It appears like the ghost of the Japanese Grant of US$ 731,422.00, of which the amount of LD$19,079,815.00, its equivalent in US$ 227,140.65 at the exchange rate of 84 at the time, was siphoned out of the project coffers by Foreign Ministry officials won’t just go away.
The reason has been simple; there were no exorcists under the regime of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to cast it out. Despite a General Auditing Commission or GAC audit and an internal audit reports which indicted the officials involved. Thus the ghost of the grant still hovers around the nation and now the issue has once again surfaced amidst allegations and counter allegations among the very officials raising the age old question as to who is really telling the truth.
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs designate, Elias Shoniyin, the same position he held as at the time of the news of the theft was the first to go to town on Friday February 2, naming and shaming those he claimed are to be prosecuted in connection with the theft of the project fund. For him, his hands are clean.
The deputy minister designate named short term official Thomas Kaydor, a former Deputy Minister for the Department of International Economic Cooperation and Integration (IECI) and Augustine Nyenplu, manager of the project, who oversaw managing of the fund as the alleged culprits here.
But Shoniyin’s allegation was soon met with a counter allegation from Kaydor who fired back, with supporting audit documents which reveals that Mr. Shoniyin’s hands were very messy in the cookies jar. Kayor in his response to one of the local daily which published Shoniyin’s allegation described the minister designate as a theft who should be prosecuted.
According to Kaydor, the theft took place before his brief spell at the Foreign Ministry.
“I wish to categorically state that this information is false, misleading and unscientific. I like to reveal that the Forensic Audit Report and the GAC Final Report on the grant found Mr. Shoniyin and his handpicked Project Manager (Augustine Nyenplu) responsible for withdrawing funds from the bank without adequate supporting documents. Mr. Shoniyin himself has confirmed that they acted wrongly as indicated in his response to the GAC Final Report. Both Audits have found out that L$21,394,360 was disbursed without adequate supporting documents’. Also, the reports found Mr. Shoniyin guilty of singularly signing cheques in the amount of $9,620.12 US and chasing them for his personal use,” Kaydor said his response to the local daily.
Excerpts of the forensic audit report also points to Kaydor’s assertions: “The audit team visited the offices of Minister Elias Shoniyin on 5th August 2015 to conduct an interview regarding the activities of the GOL-Japanese Project Accounts. The Minister was asked as to whether he could recollect at any point in time, affixing his signature, singly to any cheque belonging to the Project. The Minister responded, indicating that all cheques signed by him were co-signed by Assistant Minister Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf. However, processed cheques obtained from Afriland First Bank indicate that Minister Shoniyin singly signed cheques bearing the name of Mr. Monie Hooke Momolu and other individuals.” See below.
Background of the forensic audit report:
In June 2014, The Japanese Government provided a grant valued at US$ 731,422.00(Seven Hundred and Thirty one thousand, four hundred and twenty two United States Dollars), it equivalent in LD$ 61,439,448 to fund a project titled: “Institutional and Human Resource Support for Efficient Operation” of the Department of International Economic Cooperation and Integration (IECI) in response to the bilateral consultations between the Governments of Liberia and Japan in 2008.
The Japanese Government provided the fund to build the capacity of staff of the Department of International Economic Cooperation and Integration (IECI). The Project was managed by a team comprising of the Deputy Minister for International Economic Cooperation and Integration and a Project Manager. The Project team had no monitoring and supervisory oversight body to periodically review its activities.
A 50% transfer valued at LR$ 33,316,422.00 (US$ 365,711.00) was approved and transferred from GOL consolidated account to the IECI Project’s account at the Afriland First Bank on 23rd June 2014. The project’s bank statement showed that as of December 31, 2014, LD$23, 128,587.00 with it equivalent in US$ 275,340.32, had been spent, while the account balance showed LD$ 10,345,510.00 (US$123,160.83).
Further, as of May 2015, the account showed a balance of LD$1,644,771.00, it equivalent in US$ 19,580.61 and by early June 2015, the account was in overdraft of L$1,703.00.
An account was established at the Afriland First Bank for the Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) of the International Economic Cooperation and Integration Japanese project in the amount of LR$7,229,328.00, its equivalent in US$86,063.42 to help in the supervision of the project.
“We observed that the only mobile numbers provided the Bank to make calls and confirm all payment requests were those of Deputy Minister Elias Shoniyin (0886521604) and Mr. Augustine Y. Nyanplu (0886589332). Other signatories to the Account were left out of the loop,” the auditors said.
Excerpts of the forensic audit report:
Condition 1. Only Single Signature was required to withdraw from the Project Account
The audit revealed that signature specimens prepared to effect withdrawal from the Project accounts at the Afriland First Bank indicates that two of the signatories, in persons of Deputy Minister Elias Shoniyin and Project Manager, Augustine Nyanplu had the exclusive power to singly approve cheques for encashment. Deputy Minister Elias Shoniyin informed the auditors that he was not aware of any of the signatories possessing exclusive rights to approve checks singly, as this was never the intent of the Project. However, documents in the position of the auditors showed that Minister Shoniyin was fully aware of the exclusive power of single signatory right to withdraw from the Project Account.
First signatory arrangement
During the process of our investigation, we observed that the GOL-IECI project A/C # 0000108854-01-70 was initially opened with the three (3) signatories affixing their signature as evidence on the signature specimen. The three (3) signatories were Mr. Elias B. Shoniyin, with the power A+A, Mr. Augustine Nyanplu, B+B and Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf as C+A or C+B.
This action indicated that the both signatories in persons of Mr. Elias B. Shoniyin and Mr. Augustine Nyanplu could withdraw from the project account without the knowledge of signatory C. Therefore, the absolute or overriding power granted to Mr. Elias B. Shoniyin and Mr. Augustine Nyanplu created the basis for a potential fraud. Also, this created doubt or suspicion about the management of the project fund as well as the account.
Second signatory arrangement
The second signatory specimen card arrangement came about as the result of the appointment of Mr. Thomas Kaydor as Deputy Minister for International Economic Cooperation & Integration and Dr. Wede Elliot Brownell as Deputy Minister for Administration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Thomas Kaydor replaced Mr. Elias B. Shoniyin and Dr. Brownell replaced Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf. The arrangement was structured as follow. Mr. Thomas Kaydor- A+B, B+C; Dr. Wede Elliot Brownell B+A, B+C , Mr. Augustine Nyanplu C+A, C+B.
Under this arrangement, no individual signatory could effect withdrawal without the involvement of another signatory to the account. Prior to the submission of the signatory specimen to the Afriland First Bank for effective action, Mr. Nyanplu who was serving as the project manager, with the powers C+A and C+B, altered the specimen card with C+C without the knowledge of other signatory to the account.
This action on the part of Mr. Nyanplu served as a recipe for continuation of the fraud. Also, the Afriland First Bank did not perform due professional care by contacting the two other signatories to the account (Mr. Thomas Kaydor and Dr. Wede Elliot Brownell) to authenticate the additional option of C+C.
By Othello B. Garblah