Plunder! – Public Works officials swindle US$307K Japanese fund

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Fresh documents this paper has obtained show senior officials at the ministry of public works have spent more than US$300,000 out of the US$2.2million provided for alley construction on nothing.

The government of Japan as part of its economic development program approved the total grant of US$ 5.6 million for Community Infrastructure Development Program. The Japanese aid target is to improve land use activities in communities along the ELWA-RIA corridor by creating access through community alleys

Out of this amount the Ministry of Commerce and Industries disbursed US$2,247,600.00 to Public Works for the commencement of the project.

But ever since the grant was made available in 2014, no work has been performed but more than quarter of a million has been withdrawn from the project’s account. Record also shows that official at the Work Ministry were using the project’s account as unpaid and non interest bearing loan pool fund. Money was provided for project implementation but on ghost work.

For more than a year now, The New Democrat has sighted no evidence of alley construction in the designated communities.

“Funding expanded till now [is] US$307,012.84 – Funding loaned from CIPD finances by MPW- US$ 60,098.00. Funding paid to a company called Tripple “N” to provide some road construction equipment to open alleyways in communities along the ELWA-RIA that hasn’t been accounted for [is]- US$ 12,000,” the audit pointed out.

Minister Gydue Moore has rejected the New Democrat Freedom of Information request
Minister Gydue Moore has rejected the New Democrat Freedom of Information request

Public Work officials have refused to provide comments on these documented issues and transactions and have grossly denied this paper’s Freedom of Information request filed 2 September, 2015 regarding the provision of project’s financial documents.

The scale of apparent fraud associated with Japanese fund at the Ministry of Public Works is similar to one that occurred at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the comrades in crimes there seem to be holding together and concealing the facts from the public. Minister Gyude Moore who has rejected this paper FOI request is implicitly guilty for shielding officials there who have apparently betrayed the public trust.

Under the country’s information and public finance regimes, non disclosure of public information is demonstration of low integrity.  There is no evidence that Minister Moore has launched an internal investigation into the matter to identify the culprits as was done at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

‘Dig hole, cover hole’

Former Foreign minister Augustine Ngafuan has for the first time conceded to the stealing of Japanese grant under his watch.

Ngafuan was the government official with direct oversight responsibility with respect to the management and implementation of the estimated US$8million Japanese financial aid.

The government of Japan provided the funding for socio economic programs and human resource development projects in Liberia.

But senior officials of the Johnson-Sirleaf administration stand guilty for the massive abused and misused of the foreign aid.

Mr. Ngafuan who was the official in charge of the project had told state radio upon return from the U.S.  that fraudulent withdrawals were made from projects accounts.

He refused to take responsibility for the high scale theft but said it was regrettable. The ex Foreign Minister who fallout with Johnson-Sirleaf while on a national duty at the 70th session of  United Nations General Assembly in New York,  narrated that the ministry’s internal auditors did not uncover the fraud during their examination. This statement cast doubt over the integrity of the internal auditors deployed there.

Ngafuan further described the systematic pattern in which the Japanese taxpayers money was stolen as ‘dig hold cover hold’. This means officials and staff were routinely dancing in the project’s fund for personal gains.

“when the auditors were quarried, they said they did not do investigative audit. It was dig hole cover hole.

“My prayer is those who sit in their chair of evil to perpetuate fraud will be prosecuted.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials have all agreed  to squandering more than US$300,000 Japanese fund intended for capacity building and this is how it happened:

Deputy and Assistant Ministers in the department of Administration, International economic cooperation and foreign affairs and the office of the Minister Augustine Ngafuan were receiving routinely, L$84,000; L$50,400 and L$147,900 respectively.

On the basis of individual official withdrawal, the office of the Minister Ngafuan benefited the highest with a total withdrawal of L$436,800 via secretary Susan Winnie …  closely followed by deputy minister Shoniyin who collectedL$427,350.

Thus as at 7 January, 2015 Internal auditors would report that LR$ 22,236,386.00 of the 50% has been spent, with a resulting account balance of LR$ 10,990,036.00. This sent out troubling signal given the absence of tangible achievements with respect to the project’s objective that could justify the expenditure. There have been casualties at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though misdirected but Public Works officials are still enjoying impunity. Writes Festus Poquie