The General Auditing Commission or GAC has been invited to audit the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), a government loan scheme managed and operated by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment(LBDI) intended to empower local Liberian owned businesses.
The move has become necessary following repeated accusations and counter accusations between Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh and his former Deputy Jamima Wolokollie who co-ran the program about the misapplication of the fund.
The amount involves is US$2 million. One million being a startup amount deposited by government as a guarantee to the bank should borrowers default on payment, while the additional 1 million was chipped in by the LBDI.
It all started just days after Madam Wolokollie was dismissed by President George Weah for what he said was a string of actions incompatible with her (Madam Wolokollie) status as a senior government official.
Madam Wolokollie went on a tirade using both her social media platform and traditional media to not just condemned the ruling party after her dismissal and doing what she said was the wrong things, but also that the “US$3 million” which was being speculated that she mismanaged was in fact being mismanaged by her former boss, Wilson Tarpeh. She alleged that Prof. Tarpeh has hijacked the loan scheme and was distributing the fund at will at the ministry and she knew nothing about its implementation.
“Ok like, I said the other day, I am going to repeat again. The Government of Liberia decided that it will give small micro loan to small businesses. And the Government was going to give USD1m and LBDI (Liberia Bank for Development and Investment) said they were going to give USD2m. And the President said Samuel Tweah, Wilson Tarpeh stay off this loan.
I vetted the (beneficiaries) and the bank said everything was ok, that I have done well. After that my boss whenever I went to the bank they will send me back to my boss. From that day on, my boss took over my office and took over the loan. I never saw that loan again.
They also refused to give me a document concerning the loan. The only document was on a flying sheet to say this is what I have given out-USD 513,000. Then when he sent me that piece of paper, I wrote to him requesting him to give me an audit report and to give me the names and telephone numbers of those small businesses. Every document have been hidden from me,” Madam Wolokollie alleged. “Anything about this loan is between Wilson Tarpeh and his office. So I don’t want to hear people to telling me about this US3m. It’s my boss. I don’t have the money,” she added.
The counter accusation
But Prof. Tarpeh at a press conference to counter Madam Wolokollie described as blatant lie allegations she had been or is parading against him concerning the loan project. Minister Tarpeh displayed several documents including two checks that were co-signed by Madam Wolokollie to withdraw monies from the US$1 million deposit.
The first checked issued to BSC Monrovia and signed for by one William Reid Dennis II, was accompanied by a Memorandum from Madam Wolokollie making a payment request to Mr. Wilfred T. S. Bangura II, Deputy Commerce Minister for Administration to pay BSC Monrovia US$34,600 from the account.
Madam Wolokollie’s Memorandum dated March 2, 2019 reads: “Kindly accept my compliment! I write to request payment in favor of BSC Monrovia for providing Business Skills Training to Microfinance Institutions as per agreed contract with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The amount to be paid is Thirty four thousand six hundred United States Dollars (34,600.00).”
The amount of 33, 216 was paid after the government deducted its tax from the 34,600. Minister Tarpeh said he initially declined to approve the payment because there was no competitive bidding in awarding the contract. He alleged that Madam Wolokollie single handedly picked BSC Monrovia for the training. However, he explained that he refused to approve the payment but after legal advice, one of his deputies, also a signatory to the account co-signed with Madam Wolokollie.
Mr. Tarpeh further explained that the second withdrawal from the account again upon the request of Madam Wolokollie was US$8,380.0 paid to Liberia Events Marketing Services for public relations about the loan scheme. Again Minister Tarpeh said Madam Wolokollie unilaterally picked the service provider. This time he co-signed the check to effect payment.
He noted that those were the only two withdrawals from the account-a total of US$41,596, leaving a balance of 958,403.2 of what should have been the loan guarantee. He said those were the only two withdrawals that were allowed because they were in line with the loan program.
A bank statement dated as at July 3, 2020 revealed the account has a balance of 957,582.34 following bank charges. The statement shows only two withdrawals in the combined amount of 41, 596.
Minister Tarpeh questioned the dishonesty of Madam Wolokollie saying how she could tell such a blatant lie that she knows nothing about the account when in fact she co-signed the only two withdrawals.
Mr. Tarpeh insisted with documents presented to this paper that he has no contact with any of the loan beneficiaries and in fact the bank used its own credit standards to disburse the loans to those who have received so far and that no cash is being distributed within the ministry as being insinuated by Madam Wolokollie.
In the wake of high public sentiments surrounding the SBPDF loan scheme, and the joining of Madam Wolokollie’s campaign by some prominent women who feel that their colleague is being maligned by officials at the Ministry of Commerce, on Wednesday July 15, 2020, Minister Tarpeh wrote the GAC to conduct a full audit of the loan program.
Excerpts of the letter dated July 15, 2020 reads: “The Ministry of Commerce and Industry presents its compliments. As you may be aware in 2018, H. E. Dr. George Manneh Weah officially launched the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), to support Liberian owned small, medium enterprises.
The initial startup amount was US$1,000,000.00 (One Million United States Dollars), which was matched with an additional US$1,000,000.00 (One Million United States Dollars) by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment.
In view of the above, I am kindly requesting your good office to conduct a full audit on the abve program as at June 30, 2020. Thus the program is being managed and operated by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment. I and members of my financial team at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry will be available for any meeting deem necessary that will assist you with the audit process.”
By Othello B. Garblah