Liberia: Three Years to Build, Nearly 15 Years Under Renovation - Liberia's Executive Mansion Now a Milking Cow?

Monrovia — The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Good Governance and Government Reform, Larry P. Younquoi, has termed as a "milking cow" the consistent allocation of monies in the National Budget for the renovation of the Executive Mansion to benefit "people in high places" at the detriment of poor Liberian tax payers.

Rep. Younquoi, who is a member of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) is representing the people of electoral district # 8 in Nimba County in the 54th National Legislature.

With funding provided by the Israeli government, the Executive Mansion was constructed from 1961 to 1964, during the administration of ex-Liberian President William V. S. Tubman.

The project was designed and supervised by Department of Public Works and Utilities (now Ministry of Public Works), and Stanley Engineering Company of Africa while the Construction Contractor was Liberian Construction Corporation (LCC).

It can be recalled that on July 26, 2006, the Executive Mansion, which is the official home of the Liberian presidency, gutted fire during Liberia's Independence Day Celebration, destroying the Fourth Floor Central Section, accommodating the Presidential and adjoining offices, in the presence of foreign guests and dignitaries,

The cause of the fire was attributed to electrical fault.

Since the unfortunate incident, over US$15M has been budgeted by the past and current governments for the Executive Mansion renovation.

Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa via telephone over the weekend, Representative Younquoi described a "milking cow" scenario as a cow in the field that its owner gets milk from at his/her will and pleasure.

He maintained that the Executive Mansion continues to remain in a dilapidated condition because, "people in high places" want to use its current state to budget exorbitantly and receive those budgeted allocations on a regular basis.

He stated that though past and current legislators have played their part by allocating separate amounts of monies requested by the Executive on a yearly basis, the Executive Mansion lies in ruins without any sign of full completion of renovation works.

He noted that it is quite frustrating for millions of taxpayers' monies to continue to be allocated for the renovation of the Executive Mansion, in the midst of meager appropriations being made to key sectors in Liberia, including Agriculture, Health and Education.

Representative Younquoi claimed that the money allocated and disbursed by the immediate past and present governments of Liberia, have quadrupled what was spent for the construction of the Mansion by the Israelites in 1964.

He blamed the continuous delay in the project to the lack of patriotism and nationalism, particularly among members of the Executive branch who are responsible for the implementation of the project.

"The situation of the Executive Mansion is an epitome of one of the areas where Liberia has really exhibited its inability to be called a serious country. It is totally disgusting for the Executive Mansion to be standing over there for more than 14 years for electrical fault even though millions of dollars have been allocated. The current budget- I understand that there is another million dollars for the same Executive Mansion".

He called for the Executive Mansion to be turned into a museum.

"The current President came and said he was going to sit there and make sure that it was finished, but now he has comfortably found himself now in the same Foreign Affairs Ministry building Madam Sirleaf spent 12 years in. But yet still every year, money is placed in the budget for the Executive Mansion. I think the best thing to put an end to it is to make it (Executive Mansion) a museum that our children can be told that this is where our President used to be, like the castle in Ghana".

Benefits

The Nimba County lawmaker justified that the turning of the Executive Mansion into a museum will bring relief to Liberia and its citizens.

The lawmaker added that government will raise funds from international and local tourists on a regular basis if the Executive Mansion is turned into a museum.

Representative Younquoi maintained that key areas within the Mansion can be rehabilitated and designated to attract tourists.

"When the Executive Mansion is turned into a museum, it will relieve us of resources. We will keep it there so that we can be raising money to maintain the place or support other sectors rather than assuming that we can do the water system, electrical, super structure and others which is making us to spend millions of dollars. We can leave it like that and maybe investor will come for it to build a five-star hotel".

Embezzlement

Representative Younquoi further attributed the situation to a high level of dishonesty as captured in an audit report released by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).

He doubted the alleged involvement of contractors who were given the Executive Mansion into stealing millions of dollars intended for the project without the consent of key officials of the Executive.

"This is not my words; it is the word of the GAC and other people who came out with reports. I think that some people supposed to be in court by now because they have been indicted. If you take a forensic audit, you will know that people in high places are culpable".

"Who is a common contractor to take millions of dollars and just use it on his own? There are people connected in high places".

Lacking oversight?

He continued: "Government is continuity and we hold the Executive responsible because, the Legislature has done its part; we allocate monies. Each time they (Executive) will come and say we have done this, but when we go look, nothing is done. We have gone three years now after the Mansion renovation works could have been done in March 2018. We have gone 2019 and 2020 March has passed, and we are talking about ending it 2021, I don't know whether it will be done".

He described the Weah-led administration as a "government of a political party" that makes it difficult for legislators to adequately exercise their oversight responsibility to benefit the country and its people.

The audit

In early 2016, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf requested the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct an audit into the Executive Mansion renovation project as provided for under the statutory mandate of the Auditor General under section 2.1.3 of the GAC Act of 2014.

Months later, the GAC in its findings, observed a waste of over US$10M on the Executive Mansion renovation project.

The audit covers July 1, 2006 to December 31, 2015.

On December 9, 2016, Madam Sirleaf confirmed that she has received from the GAC the audit report on renovation works at the Executive Mansion.

An Executive Mansion release issued at the time revealed that Madam Sirleaf was reviewing the report along with the Minister of State without Portfolio, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa (now Grand Kru County Representative) to establish the necessary actions and measures to be taken.

She assured that following the review of the audit report, actions were going to be taken to ensure accountability for public resources.

No actions

Madam Sirleaf failed to act on the GAC report released on the Executive Mansion renovation project until the expiration of her 12-year tenure.

In March of this year, Liberia's Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Cyrennius. Cephus, promised that his office will review the audit report and past or current government officials involved will be sent to court for prosecution.

Since his pronouncement, not enough has been done to ensure that millions of dollars budgeted for the Executive Mansion renovation works are accounted for.

The offices of President Weah continue to be housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, and some members of the First Family residing at his private home in Thinker's Village as a result of the current situation.

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