By Ethel A Tweh
The plenary of the Liberian Senate has forwarded Agriculture Minister Jennie Cooper, to the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission and the General Auditing Commission for investigation on allegations of corruption brought against her by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
An investigative report by the Committee reveals that Minister Cooper gave four contracts to four advisors working in her office for a two-year period, including her brother Zubin Cooper, in direct conflict of interest.
Recipients of the contracts include: Mr. Thomas Gbokie, Agricultural Knowledge Management Advisor, whose annual salary is US$100,000, with a two-year contract valued at US$ 99,984 under the Small Holder Agriculture Transportation and Agri-business Revitalization Project that runs from February 15, 2021- February 14, 2023; Mr. Sylvester W. Taylor, Financial Management Advisor with an annual salary of US$50,000, has a project valued US$ 99,984 that runs from February 3, 2021, to February 2, 2023, under the Small Holder Agriculture Transportation and Agri-business Revitalization Project. Mr. Zubin Cooper, who is a brother of the Agriculture Minister, and is the Communication and Marketing Specialist at the ministry with a yearly salary of US$100,000, also has a project valued at US$ 99,984 under the Small Holder Agriculture Transportation and Agri-business Revitalization Project with an implementation period of February 15, 2021, to February 14, 2022, and lastly, Mr. Luakena A. Tolbert, Financial Investment and Communication Consultant, who earns a yearly salary of US$ 60,000 and ran a project valued US$60,000 from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, respectively.
The Committee also discovered that Mr. Luakena Tolbert is not an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture, but is a signatory to its account.
During the investigation, the Committee discovered that a contract of US$298,145.42 was awarded to Mr. Momolu Tolbert, CEO of Liberia Cocoa Corporation by Madam Cooper to supply F1 hybrid Cocoa seeds to the Ministry, but on the contrary, he brought in dead seeds other than the F1 Hydrid Cocoa seeds.
FABRAR Liberia is being awarded a contract under the STAR-P project of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Committee also reports that Minister Cooper admitted that she is founder and CEO of FABRAR, but did not have anything to do with the contract though she signed on behalf of the Ministry for FABRAR to supply 200 metric tons of rice.
Meanwhile, the Project Management Unit of the Ministry has been without a director for over two years because Madam Cooper has allegedly refused to advertise the position for vetting of a qualified director, instead, she reportedly appointed one Ansu Konneh, who lacks relevant qualifications to run the unit against policy of the Ministry of Agriculture. However, Mr. Konneh allegedly runs and signs all documents on behalf of the PMU without vetting.
Minister Cooper reportedly alleged that 20 vehicles of the Ministry of Agriculture had gone missing without her knowledge. But the Senate Committee also discovered that $5.5 million Coronavirus Emergency Fund entrusted to her care as Minister, could not be adequately accounted for. Editing by Jonathan Browne