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Lawmakers call for transparency & accountability

-As Govt. moves to import 285 earth-moving equipment 

Members of the 55th Legislature are calling for accountability and transparency in disclosure by the Executive to bring to Liberia 285 pieces of yellow machines for pavement of roads across the country. 

By Lincoln G. Peters

Capitol Hill, Liberia, May 27, 2024—The Liberian government’s disclosure that it is bringing into the country 285 earth-moving equipment has raised questions and debate among lawmakers about transparency, accountability, and integrity. 

During day two of a three-day Cabinet Retreat held at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, the Minister of State Without Portfolio, Mamaka Bility, disclosed that the government will be bringing in 285 earth-moving equipment from China. 

“The government will be bringing 285 earth-moving machines to Liberia from China. This is intended for road construction across Liberia. 19 of the machines will be assigned to each County. The machines are from China”, Minister Bility disclosed while making a PowerPoint presentation in the retreat. 

However, he failed to inform the Liberian people where the government got millions of dollars to purchase earthmoving equipment, whether it was a gift, and from whom. 

Following the pronouncement, Grand Kru County Senator Cllr. Augustine S. Chea wrote on his official Facebook page that the government’s decision to bring in 285 earthmoving equipment is good news that is laudable but must be celebrated with caution.

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“285 pieces of earth-moving equipment coming to our country, just like that? However, assuming that the information is factual, we should ask the hard questions about how President Joseph Nyuma Boakai got this huge quantity of heavy-duty equipment worth millions of USD. There’s no information whatsoever about the source (s) of funding. State Radio, ELBC didn’t mention that, even though they quoted the Deputy Minister of State Bility as the person who disclosed it. So, what about the transparency, accountability, and the rule of law being trumpeted?” He wonders. 

Senator Chea clarifies that the Legislature made no appropriation for the equipment in the national budget, and there is no loan agreement for that, so they don’t know of any grant or of someone or an institution making a goodwill donation to the Government of Liberia.

He underscores that if this is a donation, President Boakai is under obligation and owes a duty to the Liberian people to tell them the source (s) of the money, and they (senators) demand that.

Senator Chea notes that, disappointingly, some of his colleagues in the Senate don’t think transparency and accountability matter. Some argue that the equipment will make the highways pliable, so nothing else matters. 

“I am troubled by this double standard: that the very colleagues who yesterday were loud-mouthed about accountability and transparency would be the same people to downplay it today. However, the Senate will not relinquish its oversight responsibility and will hold the Executive accountable. There will be no business as usual. We will get to the bottom of this and unearth the truth. That’s the robust oversight we punctuate every day – perhaps hypocritically!” He concluded.

For his part, Nimba County District #7 Representative Musa H. Bility terms news of the yellow machines as welcoming and urges that all must embrace it.

“Our roads are poor, and our people are suffering. Under the line item called “presidential projects,” the legislation gave the President the latitude in the 2024 budget to do something like this. This is no time to criticize such a revolutionary move by the Executive.

We look forward to the transparent and equitable implementation of this critical project”, he concludes.

Also, Montserrado County District #9 Representative Frank Saah Foko of the former ruling CDC wrote on his Facebook page over the weekend under the caption “285 EARTH MOVING EQUIPMENT FOR LIBERIA, A GOOD VENTURE BUT QUESTIONABLE SOURCE.” 

According to him,  285 earth moving equipment headed to Liberia as announced by President Boakai’s Minister of State without Portfolio at the Cabinet Retreat, Mamaka Bility that it will cost the country around twenty-five or more millions, there are more questions than answers. 

“Is this a grant, loan, or commercial transaction as proffered, or will we as Legislators be left in the dark, given nowhere in the budget line did we budget for this procurement as this effort amounts towards 5% of our national budget? I am even more concerned about either of the things above: why is there no bidding done under the PPCC Act; why didn’t companies or institutions compete in a competitive bidding process, and what informed the government’s decision to have either commit the country to such a deal”, Representative Foko asks. 

He points out that as far as he is aware, they don’t have more than 200K budgeted for each county under the County Development scheme, wondering if that is what the government wants to use to solve issues associated with these equipment, nine to be distributed in each county. 

Representative Foko demands that they need clarity to avoid future embarrassment and pressure on already challenged counties, which can lead to malfunctioning and other setbacks.

“These issues and many more have drawn me to a conclusion to write my colleagues next week inviting Min. Mamaka Bility, Finance Minister; Boima Kamara, Public Works Minister; Roland Giddings and Sylvester Grisby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, and others as may be necessary. We hope they give us favorable answers to keep the Legislature and the Executive on the same page as we move forward with this latest development”, he notes. 

Representative Foko questions what Liberia would give back if this were granted or if it a loan, and how long we begin committing ourselves to such endeavor as our debt ceiling as a country is already in billions, cautioning that Liberians should remember there’s never a free lunch. 

He disclosed that over 100 pieces of equipment were already in stock at the Ministry of Public Works, but they had contracted nine companies to do 22 million dusty roads across Liberia for the next two years, according to the Public Works Minister.

He recalls that the Minister of Public Works told a local radio and online platform based internationally (The Closing Argument) that it costs the government over three million to have used its equipment between Rivercess and Grand Bassa Corridor, which he terms a “wasted effort,” and wonders how can 285 earth-moving equipment be a blessing at this time, given the Minister’s narration!

“Can Public Works cater to the logistical constraints, fuel consumption, manpower salaries, maintenance, and other operational cost during the lifespan of the equipment?” He asks. Editing by Jonathan Browne

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