— House’s PAC Committee Resolved to Further Scrutinize to Complain to African Development Bank
A preliminary investigation launched by the Public Account & Expenditure Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives has revealed “financial discrepancies” in the ongoing US$54.4 million Agriculture Projects under the implementation of the Smallholders Agriculture Productivity Enhancement and Commercial Projects (SAPEC) within the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
The 5-year agricultural project, funded by the African Development Bank, in the tune of US$54.4 million, is under scrutiny by the House PAC Committee following a complaint from Bong County District #3 Representative J. Marvin Cole.
The SAPEC Project ran from 2012 – 2017 with an additional 24 months, so that the entire Project is expected to come to an end in June 2020.
On Thursday, October 3, during a one-day public hearing in the House’s first conference room, members of the House’s PAC Committee separately expressed their disappointments due to discrepancies, underachievement, inefficiencies, administrative malpractices and indicated that there was no ‘value for money’ in the implementation of the SAPEC Project after financial and administrative presentations by the SAPEC Project delegation headed by Mr. William Kawalawu.
The House’s PAC Committee chairman and co-chairman, Reps. Edward Karfiah and Clarence Gahr (respectively) as well as Committee members, Reps. Ben Fofana, Richard Koon, P. Mike Jurry, Isaac Roland, Joseph Papa Kolleh and Beyan Howard, were part of yesterday’s scrutiny meeting with SAPEC, including the Ministries of Agriculture, Public Works and CARI.
The Committee accused SAPEC of failing to directly invest more in the productivity of farmers with the supply of seed rice and cassava, but instead invested more in advisory, capacity building and administrative personnel.
The Committee’s equipment and vehicles procured and purchased were overstated, such as a Land Cruiser vehicle which is thought to have been purchased at the price of US$51,000.
PAC co-chairman Clarence Gahn recommended further investigation into the US$54 million Agriculture Projects, including assessment, on-site (field) investigation and, from its finding, invite the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to do further investigation.
In his closing statement, PAC Chairman Rep. Karfiah said some of the US$54 million intended to upgrade farmers’ productivity across the country are in the form of loans and intended for the country to pay back, while the remaining are grants.
SAPEC Project Coordinator Kawalawu told the House’s PAC Committee that the Project formally began in 2013, but was suspended because of the Ebola Virus Disease and then suspended again for an illegal withdrawal of US$2.1 million from the Project’s funds, which was later refunded.
He explained that the Project resumed in 2015 and, up to September 30, 2019, US$32 million was earmarked for payment, of which US$18 million has been disbursed and the balance yet to be disbursed.
The SAPEC Coordinator said the Project is in 12 of the 15 counties and from 2015 to 2017, SAPEC has given each farmer in the 12 counties a full package of agro-inputs, 10kg of seed rice, 50kg of NPK fertilizer, 25kg of Urea fertilizer for lowland and 25kg seed rice for upland rice farmers and 5 bundles of cassava ‘cuttings’ (sticks), at 50 sticks per bundle.
He said through the Project, roads have been rehabilitated, while 19 students have been supported in universities, amongst others.
Mr. Kawalawu further said through the SAPEC Project, the University of Liberia (UL) laboratory was completed and renovation works at CARI in Bong County are still ongoing, of which about US$103,000 has already be spent.
SAPEC Procurement Director Albert Boimah-Porte, Accounting Officer Bob Fassalt and Engineer Athektan Tamba, were in attendance and participated in the investigation.
CARI’s Paulette Findley expressed her frustration over the delay of renovations, while Public Works Deputy Minister for Technical Services, Claude E. Langley, said the Ministry has not been involved nor has certified any roads construction or renovation since his appointment under the administration of President George M. Weah. His remarks were buttressed by Assistant Minister for Rural Development, Jackie Bernard.
Agriculture Deputy Minister for Planning, Robert Logan, also said since his appointment he was only able to recommend to SAPEC to purchase machines, to have mechanized farms instead of hand-tools and was able to only meet and interface with 12 out of 25 contractors of the SAPEC Projects.