Liberia: Pro-Tempore Chie Denies Senate Aborting Road Fund Probe for “Cash”

Senate Pro Tempore Albert Chie: "The Liberian Senate has not received the amount of US$15,000 to downplay its investigation."

The President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Albert Chie, has categorically denied the claim that Senators have received US$15,000 each to abandon the ongoing investigation of the National Road Fund (NRF) unauthorized usage by the Executive.

Chie noted that information circulating in the public that they received US$15,000 to downplay the investigation is not true and has never happened. He added that the Senate would not compromise its investigation and no member of the Senate would do.

“The Liberian Senate has not received the amount of US$15,000 to downplay its investigation into the status of the road fund and its usages,” said the Grand Kru County Senator.  “The Ad-hoc Committee set up recently by Plenary to probe the alleged unauthorized usage of the Road fund is currently working and has never been stopped.”

The Senate investigation of the Road Fund comes after the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, cited extreme economic conditions as a significant factor that forced the government to use US$25 million, which was earmarked for the Fund for a different government function.

Tweah’s justification violates Chapter 2.2 of the Act establishing the fund, whose source of revenue is collected from motorists to construct and maintain roads across the county.

The Act states that “All funds of the NRF shall be held in the Fund Account from which disbursement shall be made solely to finance the approved annual road maintenance expenditure program and directly related costs as hereby required in this Act.”

The Act, among other things, states the primary objective of the fund is to ensure that the country’s road assets are sustained and maintained periodically from funds collected from the levies — which cannot be diverted for any purpose, except to fix roads.

But for Minister Tweah, the action of the government, which caused the NRF to lose a matching fund of US$15 million from development partners, was nothing wrong, especially when the fund is a sovereign purse and, when there is a crisis, it can be used for that purpose.

He argued that the executive action was carried out in consultation with the National Road Fund Steering Committee, which then consulted with the leadership of the Legislature and got approval through a meeting involving development partners.

“We have the minutes and all records to show that we did not act in isolation or against the law.  There was no written communication but there are records of the meeting held to approve the use of the money,” Min. Tweah said last month defending the Executive action. “Fifteen development partners were in the meeting with us. There are notes and minutes to all the discussions and they are public documents.”

The revelation of the fund acts violation was contained in an audit report by the General Auditing Commission for two fiscal years, July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020, which observed that millions of dollars of petroleum levies paid by motorists for the maintenance and rehabilitation of roads in Liberia were not being used for the intended purpose.

The GAC report noted that out of the US$53 million collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority, the Ministry of Finance, heeded by Tweah, remitted only US$28 million to the National Road Fund secretariat, leaving a difference of US$25 million which was used for different government purposes contrary to the goal of the act.

Senator Chie's clarification comes as the Senate's silence on the matter fuelled rumors that their silence suggests a result of US15K they have gotten.

The rumors alleged that the senate has planned to sign a backdated resolution, indicating that it authorized the diversion of the fund —  a claim which Chie is now denying. 

Meanwhile, the Senate Ad-hoc   Committee is expected to submit its report on June 21, according to Chie.

Elsewhere, the Senate Committee on Autonomous Commissions & Agencies has called on the Senate in a report to approve the proposed date for the conduct of the census on October 16 to avoid a Constitutional crisis.

The report added that the Senate, through its Committee on Autonomous Agencies, needed to be directly involved with the activities of the census to allay the fear of the public and make sure that the census is conducted on the proposed date, to avoid constitutional violations.