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Following The Issue

Weep, Kendejah, Weep!

Information gleaned from a 2011 GAC audit report indicates that all the projects that the Sirleaf-led government promised it would implement, preceding and following the demolition of the Kendejah Cultural Center, have been neglected.

When A Government Deceives Its People Big Time

The Kendejah Cultural Center was built in 1964 under the Tumban administration. It was the epicenter and the epitome of Liberian cultural activities. The cultural dances and other performances, as well as the indigenous tribal life lived and experienced there, wooed both the young and the old and citizens and foreigners. This was before this government, the Sirleaf government, decided to demolish the center.

Before its breakdown, many parents relished – and still miss – the performances that went on there, especially on holidays and other special days. Children harassed their parents not only to see the center, but also to watch the activities that made the center an embodiment of Liberian cultural life. Besides, culturally speaking, it was considered a sacred spot.

Then came 2008 when the Sirleaf administration decided to destroy the center and lease it to an American billionaire to build a hotel there. In the twinkling of an eye, everything was demolished. But if a billionaire wants to transform a stupid culture center to a four- or five-star hotel, why should the government waste time in knocking down the stupid structures there?

This government – like every other we-are-determined-to-sell-our-plan administration – report says, put the residents and the inhabitants of Kendejah, as well as the Liberian people, under the impression that a new and better culture center would be built – and built quickly – just as the hotel, too, would be built quickly. But many knew that Kendejah would weep, and weeping it is now doing.

Like the Charles Taylor administration who demolished the Barclay Training Center (BTC) under the pretext that it would build a children’s center – a beautiful and well-equipped playground for Liberia’s kids – which ended not only in the playground not being built, but also in the funds not being accounted for, sources say, the Sirleaf government presented a plethora of “great” reasons why that particular spot should be for the construction of hotel. Simply stated, in the mind of the government, it is a fantastic place for a hotel, not for a culture center. Could anything stop Kendejah from weeping?

This government, according to reports, invented all the “ingenious” reasons for wanting the place for a hotel, and not for the preservation of Liberian cultural heritage. It is said that very powerful hands that had interest in the deal were poised to use their positions and connections to consummate the deal, no matter what.

Was the deal entered into smoothly? Yes, it was, especially in terms of the American billionaire’s settling his financial obligations to the lessee, the people of Liberia.

Considering the demolition of the center, and reflecting on funds received from the lessor, the Liberian government made some promises – it had some plans. But who would be that brave to destroy such a cultural heritage center without proposing and implementing plans and projects to recreate confidence in the people?  Let’s see some of the plans:

1. The government said it would purchase 50 (fifty) acres of land in Gben Town, Marshall. The land cost US$80,000, a piece of land meant for the construction of a new National Cultural Center.

2. The government would construct a new school building for the kids at Kendejah.

3. The government would relocate the residents and inhabitants of Kedenjah, compensating them in the process.

As part of the lease agreement, page 14 of the GAC report tells us, “Mr. Johnson had to underwrite the costs of relocating the residents and inhabitants of Kendejah at a total cost of US$200,000.00 and US$160,000.00 rental fees as advance payment against the USS800, 000.00 for the first ten years into the lease agreement beginning 15 February 2008 to 15 February 2018. This amount was paid in full by the lessee.”

So the management of the hotel paid enough money to cover the cost of purchasing the land and of relocating the residents of the center? That’s good news! Lucky residents and inhabitants of Kendejah!

But wait a minute! Has the new culture center been built? No, it has not. But why should we even be asking about constructing the center when the Sirleaf administration has not even paid for the land in full? Weep, Kendejah, weep!

“But what’s the problem?” some might want to ask. Well, according to the report, the Sirleaf administration has paid only US$40,000 out of the US$80,000 which is the cost of the land. This means the government does not have a title deed to the land. In fact, this has stalled the process. Oh, yes, let Kedenjah weep.

Page 14 of the audit report says: “The failure of the Government of Liberia through MICAT to make full payment of the land acquired posed a risk of losing the land. There was no justification for not making full payment as there was enough money generated at the signing date of the Kendejah lease agreement to make the full settlement. The failure to make full payment has caused a delay of the construction of the New Kendejah Culture Center, thus obstructing Cultural activities of the Nation.

“The authorities at MICAT should provide substantive justification why the 50 (fifty) acre- land acquired at Gben Town, was not paid in full, despite the receipt of adequate cash for the purpose. The Government of Liberia should pay the balance of US$40,000.00 to the Landlord so as to establish Government ownership of the fifty (50) acres of Land for the Kendejah relocation project and allow the development of the Gben Town project.” Weep, Kendejah, weep!

Anyway, it’s now clear that the government has failed to pay the balance money for the 50 acres. But at least we want to believe that the government has settled the relocation package of the evicted residents/occupants. This means the government is sensitive to its people’s plight. This calls for celebration. No, no, let’s not rush into this before it be considered a premature celebration. Let’s be cautious.

Let’s read page 2 of the audit report: “The re-location of the Kandejah Cultural Center to Gben Town, Marshall, appeared to have hit a stalemate, as the payment by the Government for the new site has not been completed. Only US$79,000.00 of the US$200,659.90 checks to compensate residents for location was accounted for. I determined the funds were misappropriated by employees of officials of the Ministry of the Ministry.”

You see trouble? Why shouldn’t Kendejah weep?

We wonder what the government officials responsible for the project did with the money. Maybe we should read an internal communication from the Comptroller to GAC (page 2 of the report): “US5, 000.00: The same applied with this amount. This Check was taken to Hon. Tarnue Mawolo who counter signed same and the check encashed at CBL and the fund taken to Dr. Bropleh. This check, according to what was attached for me to carry to Hon. Mawolo, was intended to counteract propaganda and media publicity both print and electronic on the demolition of Kendeja by the Government of Liberia.”

Wait a minute! So, instead of appropriately compensating the evicted residents and preparing themselves to account for the funds, the officials involved were using the money to launch a propaganda campaign aimed at demolishing the center at all cost? Oh, my God! Let Kendejah weep.

Any other revelation? Let’s read page 14 of the report: “An amount of US$121,659.90 in total was withdrawn from Kendejah relocation account number 0220630001903, without stating the purpose for the disbursement. As observed these payments were made to third parties including MICAT’s Comptroller and Chief Accountant.

“The act of payment made to a third party is a violation of the Financial Rule no.23. The practice of paying money that belongs to a group of legitimate beneficiaries to a third party also poses a high risk that funds could be diverted fraudulently to suit personal gain.”

So will the amount in question just disappear in thin air, or will someone be held responsible? Don’t read my lips; read the audit report.

Page 15 reads: “I have recommended that former Minister Bropleh, the former Comptroller Joseph Z. Nyamunue, Sr., the former Chief Accountant Josiah B. Gwagee and GECCO should be made to restitute US$121,659.90. As noted, the third parties were not residents of Kendejah.

“Former Minister Lawrence K. Bropleh and Deputy Finance Minister for Administration, Tarnue Mawolo, respective custodian of the checks books and signatories to the Kendejah account number 0220630001903, should be sanctioned for violating Financial Rule 23 by disbursing the Kendejah relocation funds to the third parties.”

Hmm! Are the gods and our Ancestors watching? The culture center was demolished, and a luxurious hotel built in its place, while a new center has not been built, while the land meant for it has not been paid for (at least as per the report), and while the funds expended in the process – a large portion of the money – has not been accounted for. Could we say that our cultural heritage is displaced?

Did the government work in the interest of its people? Hmm! Eh, Kendejah, allow no one to prevent you from weeping. We will stand on Mt. Kilimanjaro and shout: “Weep, Kendejah, weep!”

Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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