EPA: US100k Bribe or indemnity?
The story of Wilson Tarpeh and EPA
By Othello B. Garblah
Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, the current Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is no stranger to corruption and bribery allegations.
As head of the government COVID-19 emergency relief program, it was alleged that he helped siphoned most part of the USD30 million allotted for the program. But official government account says the money was paid directly to the World Food Programme to lead the process. To date, the World Food Programme is yet to publish how it spent the entire amount. Tarpeh has repeatedly argued that he did not receive the money and directed all inquiries to the WFP.
The latest is a claim of a solicitation of US100, 000 bribe from the MV SSI DAUNTLESS, a vessel which was at the center of a standoff with the EPA over the alleged dumping of about 200 metric tons of potentially hazardous waste called Gypsum berthing at the Port of Buchanan.
Gypsum can be used in producing cement but can also be radioactive, and if the activity (concentration) of the radionuclide is high can pose a very high health risk to the population near the disposal site.
Reports claimed that Prof. Tarpeh solicited the money as a bribe from the vessel owners to allow it to go. But the EPA has argued that it made no such request rather it compelled the vessel owners to sign an US100k indemnity, should it be established that the waste was actually dumped in Liberia.
The signing of the 100k indemnity was a guarantee or surety to release the MV SSI DAUNTLESS. And that the payment of such indemnity is to be made into the EPA’s account and not Tarpeh’s private account.
But how did it all start?
It all started on September 2, 2021, when the General Manager of Atlantic Marine Agency, Pokolo F. J. Anderson, wrote Prof. Tarpeh in his capacity as EPA boss, requesting to dump the potentially hazardous waste on the Liberian soil preferably in Grand Bassa County, near its port of call.
In their letter obtained by the New Dawn requesting to dispose of the hazardous waste here, Atlantic Marine Agency wrote confirming that the cargo was on board the said vessel and that the vessel had scheduled to call Buchanan Port on or about 5th September 2021 to load Iron Ore at Arcelor Mittal. (See letter below).
According to the Atlantic, during the MV SSI Dauntless last operation at the Lome Port, in Togo, the vessel’s crane No.4 got damaged beyond repair thus preventing said cargo stowed to Hold No.5 from being discharged; and that this cargo needed to be cleared from the Hold No.5 to allow Iron Ore to be loaded.
“We have arranged formalities using a mobile crane to discharge the cargo when the vessel berth at Buchanan Port and would require EPA designate a location preferably in Grand Bassa County for the said cargo to be disposed of in keeping with the regulation of EPA.
We are willing to work along with EPA for the successful execution of this process,” the Atlantic letter requesting to dump the hazardous waste here said.
This letter, according to sources prompted the EPA to initiate monitoring of the MV SSI DAUNTLESS in collaboration with international partners before its arrival in Buchanan.
However, on September 9, 2021, according to EPA sources, the vessel docked at the Port of Buchanan, amidst claims that the waste had already been dumped at an unknown destination in Bassa, without authorization from the EPA.
The allegation that the hazardous waste had already been dumped triggered an investigation from the EPA, with the latter grounding the vessel.
During the period of investigation, on September 14, it was reported that the Armed Forces of Liberia Coast Guards had discovered that at one point in time during the vessel’s voyage to Liberia, it cut off its signal devices for a while as it enters the country’s territorial waters. This cause suspicion forcing the AFL Coast Guard and the EPA to ground the vessel pending further investigation.
The Allegation of bribery
Over the weekend of September 18, 2021, there were social media reports suggesting that Prof. Tarpeh had requested US100k from the vessel owners to allow it to leave Liberia.
The US100k, was to serve as a bribe motivating Prof. Tarpeh to issue the vessel a no charge clearance.
But what really happened?
Recognizing that Liberia is the second-largest carrier of registered vessels under its flag of convenience, the EPA management indicated that it was not wise to hold up the vessel while undertaking its investigation since it did not find the hazardous waste onboard.
Rather, it chose to compel the vessel to sign an indemnity, an undertaking named and styled Club Letter of Undertaking which is also in the possession of the New Dawn on September 17, 2021, that a fine of 100k should be imposed in the event of any violation related to allegations that hazardous waste has been dumped within the territorial limits of Liberia (See Letter of Undertaking below).
Excerpts of the Club Letter of Undertaking signed on September 17, 2021 between the EPA and SSI DAUNTLESS: “The undersigned company, owners/affiliate of the Vessel MV SSI DAUNTLESS, hereby indemnifies the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA) of Liberia against liabilities which may accrue or imposed in the event of any violation related to allegations that hazardous waste has been dumped within the territorial limits of the REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA by the vessel herein above.
WE HEREBY UNDERTAKE to pay to the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA) within calendar 28 days of receipt of written demand from the EPA any sum together with interest and costs not exceeding the amount mentioned above, which is either agreed in writing between us and the owners of the above vessel and yourselves to be due to you in respect of the claim or for which the owners are held liable by means of a final enforceable and unappealable arbitration award or a final enforceable and unappealable judgment of a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction.
This undertaking is given without prejudice to all rights and defences which may be available to owners and/or any rights of limitation of liability according to international conventions or Liberian laws.
This undertaking shall be subject to Liberian laws and will expire if legal proceedings have not been commenced before a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction within one year after the completion of the investigation and determination of the claim.”
The EPA Executive Director in an interview with this paper Monday, September 27, wonders how could a payment should there be any which is to be made in the EPA account be suggested as ending up in his personal account or pocket?https://thenewdawnliberia.com/epa-grounds-vessel-with-hazardous-waste/