Liberia: FPA Delves Into How Boakai's Minister Without Portfolio Gaining Influence At Detriment of Ruling Party

President Joseph Boakai on campaign trail

Monrovia — When a politician assumes a public office in Liberia, he or she does not wield the influence associated with the office alone. Friends, family members and political associates wield such influence with him or her.

Some of them even wield influence more than constitutionally-recognized officials. They nominate people for positions such as making people ministers or commissioners and members of the boards of government agencies.

This scenario applies to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and George Weah -- two recent former presidents of Liberia -- who had people in their circle who had enormous power and influence during their respective tenures. Amara Konneh, Ellen's former finance minister, was seen as a fountain of influence by officials of the Unity Party during Ellen's 12-year stint as president. Mr. Konneh, who served as Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and then Minister of Finance and Development Planning (after the two ministries merged), was very close to former President Sirleaf and his influence on her was not in doubt.

Under Weah, Nathaniel McGill became so powerful during the six-year regime of the former president to the extent he earned the nickname the "de facto president" and "prime minister". The former minister of state for presidential affairs became so close to Weah that he reportedly had inputs in many of Weah's major decisions, including appointments.

Mimicking his predecessors?

There is also no exception that President Joseph Boakai is immune to this scenario. Tasked with negotiating the controversial deal that could see the arrival of 285 earth-moving equipment for Liberia, Mamaka Bility, Minister of State without Portfolio has become not only a super minister but also the face of President Joseph Boakai's administration just as Nathaniel McGill was under former President Weah.

FrontPageAfrica gathered that Minister Bility has become so influential by virtue of the responsibilities the President saddled her with, prompting other officials of government to leverage on her closeness to the president.

One minister, who requested not to be named, told FrontPageAfrica: "Minister Bility has the ears of the president. Anything she tells the president is the final."

Mamaka: The face of the UP government?

Recently, President Boakai tasked Minister Bility with negotiating a deal worth over US$30 million dollars on behalf of the ruling Unity Party. During last week's cabinet retreat in Monrovia, Minister Bility did a video presentation revealing that the government was at the verge of securing 285 earth-moving equipment.

According to Minister Bility, the equipment will be distributed 19 per county, a move that would see smaller counties getting the same number of equipment as bigger counties.

Her words: "The reason for bringing into the country is to promote the president's vision of low-cost modern equipment for road maintenance. The plan is to have 19 pieces of earth-moving equipment in each county."

While the equipment for road reconstruction and rehabilitation could be a major boost to the country, the source of funding is raising eyebrows in Liberia, with some senators asking whether it is a loan or grant given to the government by friendly countries.

Gbarpolu County senator, Amara Konneh, Monday took to his Facebook page to weigh in on the matter. "The minimum price for each of these units is about $100K. That sets the total above $30 million. The Administration must state what that figure is, and who put up the capital," he said.

"I still remember President George Weah's officials justifying the Ebomaf and Eton scandal, arguing that "even if the President got loans from the devil, we support it to fix our roads." But that position contradicted the international Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism framework to which Liberia is subject. The Boakai administration is no less bound by international law to do due diligence on all counterparties to its procurement and investments."

Bomi County senator, Edwin Melvin Snowe, also questioned the transparency in the pronouncement of the 285 equipment, adding, "we cannot sacrifice transparency and accountability on the altar of perceived development. Until the President or Vice President formally endorses this scheme through official documentation that will reflect transparency and accountability, I consider this as a way of the Minister of State without Portfolio looking for a portfolio at the expense of our people.

Not this time Madam Minister!"

"Advisors" Melee Kermue & Kuyateh

FrontPageAfrica has gathered that Minister Bility also lured a former Bong County representative and senatorial candidate, Mr. Melee Kermue and former Montserrado County senatorial candidate, Sheikh Al-moustapha Kouyateh, as advisors to the equipment project.

The involvement of Kermue, in particular, who was sentenced in 2009 to 22 months in a United States prison for conspiracy to commit health-care fraud, is raising serious transparency and legitimate issues concerning the equipment negotiation process, considering his checkered reputation over the years.

Melee Kermue pleaded guilty in October 2022 to a scheme in which his Reynoldsburg-based health-care business submitted an estimated 4,800 fraudulent claims to the Ohio Medicaid program.

Kermue was ordered by a U.S Judge to repay the $272,525 in claims as part of his sentence. Kermue will be credited with the time he has served in jail since August, when he returned to the United States from Liberia.

Kermue and Kuyateh, however, denied being involved with the purchase of 285 earth-moving equipment by the UP-led government.

Administration is uneasy?

The Boakai administration is said to be in a state of uncertainty regarding the rising influence of Mamaka, the controversial minister of state without portfolio and mastermind of what appears to be a shady deal with a South African businessman.

FrontPage Africa gathered that Robert Gumede, CEO of the Guma Group, one of the suppliers of the machines, was in Liberia recently through the instrumentality of Mamaka Bility and reportedly promised to bring in 100 machines. Following his departure, Mamaka announced to the cabinet that 285 machines are expected to arrive. Then what appeared to be an AI generated video emerged with a caption "Handover Ceremony - Presidential Infrastructure Program."

The video shows what appeared to be the equipment and voices (not images) of the key players of the purported deal. Mr. Xu Ming, Senior Vice president of Sany Group, a Chinese multinational heavy equipment manufacturing company, and the 3rd-largest heavy equipment manufacturer in the world, and Robert Gumede, Chairman of the Guma Group based in South Africa. Mr. Xu said he was honored to share the handover moment with the Liberian Government. Mr. Gumede said through the partnership, the companies were connecting Liberia with China and South Africa.

Bility said the coming of the equipment is a hallmark of a new beginning to change the destiny of Liberians.

The president and some inner circle officials are said to be concerned that the trucks and machines have not arrived and why the numbers announced are different from what the president was told. FPA has learned that the truck deal is one of many brought in by Mamaka so far against the advice of some members of the president's inner circle who have been raising red flags.

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