‘Burden of Proof on Global Witness’

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Prof. Willie Belleh.jpg

Prof. Willie Belleh, the chairman of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) accused of receiving US$10,000 from Sable Mining of United Kingdom, to influence the tender process and the Concessions Commission (PPCC) and to change the PPCC Act to benefit Sable Mining, has told the Presidential Taskforce that the allegations made by Global Witness with regard to him are untrue. According to him, the burden of proof is on Global Witnes and Jonathan Gant, the author of the report. Belleh says as far as he is concerned, his conscience belongs to God.

The slew of Global Witness allegations, ranging from an email exchange between him and Cllr. Varney Sherman; the receipt of a bribe to create a loophole in the PPCC law; actually creating a loophole in the PPCC law; and a number of other allegations, have all been categorically refuted by Mr. Belleh as false and highly implausible.

Professor Belleh told the taskforce, in an exhaustive response, a copy of which is published in this edition of the Daily Observer, that he was alleged to have sent an email to Cllr. Varney Sherman in August 2010 that stated “We finally got the revised PPCC Act completed…” the email said according to Global Witness. But Belleh calls the email “a fabrication. It is not true. I did not send any such email to Cllr. Sherman. On the face of it, it undermines its own credibility.”

“First, the email suggests that I met with the President on the night of August 6, 2010 along with the then Minister of Justice. I submit that the then Minister of Justice and I never, ever met with the President on the draft law…”

He said the language of the email is suspect. “I usually do not refer to the Legislature as ‘National Legislature’ because this suggests that there are local legislatures in our political architecture. To the contrary, there is only one Legislature of the Republic of Liberia. Just as is in Britain where both Sable Mining and Global Witness come from, there is only one Parliament: There is no ‘National Parliament.”

Prof. Belleh revealed that in January 2010, someone hacked into his yahoo email account and then several weeks ago, someone again hacked into the same account and sent out an urgent request for help from him to some people around the world stating that his wife was sick in a foreign country and he was requesting financial help, which he said was never true.

Global Witness also alleged that Prof. Belleh influenced the changing of the PPCC law in favor of Sable Mining to enable it to get a Wologizi concession without a tender process, an allegation Belleh categorically refuted.

“In fact when the process of amending the PPCC law commenced and, for much of its development, I was not the chairman of the PPCC,” he told the taskforce.

Prof. Belleh explained that the decentralization of public procurement was a new experience in Liberia in 2005.

“Prior to this, public procurement was centralized in the General Services Agency (GSA) with the strategic approach of bulk purchasing,” he said.

As such, the PPCC law of 2005, which was being implemented in government faced many challenges which were identified at a Procurement Forum, sponsored by the PPCC on February 27-28, 2008, he added.

He noted further that President Sirleaf established an ad hoc Cabinet Sub-Committee on the PPCC Act review and said the 2008 PPCC Annual Report noted that the Cabinet Committee met on May 2008 and established a Technical Committee which held a one-day retreat on the campus of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary on June 6, 2008 to identify specific provisions in the Act that required amendments.

Prof. Belleh said by the end of 2008, the revision of the PPCC law was underway and noted that the 2008 PPCC Annual Report said two legal experts funded by the United States government through the International Business Initiative (IBI), were recruited to harmonize the Minerals and Mining Act (MMA) of Liberia and the Petroleum Laws of Liberia with the PPCC Act.

According to him, by the time he was appointed chairman of the PPCC on April 5, 2010, the process of reviewing and amending the law was far advanced.

“With the assistance of the international experts, a substantive draft law, containing the provisions on mineral rights was already available and was being reviewed.

“Regrettably, however, for whatever reasons that were, two separate versions of the revised law had emerged: one from the Ministry of State with the assistance of the UNDP/ISLP and the other from the PPCC with assistance from the World Bank,” he noted.

Prof. Belleh said the appearance of the two versions motivated the need to harmonize them and President Sirleaf established several cabinet-level sub-committees to undertake the task but their efforts became protracted.

“When I became chairman, the President asked me to work with the then Minister of State for Legal and Economic Affairs to energize the process and finalize the law,” he said.

Prof. Belleh further highlighted Global Witness’s misconception of the PPCC’s role, saying that the PPCC is not responsible for attracting investments to Liberia, or the tendering of investment bids and noted that Global Witness has grossly misrepresented the role of the PPCC in its report.

“The role of the PPCC is to implement the PPCC law by regulating public procurement and the granting of concessions,” Prof. Belleh said. “The law defines various processes through which public procurements are made and concessions are awarded. The role of the PPCC is to ensure that those procedures are followed to ensure transparency, accountability, and value-for-money.

“The role of PPCC in the concession granting process is limited. Beyond ensuring that the PPCC processes as defined in the law and derivative regulations are followed, the PPCC’s role is one of complaints review and administrative adjudication only if there is a protest to the PPCC by an aggrieved party.”

The full text of Prof. Belleh’s remarks to the Task Force is published on pages 6 and 11 of today’s edition.

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