Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh
“If this was an ordinary Liberian who received some money to carry on activities and cannot account for that money, they would be picked up, interrogated, and carried to jail. But then we see that the people who say they want to help the young people of this county will generate funds without accountability and the project has been abandoned,” says Lahai Fahnbulleh, Bomi County Youth Chairperson.
Painted light blue and white just at the outskirts of Tubmanburg stands what used to be a facility that housed UN Peacekeepers. The building was occupied by UN Peacekeepers almost a decade ago. Grass has grown all around it, some of the ceilings are almost falling off, and tiles on the floors are still dilapidated.
In 2019, recognizing the growing problem of violence and drug addiction among young people, the George Weah administration with funding from the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCROP) provided $40,000 United States Dollars to renovate the facility to be used as a rehabilitation center for disadvantaged youths, who are commonly called in Liberia as Zogos. However, residents of Tubmanburg say there is no rehabilitation program taking place in the area.
The US $40,000 the LRRRC’s Executive director Rev. Festus Logan says they spent to renovate the facility was meant to house at least 150 disadvantaged youths (zogos) and former child soldiers to undergo counseling, detoxification, and get empowerment skills and thereafter be united to their families.
But it’s exactly 3 years, and the residents are dissatisfied with the fact that the work has long been halted, and the sole purpose for which the money was given to the LRRRC is not being realized. They are calling on the LRRRC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports to give a full account of the money, the renovation work, and why the rehabilitation program has yet to kick start.
The hallway view of the US $40,000 renovated facility (Photo credit Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh)
“I feel very bad'
Even the affected youths who spoke to this paper say they are disappointed.
Many Tubmanburg residents say they saw the LRRRC’s proposed rehabilitation center for drug-addicted youths brought about hope for the many young people who are hooked on drugs. And as crimes and violence continue to tick up Tubmanburg, the LRRRC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports had earlier been debating as to who should lead the project, and the intended recipients suffered. Promises and money raised for rehabilitating disadvantaged youths did not deliver.
“I feel very bad, because the money they gave to renovate the place to rehabilitate us so we can leave this habit and transform our lives from one level to another, we don’t see anything," Chilla, the 2nd in commend at 05 ghettoes in Tubmanburg lamented. "As for us the youths we don’t have a voice, our leaders that we put in power are supposed to seek our interest to make sure good things come to our county, but instead when they get money for development to help rehabilitate us, we don’t see what they do with it. Sometimes it makes me want to slip them whenever I see them. "
The dozens of young people who are hooked on drugs and other harmful substances told this paper they don’t see the change they desire come so quickly for them. When news spread in 2019 about the $40,000 renovation, and rehabilitation project meant to benefit disadvantaged youths in the area, residents including Lahai Fahnbulleh, and Miatta Kanneh Monger saw it as a great initiative that they said was going to bring relief to the community.
Three years on now, Miatta Monger says they feel let down and disappointed by the fact that the renovation work has never gotten completed, and not a single disadvantaged youth has gotten transformed by the LRRC or Youth and sports in Tubmanburg.
“Why have they not completed the center, even if they say the $40,000 was not sufficient, it could start something or they could get back to the government or whoever that gave the money to complete the amount to enable them to finish the work, but I don’t see even the slightest sight of it," Miatta said. "Go and see for yourself, the place is covered up with bush, and nothing is going on there, if anyone tells you that any rehabilitation is going on there, it’s a lie. Residents are living there and my sister lives there. I was even there on Sunday."
“For me to hear that $40,000 was given to renovate that area and rehabilitate wayward youths, and nothing is happening, for me I am frustrated, I am discouraged and I think LRRRC needs to say what they did with the money.”
Lamenting her disappointment, Miatta, pointed out that the LRRRC & Youth & Sports $40,000 project marks the 2nd major project meant for the rehabilitation of disadvantaged youths in the area that has never gotten started nor completed.
LRRRC & Youth & Sports Responses
When contacted to address Bomi citizens’ plights as to why the renovation has long halted, and there’s been no rehabilitation taking place since 2019, Logan preferred not to speak. But he rather recommended his Public Relations Officer, Samuel David to speak on the matter.
The LRRRC deputy communications director, David informed this paper that the LRRRC started the renovation of the old UN building in Tubmanburg, but that the process later became multi-sectionalized, and because of that, the LRRRC turned the project over to the arm of government that is responsible for youth development, the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
David did not however say how much of the 40,000 dollars was spent by the LRRRC before the project got multi-sectionalized and turned over to the youth and sports ministry.
“We did all of the renovations, we changed all of the damaged zincs, did everything including the painting, but at last, the entire process was multi-sectionalized, so the youth and sports which is responsible for youth matter took the leads, so the LRRRC and other ministries are just supporting the process," David added.
“Currently, the process is square with the Youth and Sports, and the LRRRC is no longer in charge of that project. We did the renovation and we even took Senator, Saah Joseph there who made some commitments of providing some beds and other items. But when it was about time to start the full implementation, then another line ministry (Youth & Sports) came in, and so we (LRRRC) had to turn things over to the youth and sports ministry."
When reached to further inquire of his involvement and his ministry involvement with the project as claimed by the LRRRC, Liberia’s Youth and Sports Minister, Zeogar Wilson responded by saying he had no idea about any rehabilitation project between his ministry and the LRRRC.
“I don’t have any knowledge on that regarding LRRRC, because anything in my view that has to do with refugees that have been repatriated who are battling drugs and the LRRRC is doing something in that regard I am not aware of any rehabilitation program in Tubmanburg."
Questioned for a second time about having discussions and meetings between his ministry and the LRRRC as to who takes charge of the project in Tubmanburg, Minister Wilson still responded of having no knowledge about any renovation or proposed rehabilitation project for disadvantaged youths in Bomi County.
As it stands, the question of who’s telling the truth or not, or who should account for the $40,000 stands unanswered.
Big Rehab projects that have never gotten started
In February 2020, a private organization named “Agents for Change” held a much-publicized fundraising and groundbreaking program for the establishment of a rehab center that was to be named and styled the ‘Bai T. Moore Rehabilitation Center.
According to the organization, the Bai T. Moore Rehab Center was going to be a state of the ark one-stop center to host dozens of disadvantaged youths and youths who are hooked on drugs and provide transformational programs meant to rehabilitate them and give them a new life.
It was in this as the people of Bomi County gave 47.3 acres of land for the construction of the center. That program brought together scores of prominent people from both the government and private centers including Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor and Bomi County lawmakers.
At that fundraiser, Vice President Taylor made an initial financial contribution in a check of US$10,000 (ten thousand United States Dollars) as a contribution and committed to providing a bus to the institution for movements. Other Bomi lawmakers also did the same as many other contributions that came from local chiefs, the youth chair of Bomi County, and several other residents.
The event was also graced by several dignitaries, including UN agencies and Representatives But to date, residents say not a single block has been laid and bush has taken over the entire place as they are yet to get any update on the status of the Bai T. Moore Rehab center just as the LRRC & Youth & Sports Rehab Center.
At that event, Rev. Samuel Reeves, the board chair of – Agents for Change announced that the total cost of the proposed project is about $3 million United States Dollars and that the project was going to be done in phases. It’s 3 years on now, and residents including hundreds of disadvantaged youths who are scattered not only in Bomi County alone but across Western Liberia are still looking on to seeing that construction project starts.
The insincerity around youth rehabilitation
It can be recalled, in 2021, Logan confirmed during our first exclusive interview that the USD 40,000 was meant to renovate the old UN building in Tubmanburg to be used as a rehab center to house 150 disadvantaged youths.
“After the war, there was a disarmament and rehabilitation process, but it did not trigger down well, so the LRRRC received a little over $40,000 to renovate the old UN Building in Tubmanburg to rehabilitate 150 disadvantage youths who are hooked on drugs including former child soldiers," Logan said.
But a dispute at the time between the LRRRC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports as to who takes charge of the rehab project has been playing out. The supposed renovation and rehab project came to a halt. To date, the project still stands in ruins and incomplete.
“National government thought to centralize the process, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports is taking the lead so we had to dress back to give the Youth and Sports to chance to coordinate the project, so that’s where we are," LRRRC’s Executive said in an interview in 2021.
Rehabilitating disadvantaged youths and former child soldiers that are hooked on drugs has been a national challenge while a growing number of Liberian youths who are already hooked are recruiting their peers into the habit by the day. Nineteen years after the end of Liberia’s 14 years of civil wars, there has been no major national and holistic rehabilitation program for drug-affected youths.
As talks swirl again about the passage of the drug law to make it non-billable and control harmful substances while members of the Liberian Senate on Capitol Hill still hold unto concurring with the House of Representatives, disadvantaged youths in Bomi County may have a long time waiting for a change as monies intended for their rehabilitation hank in tan air and those projects still yet to get started 3 years old now.
According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), “1 in 5 Liberians suffer a mild to moderate mental disorder after the war." The proliferation and illegal abuse of drugs among Liberian youths have only had far more consequences on the country’s youthful population which make up over 60 percent of the 5 million people.
A series of efforts to rehabilitate drug-affected youths have failed. Drug trafficking through the region has increased as drug cartels see West Africa’s unpoliced borders as an easy way to transport drugs from Latin America to Europe. In Liberia, the weak security and lack of the necessary sophisticated equipment to nap down track pushers are also challenging the fight., and on top of that corruption.
In Liberia, it’s almost becoming like a normal way of life where public officials who receive state resources meant to undertake national projects or initiatives do not get to account for said funding, and the people meant to benefit from such projects or programs sit on watching helplessly.
This article is made possible through the National Integrity Building and Anti-Corruption (NIBA) Program implemented by CENTAL with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Embassy of Sweden.