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Tarpeh bites tongue on $9 million

The chairman of the COVID-19 food distribution steering committee, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh takes a 90 degree turn here, denying that he told the Liberian Senate the World Food Programme (WFP) charged the Government of Liberia US$9 million in “administrative and operational cost” to distribute food to vulnerable Liberians across the country.

Speaking in Monrovia via mobile phone to Prime Morning Drive, a live talk show hosted on Prime FM, Tarpeh summersaults, saying, “This is propaganda piece but I will take it from the point that we give the clarity. When I appeared at the legislature (House of Senate) on Thursday, I provided them the summary of the cost of the food program; I told them that the total package was US$30 million.”

He continues that the US$30 million is compressed of two amount – US$25 million from the Government of Liberia’s budget funded by facility of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and US$5 million from the World Bank, totaling the full US$30 million. According to him, of the said amount, administrative and operational funds were amounting to US$9 million dollars.

“I advised the Senate that because I didn’t have the details on me, because WFP should have appeared with me but didn’t; we take responsibility for it. So in that hearing, there was no way it was suggested that WFP was charging the Government of Liberia US$9 million dollars; no! It’s clear in the report I gave them; it said “administrative and operational cost.”

Tarpeh, also a university lecturer maintains that information the WFP headquarters provided to the editor of FrontpageAfrica here Tuesday is exactly the same direction he came from when he appeared before the Senate.

WFP Communication Officer James Belgrave from Rome, told FPA, a Liberian daily in Monrovia that claim that the UN food agency is charging Liberia US$9 million to distribute food in the country is unfunded, contrary to Tarpeh’s explanation before the Senate last Thursday.

Mr. Belgrave clarifies that WFP is being allocated a small percentage of around six percent (US$1.8 million) of the US$30 million to conduct the exercise, not US$9million.

However, Tarpeh insists, “We will provide the details of that US$9 million and then you will be in the position to make the proper comment; that’s what I advised the honourable senators, wait until I give you the details of this administrative and operational cost before you can make any statement of how you feel about it but again, that’s a different situation.”

According to him, he had informed members of the Liberian Senate the cost of the program was estimated by WFP with detail information which brings the amount to US$9 million, pointing that there’s no point in time that WFP is asking the government to pay US$9 million dollars.

“Let provide some information here, the operational cost includes the in-country transport cost, to cover the rest of the country you will need trucks and for the southeast, you will need fishing boats transport, you will need security, you will need health team to go, you will need fuel, you will need repairs, that in-country cost total around US$2.1 million dollars; I’m rounding it up but we will publish it in the newspaper because it’s important to clarify this; then we have the supply chain cost for the distribution being done by the NGOs that cost US$485,461 thousand dollars and you have the casual laborers US$121,000 thousand dollars, you have the GPS installations and services, all those things are detailed,” Tarpeh defends.

But some members of the Liberian Senate termed as wasteful, a proposal by the Executive Branch allotting US$9 million as “operational and administrative cost” for the distribution of the stimulus package (food). They are alarmed by the US$9 million proposal which they believe is a huge slash from a small budget of US$30m intended to distribute food to vulnerable population affected by the coronavirus crisis here.

Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper says it’s being very wasteful for the team to allocate US$9 million for operational and administrative cost, calling for a reduction of the amount to enable food package reach the vulnerable population. Sen. Cooper suggests that there’s a need for the operational and administrative cost to be reduced so that those who are vulnerable can get their package.

The Margibi Senator argues that vulnerable people are not only disabled people, but those who were sitting home and never had job during the state of emergency. Taking the same line of argument, Gbarpolu County Senator Daniel Naathan concurs with his colleague of Margibi the committee is being wasteful, rather suggesting the food distribution should have been done through coupon in which each household or family head is given a coupon to get ration.

Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon urges the Tarpeh-led committee to submit to the Liberian Senate the contract between the Government and the World Food Program, demanding that Tarpeh should tell the Liberian people how many bags of rice or cups of rice each household or family heads should expect to receive.

At the same time Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Kangar Lawrence describes the entire food distribution scheme as very “shameful, disgraceful, embarrassing” in which the Government of Liberia claims the WFP is charging US$ 9million for operations, but WFP debunks the claim and officially puts the amount at US$1.8 million. Writing on her Facebook page Senator Lawrence warns that if it is determined that Tarpeh misled the Legislature, they would call for his dismissal, investigation and prosecution.

She notes that senators requested details and a chance to question authorities from the Ministry of Finance and development Planning over the recast budget and related sources of funding and contract, including the WFP, but they were insulted and maligned as bent on working against the interest of the people. “Blind loyalty, incompetence and partisanship are hurting the country and suffering our people”, the lone female among the 30-member senate laments.

By Ben P. Wesee & Ethel A. Tweh–Editing by Jonathan Browne

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