There is a looming puzzle in the aftermath of the United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) departure from Liberia after more than 14 years service to the country and its people.
There is no known account in relation to the millions the United Nations paid as rent for the public building that headquartered its mission here.
Presently, the only clear information on the Pan African Plaza is that it is a Libyan constructed eleven-storey high raise building marking Monrovia’s skyline and that it is the home of the United Nations Mission in Liberia.
The rest of the story with respect to ownership and millions being generated from rent is a mystery proving difficult to unravel.
According to legend, some powerful businessmen and politicians tussled during the war years to snatch away the ownership of this property.
In 2004, the story goes: Harry Greaves, Willie Knuckles (deceased) claimed former President Charles Taylor granted them the building’s ownership through lease. While the world largest peacekeeping mission was searching for home, the then UN Secretary General Special Representative to Liberia Jacques Paul Klein sent a certain Linda Fawaz to Charles Taylor in Caliber, Nigeria to establish the veracity of the claim. Taylor told Ms. Fawaz he did not enter into any agreement for the building.
This gave UNMIL the green light to negotiate lease agreement with would be owners of the building.
The New Democrat understands that UNMIL pays about $40,000 United States dollars per each of the six floors the mission occupied. This means the building generates about $2.8million United States dollars annually and an estimated 34.5million for the 12-year period ending 2018.
Who receiving this amount of money is a deep secret that no one in government and even UNMIL is willing to talk about. Tax authorities are unaware about the money trail.
The Pan African Plaza Building is believed to be operated by the Libyan Holding Company, the Liberia Revenue authority said in an emailed stamen in July 2017 when contacted.
“This property is not in compliance with its real estate tax liability nor withholding on rent.”
“The building is currently occupied by UNMIL and it’s difficult to access the premises by enforcers to enforce the tax laws.
This challenge/impediment is attributed to the reference to the Geneva Convention of 1946 on the work of the UN and their diplomatic immunity,” LRA’s Manager for Communications, Media & Public Affairs D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh said.
The United Nations Mission rents Pan African Plaza (PAP) from the Pan African Real Estate Corporation (PAREC), a company registered under the laws of Liberia, Ms Leigh Robinson, who heads UNMIL Public Information Office said in a August 2017 email.
“Amongst others, the Government of Liberia is a significant shareholder in
PAREC, she said.
“UNMIL has rented PAP since 2006. The rent that UNMIL pays to PAREC is
governed by contractual confidentiality. However, UNMIL has no objection if PAREC releases this information to the public.”
From the accounts between UNMIL and LRA there are two companies with associated ownership of this building: Pan African Real Estate Corporation (PAREC) and Libyan Holding Company.
Little is known about the two companies. After searching for more than eight months, the offices of the Pan African Real Estate Corporation was found on 7th street, Sinkor, Monrovia but the Libyan Holding Company is nowhere to be found.
On PAREC’s 7th Street office, it is forbidden to talk about the company’s activities and its shareholders. “This is a top secret,” the company’s manage said when contacted on April 2. “Why do you want me to give you my secret? Go and ask your government.
Clouded in top secrecy, one thing remains clear: the people of Liberia did not receive a penny from this public building. Money collected here in the form of rent goes directly in the pockets of few government officials in the Sirleaf government.
Writes Festus Poquie