Liberia: House Panel to Probe LISGIS Corruption Allegations

The House probe is geared toward seeking answers to the allegation that census money is misappropriation.

The House of Representatives has set up a committee to probe the Liberia Institute on Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) over the alleged misappropriation of census funds.

The House probe is geared toward seeking answers to the allegation from G. Alex Williams that money received from the government to conduct the delayed census is being allegedly misappropriated by LISGIS Director-General Prof. Francis Wreh and his two lieutenants, Lawrence George, Deputy for Administration, and Wilmot Smith, Deputy for Information and Coordination.

Williams, who has been suspended from his position as Deputy Director-General for Statistics and Data Processing, told the lawmakers yesterday that out of the US$1.8 million that LISGIS has received from the Government, Prof. Wreh and his deputies had only transferred  US$700,000  to the Census Basket Fund, managed by the UNFPA.

But the exhibits, which he claimed were forwarded to the House Chief Clerk, show an alleged discrepancy amount of US$240,000 instead of the US$400,000 balance that   LISGIS authorities were accused of having misapplied.

He claims that corruption is the main reason why Liberia has not substantially fulfilled its undertaking — to contribute to the census cost — and that the census cannot be held until such a contribution is made.

Since 2008, Liberia has not had another Census. The 2018 Census was delayed to March 2022, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since been postponed to October on grounds that LISGIS was having financial issues and, as such, it needed more time. 

The first four modern censuses were held in 1962, 1974, 1984, and 2008 and revealed how the population had increased differently beginning at 1.1 million, 1.5, 2.1, and 3.5 million, respectively.

William, in March, raised the alarm of census money being withdrawn and misappropriated. 

“Both verbally and via emails, I have reported that multiple withdrawals are being made on the census US account at Ecobank without my knowledge and without following the required due process. 

“However, you have not taken any action to stop these. These payments violate Liberia’s Public Financial Management Laws, the operational framework of the census project document, the Public Procurement and Commission laws of Liberia, and local and international best practices and accounting standards,” he wrote.

And an investigation by FrontPage Africa in March seems to corroborate Williams’ claims that Prof. Wreh has been making withdrawals from the LISGIS census account unilaterally and converting the same into personal use and, in some instances, amounts withdrawn are distributed among him and his principal deputies.

FPA cited a check of US$50,000 that was raised without any voucher; the withdrawal of US$30,720 on January 27, by George and Smith, awarding US$115,000 without regard for PPCC guidelines as evidence of wrongdoing.

George had withdrawn the money from the census account for the purpose of purchasing a new generator for the entity; however, he purchased a second-hand generator instead for US$15,000 which broke down a week later.

While Smith awarded Avianet/Global Jet a US$115k contract to ship 21,000 tablets and power banks -- loaned to LISGIS by the Ghana Statistical Services. The contract, FPA said, violates the PPCC rules and was signed on February 26; a non-working day for the government but the money was transferred on February 28.

However,  Prof. Wreh, in response to Williams’ allegation at the Capitol, refuted the allegations and termed it as a mere campaign intended to derail the image of the institution.

He, however, maintained that there is no corruption scandal at LISGIS and assured the public that the October  2022 census is irreversible and that 21,000 pieces of tablets, power banks, and other accessories for the success of the census are already in-country. 

George, also in session, denied the allegation of misappropriation of funds and appealed to the House to get copies of Williams' so-called evidence of corruption, which could enable them to address the matter adequately. 

Also, Smith told the lawmakers that LISGIS is free from corruption and that UNFPA, recently concluded the Harmonized Approach to Cash Transfers audit, which was performed by BDO LLP. However, he failed to disclose the audit recommendations. 

“The audit report proved zero traces of corruption,” Smith said. “Government through LISGIS has completed the contribution of US$3.7M into the Census Basket fund managed by UNFPA. 

Meanwhile, the House probe is expected to be led by Rep. Edward Karfiah, Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts and Expenditure; and Rep. Larry P. Younquoi, chairman of Good Governance and Government  Reform.