Liberia: World Bank Endorses NaFAA Director’s New ‘Cruiser’

NaFAA Director General Emma Glassco was heavily criticized over the procurement of a  2022 Toyota Land Cruiser for her official use

.... “The vehicle was procured using World Bank procedures and assigned to senior management of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) for monitoring project activities, especially in project-affected rural counties with huge road challenges,” The Bank told the Daily Observer in an email.

Recent chatter over the purchase of a brand new luxury vehicle acquired by the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) for the specific use of its Director General, Emma Metieh Glassco, has got the public in a turvy ever since talk show host Henry P. Costa posted about it on his Facebook page and with details in his subsequent broadcast. 

“A few months ago,” Costa wrote on his Facebook page on August 30, “she had Africa Motors make a special order for her, of the 2022 Toyota Land Cruiser — fully-loaded at the whopping price tag of more than US$128,000. Guess where she took the money from?? The World Bank's multi-million dollar project fund!” 

According to sources at NaFAA, the vehicle was budgeted for and purchased under a project funded by the World Bank. And if Costa’s description is anything to go by, this is no ordinary vehicle and its acquisition only escalates issues of accountability with regard to public and development partner funds, vis-a-vis the necessity of the level of expense for just one vehicle. Some critics have gone as far as questioning the personal integrity of Glassco. 

But first, some clarity about the vehicle: It is a 2022 Land Cruiser, fully automatic, 4-wheel drive, black colored sport-utility vehicle (SUV). The vehicle was procured through Africa Motors, who claims that it already had the vehicle in stock at the time the procurement notice was published. According to NaFAA, the World Bank laid out specific requirements but, on the Request for quotation, it only said: “4x4 Cross Country SUV/Wagon”.  

And yes, in an email exchange, the World Bank told the Daily Observer that “the vehicle was procured using World Bank procedures.”  But more on this further below.

Shadowed by sanctions?

All this is happening at a time when three senior government officials have been slapped with US sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act.  So even if a major purchase were made legally, would it be that easy for the public to tell the difference, without some probing?  

NaFAA, in its reaction, describes the chatter as “false allegations emulating from a talk show host in person of Henry Costa on claims that the vehicle donated by the World Bank to enhance NaFAA’s operations, was purchased on a special order and customized for the Director General’s convenience using the World Bank Funds at her disposal and discretion.” 

The NaFAA press release explained that “the Word Bank has very strict standing policies with regards to the procurement of goods and services which were applied during the purchase of the vehicle. The Bank was also very involved in every single step towards the procurement process, commencing from the specification/details of vehicle, preparation of bid documents to the awarding of contract to a competent firm/ service provider as well as the disbursement of funds. 

“NaFAA would also like to state for the fact, it does not have any discretionary authority on disbursement of funds or award of contracts,” the release said.

With emphasis, the NaFAA release said that it is not the custodian of the World Bank funds; therefore the money is not at NaFAA’s disposal. Rather NaFAA is the implementing entity, ensuring that the programs implemented are in accordance with the Project Appraisal Documents which are reflection of the institution’s underlying objectives, as well as the Pro Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity (PAPD). 

The World Bank Liberia office has not missed the chatter either. “We are aware of the posts circulating on social media regarding the car purchase related to the Liberia Sustainable Management of Fisheries Project that is being implemented by the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NAFAA),” the Bank said in an email exchange with the Daily Observer on the matter. 

On September 22, 2021, the Republic of Liberia was approved by the World Bank to implement the Liberia Sustainable Management of Fisheries Project, through NaFAA. The five-year project, worth US$40 million, received its first tranche of funding in February 2022, and will close at the end of September 2026.

For public information, the Bank has a project page on its website, containing much detail about procurement and other activities since the beginning of the project up to the end of August 2022 (so far). However, the full details (i.e. cost) of the “Glassco Cruiser” are not [yet] published on the page.

“World Bank-funded projects are implemented by recipient governments through designated implementation agencies,” the Bank explained. “Implementation of such projects follows World Bank policies, processes, and procedures that include provisions to prevent misuse or misapplication of funds and to monitor the use of such funds to ensure that they are used for the purposes intended. 

“The vehicle was procured using World Bank procedures and assigned to senior management of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) for monitoring project activities especially in project affected rural counties with huge road challenges,” The Bank told the Daily Observer in an email. “If anyone has credible and material information on abuse of resources in World Bank funded-projects, they can file a complaint online with the World Bank Group’s Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), using this link:”

As Liberians would say, “the plawa finish”. Or has it? 

NaFAA said it would like to urge all media personnel or groups spewing negative information or propaganda on its hard-earned reputation to firstly always seek clarification from the institution before going public. 

“NaFAA over the years,” the release noted, “has worked tirelessly to build its reputation thus attracting international confidence and recognition for the good of Liberia. On the contrary, NaFAA believes the misinformation is an attempt to undermine its gains.