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Liberia: In the shadows of Global Witness another corruption scandal

Written on:January 26, 2017
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CDC Rep Chambers of Maryland County

Monrovia – Despite their fabulous salaries, allowances, incentives and waivers that have made the elected positions so attractive for which many citizens are now scrambling for seats in the House of Representatives, audit reports continue to show how some lawmakers mastermind and connive to redirect public funds to their own personal use.

In a rather astonishing audit report, the Internal Audit Agency has discovered how some members of the House of Representatives cleverly established a construction company which was duly registered purposely for the construction of the Bong County Technical College (BCTC). The audit report, a copy of which is in the possession of FrontPageAfrica, revealed that Liberia-China United Group which was awarded the contract was owned by ousted Speaker J. Alex Tyler (7.5% shares), Maryland County lawmaker Bhofal Chambers (7.5% shares), former Representative Ketehkumuehn E. Murray with 15% shares and a Chinese National, Lian Zhi who owned 70 percent shares. Efforts to reach Rep. Chambers and Murray to respond to the report did not materialize but Tyler told FrontPage Africa via telephone interview that he knew nothing about the company. Their alleged action contradicts Article 90 (B) of the Liberian Constitution which states that no person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest.

How The Contract Was Awarded

The Bong County Technical College (BCTC) is an offshoot of the erstwhile Doloken Gboveh Community College, which was established in 2010. The college assumed the name BCTC in 2013, and in 2015, an Act was passed to make the college a legal corporate entity. BCTC’s goal is to create access to training in technical skills and undergraduate degree programs for inhabitants of Bong County.  The College, however, lacked the structure to adequately house its students therefore, in 2010 it was decided that a two-story, two-winged building be erected for both administrative and academic purposes.  According to the audit report, the contractor was awarded the project without any competitive bidding process, without compliance with the Public Procurement law or regulation, without being registered in the Ministry of Public Works’ database as a recognized, credible construction firm, and without being a properly registered business in Liberia. Neither the Liberia Business Registry nor the Liberia Revenue Authority could authenticate the existence of the Liberia-China Investment Group. Amongst other things, the audit found that on October 21, 2010, a contract worth US$4,394,776.97 was entered into between the Project Management Committee (PMC) of Bong County as the ‘owner’ and the Liberia China United Investment Group as the contractor to construct a twin–wing two story building, located in Gbarnga city, to be used for academic and administrative purposes by the College.

The contract was due to start November 1, 2010 and end October 31 2011. Over time and due to issues not clearly articulated by the parties, several addenda were made to the contract, the last of which was signed in 2015, thus increasing the price to US$7,604,926.97 and changing the completion date to May 2017.  Liberia China United Investment Group which was awarded the contract to construct the College was incorporated in February 2009, just 20 months to being awarded a US$4.3 million construction contract without evidence of prior experience. According to the audit report, the construction company was formed in anticipation of being awarded the construction contract. It was not listed in the Ministry of Public Works’ Registry as a certified construction and consulting firm but was selected to implement a major construction work.

How The Cow Was Milked

The construction company submitted a bid of US$1,200,000 to the Chairman of the PMC, Hon. George S. Mulbah in 2010, as the actual total cost to construct and furnish the building. However, the contract prepared and signed was for US$4,394,776.97. Though no significant change was made to the scope of work or building plan, several changes were made to the cost of the building from 2011 to 2015, which drastically increased the price from US$4,394,776.97 to US$7,604,926.97 million. Up to the time of the audit, the contractor had received US$5,955,498.90 but the college building was significantly incomplete On November 16, 2010, the contractor received US$700,000 instead of US$2,197,388.50 as stipulated in the contract as first installment; and on January 20, 2011, the contractor received additional US$130,000, totaling US$830,000. The balance US$1,367,388.50 to complete the first installment was not paid. On January 25, 2011, a modification was made to the contract wherein the owner expressed inability to comply with the payment terms and thus requested the contractor to execute only 50% of construction works instead of 75 percent as mentioned in the contract. The modification was signed by Thomas K. Cisco, PMC Chairperson, Lucia K. Herbert, Superintendent, and Hon. George S. Mulbah Sr., Chairman, Bong County Legislative Caucus and was witnessed by Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, Senior Senator, Bong County. Lian Zhi signed on behalf of the company. Following the modification, on February 25, 2011, the contractor was paid US$1,293,903.00. A balance of US$73,485.50 was remaining to complete the first installment payment. Image result for george mulbah liberia

However, on May 11 2011, the contractor was paid US$175,000 instead of US$73,485.50. The actual total amount paid the contractor up to May 2011 was US$2,298,903.00 instead of US$2,197,388.5 as stated in the contract. The extra US$101,514.50 paid the contractor was not justified.  On August 4 2011, an addendum was entered into between Bong County Development Management Committee and the contractor. The parties agreed that the addendum to the contract would include technical recommendations made by both the engineers from the Ministry of Public Works and the dedicated funds’ committee relative to the construction. In the addendum, the contractor agreed to underwrite 50 percent of the cost of the retaining wall on the right side of Gbovah main building in the amount of US$65,982.32, while Bong County Development Management Committee underwrites the remaining 50 percent of the cost. Having completely paid the first installment, the second installment of US$500,000 was paid in September 2011. By March of 2012, the contractor claimed to have completed the construction works by 70 percent. On March 28 2012, Mr. Lian Zhi wrote a letter asking the Bong County Legislative Caucus to pay 30 percent of the balance 50 percent stating that he would complete the construction within seven months with that amount. In the letter, he however, stated that he had received a total of US$2.197 million. Having not gotten any response from the owner of the project, on April 24 2012, Mr. Lian Zhi wrote another letter urging the Caucus to make the payment so that he could continue work, and threatened legal actions if the delay continued.

Acting promptly, George Mulbah, Sr. wrote to Blamo Nelson, then Minister of Internal Affairs on May 1, 2012, requesting the balance 50 percent to complete the project. The contractor was paid US$878,955.38 on July 16, 2012, and US$230,000 on May 25 2013, constituting second and third installments. The total payment made to the contractor up to May 2013 was US$3,907,858.38. On June 10, 2013, a MOU was entered into between Mr. Plator, of the PMC, Mr. Anthony B. Sheriff, Development Superintendent, Rep. George S. Mulbah, Chairman, Bong County Legislative Caucus, and the contractor stating that he completes the ground floor of one of the wings (ceiling, doors, doorframes, windows, window glass, electrical wires and painting) within two months so that the building can be used for academic activities; that additional funds be committed based on the level of work to be done; that the contractor delivers two containers of construction materials for the project within one week at an additional cost of US$65,000 (US$15,000 for clearing and US$50,000 to procure wires); and that the County reserves the right to terminate the contract if the contractor breached the terms of the MOU. Following the MOU, the contractor was paid US$70,000.00 on June 18, instead of the stipulated US$65,000 2013, to procure wires and clear two containers. On August 13 2013, the contractor was paid additional US$50,000 to purchase cement, buy a new generator and pay workers; and on May 27, 2014, the contractor was paid US$19,000.00.

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Former Speaker Alex Tyler

Despite all these payments, the college building remained incomplete. Therefore, on August 13, 2015, another addendum highlighting a new approach was developed for the completion of the project this time involving the President of Liberia, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, and the Minister of Internal Affairs. The addendum, amongst other things, stated that the Legislative Caucus had resolved that the Superintendent had the legal authority for the execution of the BCTC project; that payments be made to the contractor based on a legitimate contract and duly executed performance bond; and that all payments be channeled through the Ministry of Public Works (MPW). Records and transactions reviewed during the audit showed that BCTC campus construction project was characterized by several improprieties ranging from the awarding of the contract to a company without competitive bidding, or compliance with any of PPCC’s requirement, payments which could not be justified, lack of proper supervision to very poor adherence to the contract and poor management of the project by Bong County local authorities, Legislative Caucus, BCTC administration, and the Ministry of Public Works.  Though the original cost to build and furnish the building was US$4,394,776.97 million, it was increased to US$7,604,926.97 without any significant change in the scope of work to be done.

The total payment made to the contractor up to the time of this audit was US$5,955,498.90. After paying that amount, the building is still incomplete and is not furnished. Though the Ministry of Public Works assessment revealed several issues ranging from the incompetence of the contractor, to breach of procurement laws to lack of adherence to the technical design of the structure, the Ministry still recommended that the contractor continue the implementation and that the money to complete the project be increased. The Internal Audit Agency strongly recommended in its report that the contractor, Mr. Lian Zhi, and the PMC be turned over to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation. It was also recommended that an independent construction or engineering firm be hired to appraise the quality of the construction, the level of completion, the outstanding work to be done, and whether the contractor was in full compliance with the engineering requirements of such project. source: Lennart dodoo/frontpageafrica

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