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Boakai faces backlash 

--Over 285 earth-moving equipment

Liberia has fertile soil, and President Boakai believes that investments in road construction and agriculture for which these earth-moving equipment are being procured, can help alleviate poverty here.

By Kruah Thompson 

Monrovia, May 28, 2024: President Joseph Boakai continues to face criticism after announcing that his government has procured 285 pieces of earthmoving equipment here.

Minister Bility announced the procurement during the recently concluded cabinet retreat in Monrovia without providing any financial details or explaining how the arrangement is being carried out.

The lack of transparency regarding the funding for this procurement has sparked skepticism across the nation, with legislators, opposition figures, civil society organizations, and media outlets questioning the government’s commitment to transparency and fiscal responsibility.

Despite the growing criticisms, others are commending the administration’s efforts to advance road construction and rural development.

However, concerns persist whether the procurement adheres to the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) procedures.

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Liberia has fertile soil, but it remains import-dependent for most of its consumption, including the nation’s staple food, rice. Mr. Boakai believes that investments in road construction and agriculture, for which these earth-moving equipment are being procured, can help alleviate poverty here.

There are suggestions that past governments’ failure to connect most of the country’s 15 counties through roads and encourage agricultural activities in rural areas has largely contributed to poverty, hunger, and heavy reliance on the import of food that can be grown here.

However, many have criticized the government’s decision to announce equipment procurement without consulting the Legislature.

According to critics, it is legally appropriate for the Legislature to be informed of any decision that needs to be made, as it is part of the government’s coordination mechanism.

Among those making the claim are Senator Cllr. Augustine S. Chea of Sinoe County and Senator Amara Konneh of Gbarpolu County, some local talk show hosts, and citizens.

Additionally, many critics argue that such a significant investment should be accompanied by a clear financial plan to ensure accountability and prevent the misuse of public funds.

Sinoe County Senator Cllr. Augustine S. Chea and Senator Amara Konneh of Gbarpolu County wrote on their official Facebook pages questioning the source of funding for the 285 earth-moving equipment Minister Bility announced.

Senator Senator Amara Konneh wrote: “I am glad to see the Boakai Administration making bold moves toward road construction and rural development.”

“My county … Gbarpolu can only benefit from roads that connect our farms to markets, our children to schools, and our sick to hospitals,” said Mr. Konneh. 

He explained that bringing in yellow machines is more than welcome. However, Konneh argued that his concern is that the right thing is not done incorrectly. 

“Laws, standards, and procedures exist for just that reason and to ensure that we do not waste the resources we barely have,” Mr. Konneh indicated.

Further, the Gbarpolu County Senator suggested that each unit’s minimum price is about $100K, setting the total above $30 million. 

“The Administration must state that figure and who puts up the capital. 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,” Senator Konneh noted.

He detailed that the position contradicted the international Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism framework to which Liberia is subject. 

He added that the Boakai administration is no less bound by international law to do due diligence on all counterparties to its procurement and investments.

“Even if our values remain intact, how does this deal align with our debt and risk profile? If this was a loan, was it concessional or non-concessional, and what are the financing agreement terms?” Mr. Konneh ponders.

He questioned if the repayment amount is budgeted, over how many years, and at what rate.

“We often mistakenly assume that interest rates are our only concern when entering a loan agreement. But exchange rate risk is just as important, depending on how much revenue we raise in Liberian Dollars,” he cautioned. 

He stated that if the exchange rate increases, debt servicing will become even more expensive, and he questioned the government about what plans it has to manage that risk.

For his part, Sinoe County Senator Cllr. Augustine S. Chea also wrote on his official Facebook page, emphasizing that in a country ruled by the people, it is not enough to do the right thing.

Instead, Chea suggested that the people must know what their President and other public servants are doing for them and how. 

As one of the Senators, Chea said he looks forward to having his questions answered. Most of all, he hopes that the answers will showcase the high competence he knows rests in the Liberian bureaucracy.

He revealed that he heard from state broadcaster ELBC’s newscast that the government is bringing in 285 pieces of earth-moving equipment.

Chea the described the plan as laudable, but warned that he was celebrating with caution.

“285 pieces of earth-moving equipment coming to our country, just like that? Assuming the information is factual, we should ask the hard question of how the President acquired this huge quantity of heavy-duty equipment worth millions of USD,” said Chea. 

“There’s no information whatsoever about the funding source(s). ELBC didn’t mention that, even though they quoted Deputy Minister of State Bility as the person who made the disclosure,” he noted.

In response to the public outcry, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon has defended the government’s actions, noting that the equipment deal is still under negotiation and subject to legislative approval.

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