Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have confirmed findings of the General Auditing Commission or GAC that the Ministry’s project Manager Mr. Augustine Nyenplu allegedly manipulated several documentations including bank specimen card to fraudulently withdraw more than LRD20 million (L$20,000,000) from the project account in collusion with some staff of the Afriland Bank.
At a Joint Public Account Committee hearing at the Legislature on Friday, 17 February in respect to a General Auditing Commission report, the Foreign Ministry officials representing the Management of the International Cooperation and Economic Integration or IECI Japanese Grant Project squarely casted blames on Project Manager Mr. Nyenplu for granting himself full access to the project account at the Afriland Bank and withdrawing the money in question.
According to officials of the ministry, Mr. Nyenplu has since absconded the country following the discovery of the fraud in July 2015; having allegedly manipulated the bank signature card to grant him unhindered access to the account of the project fund.
The accused who is reported to be in the U.S. had allegedly altered then Acting Foreign Minister Mr. Elias Shoniyin’s phone number to ensure that he could not be contacted by the bank in the event where verification was required.
In the banking transaction, the Foreign Ministry says Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf was intended to be signature B; but she was allegedly tricked to sign her signature specimen on separate sheet as an addendum as signature C.
Having allegedly granted himself signatory B, Mr. Nyenplu also added another A to Mr. Shoniyin, which also allegedly granted him exclusive right to the account.
Through the kind gesture of the Government of Japan, the Department of International Cooperation and Economic Integration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was provided with a grant of US$731,412 on April 22, 2014, for the implementation of a two-year project titled, “Institutional and Human Resource Support for Efficient Operation of
the Department of International Economic Cooperation and Integration.”
Half of the amount which is US$ 361,000.00 was disbursed to the account of the project, intended to retain, hire and train existing staff to address the huge logistical needs of the Cooperation Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Though the GAC report shows that Shoniyin signed about 15 checks to several business houses, it however clarifies that all items purchased were available at the Ministry for verification.
When Mr. Shoniyon made his presentation during the hearing, he said he did not strike the space provided for the second signature on the checks with the expectation that Madam Elizabeth Sirleaf with whom he signed most checks as co-signatory would have signed.
He, however, said he believes that Mr. Nyenplu who facilitated those transactions intentionally did not take the checks to Madam Sirleaf for her signature, apparently as an attempt to implicate him.
The GAC’s analysis appears to suggest that there was no instance where Mr. Shoniyin benefited financially in a transaction during the running of the project, thus bringing to closure the long-running speculations that he may have swindled some money from the project.
Notwithstanding, the GAC report contains other major findings including money spent outside the scope of the project to allegedly hire former Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan’s Executive Assistant, Ms. Wannie Bouhadir under the fund of the project.
The findings also cited alleged international travels of unnamed former Deputy Minister including daily subsistence allowances and incidental from the project, which cannot be justified.
Further, the report says assets were funded by the project but coded under Foreign Ministry instead of the project. Procurement of the project vehicle was said to have gone outside of Liberia’s Public Procurement and Concession Commission or PPCC law, even though the Ministry was said to have justified the urgency and the low cost of
the procurement which saved government thousands of dollars.
Concerning the rental of two vehicle amounting to L$76,000 which was transacted with a rental company associated with Mr. Shoniyin, the report says he justified the spending on grounds that it was a onetime transaction which was necessary as a judgment call to save the image of the country since a diplomatic delegation was coming into the country late evening at the time when no car rental was opened and ready to perform the service.
Other financial issues in the report were deemed to be basically immaterial, bordering on internal control issues that highlighted system and control weakness.
Additionally, several deposits were said to have been made into a government account by unauthorized persons including the bank account manager, totally against the Public Financial Management or PFM law of 2009.
The GAC report exposed the deep resentments and ill will among officials of the Ministry at the time, which they exploded events of the fraud to massive allegations and counter allegations in the media to besmear the characters of each other.
The findings appear to be more surprising to others when it was found during the hearing that an audit on the financial statements of the project was even commissioned before the transitioning of officials at the Foreign Ministry.
Internal audit findings did not reveal any fraud, but pointed to internal control weakness and oversights. – New Dawn