfee Holmes via mobile phone for comments but Holmes promised to respond following consultations with relevant authorities.

He said an independent Committee is implementing the enumeration exercise, and as such it was prudent to reach out to the Committee's members to ascertain the facts before responding to the workers' claims.

Meanwhile, LISGIS, as part of the Steering committee, working with the World Food Program (WFP) to implement the Government food distribution exercise, is charged with the integral responsibility to enumerate every household in Liberia before the distribution of the package to the family.

In July 2020, LISGIS Director General, Professor Francis Wreh, appearing alongside the Steering Committee's members before the plenary of the House of Representatives revealed that a Letter of Understanding (LOU) was signed between LISGIS and WFP, authorizing LISGIS to collect data to guide the distribution exercise.

In the LOU, Professor Wreh said LISGIS will be given US$1.6 million for the exercise that will be carried out throughout the country.

He disclosed that only US$200,000 has been disbursed to LISGIS as of the time of his appearance before plenary.

Speaking further, he stated that the enumeration exercise covers the marking of dwelling structures, recording household heads and occupancy per household and data management and transmission to WFP for processing.

For the exercise, he revealed LISGIS was recruiting 5,378 enumerators drawn from across the country, beginning with the counties that were first hit by the COVID-19 including Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru.

"By the end of Saturday, we will complete the greater Monrovia area for data collection and move to rural Montserrdo. Then to Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru, to be followed by the other counties," he said back in July.

While it appeared that Professor Wreh's promise to the lawmakers is being fulfilled, the enumerators' complaints and planned action could dampen the credibility and smooth operation of the process that has already been marred by controversies and mistrust from a large segment of the public including the Legislators who authorized the exercise.

It can be recalled that several lawmakers, expressing cynicisms and mistrusts over the process in separate remarks during the Committee's appearance, said the exercise lacks comprehensive plan and was not being done in line with accepted standards.

The lawmakers, including Representatives Dr. George E. S. Bolley (District #2, Grand Gedeh County), Edward Karfia (District #5, Bong County), Moima Briggs Mensah (District #6, Bong County), Ivar Jones (District #2, Margibi county) and P. Mike Jurry (District #1, Maryland County) complained that the distribution team has not reached to their respective constituencies as residents continue to inquire whether they will benefit from the package.

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