Several businesses in Grand Bassa County, both Liberian-owned and foreign-owned, are experiencing tough economic challenges due to local authorities’ failure to pay them for services rendered through the implementation of County Social Development Fund (CSDF) projects.
Over US$100,000 remain unsettled on the County’s books despite funding provided through the Grand Bassa County Social Development Funds (CSDF). With an eroded capital, businesses now find themselves in acute stress with some nearing collapse as a result of delays to settle them.
The Two Blessed Filling Station has waited for about seven years. Still, there are no signs that it will receive payment any time soon. “Our businesses are at the verge of collapse because County Authorities are yet to pay the thousands of dollars owed to us for services rendered since 2012 to 2015,” Mr. Ansu S. Williams, chief executive officer noted.
Mr. Williams, who is one of the vendors owed by the county, said the county owes his company US$8,125 and continues to delay in paying the money. “I have been pursuing this money seriously for the past three years due to the economic situation and the impact on my business. I even took the leadership of then Superintendent J. Levi Demah to court and they assured the court that they would pay us, which they are yet to do,” Mr. Williams told the Daily Observer.
Mr. Williams said he obtained a contract through a bidding process under the leadership of former Superintendent Etweda A. Cooper to supply fuel, lubricants and gasoline over a period of time but that he is still being owed for the products delivered.
He continued: “My lawyer has also engaged them and sent series of communications. We have not gotten any redress, but continued promises of paying, including promises from current Superintendent Janjay Baikpeh. We have begged the new leadership to pay our money because of the impact on our businesses. I’m sure they don’t want to hear that some of us are no longer into business due to their constant delay to settle us,” Williams said.
According to him, Superintendent Baikpah has also acknowledged that other vendors have complained about the continuous delay of payments. And in spite of existing debts, the County continues to do business and incur further debt with most vendors.
However, despite all the hiccups, Williams remains positive that payment will be made. “We have a good relationship with the new leadership and hope that our monies will be paid.
They can come around and see how things are not working for me. I continue to engage the Bassa Caucus and the entire county leadership to find way to pay me. We keep encouraging them to even pay some, if not all at once,” Williams added.
According to H. Uriah Bryant, Comptroller for the county’s Project Management Committee (PMC), some of the businesses (vendors) owed include Fair Due Construction Company, Liberia Hardware Building Materials Incorporated, Fair Play Construction Company, Doyan Security Service, Mama & Son Spare Part and Two Blessed Filling Station.
The CSDF is a combination of the funds some counties receive from the concessionaires operating in their area, as well as the $200,000 earmarked by the Government of Liberia to each of the 15 counties for development projects. Grand Bassa County is expected to receive a little over US$700,000 every year.
For instance, Grand Bassa benefits from the payments made by ArcelorMittal in compliance with the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA). These funds are paid to government by companies and remitted to the various counties by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).
The counties then decide on how to use the funds. This year, according to Bryant, the PMC Comptroller, the county has received US$350,000 from national government as of May 2019.
Christopher Mendi-Masa, chief executive officer of Mama & Son and one of the vendors owed by the county, said the continuous delay by the local authority to settle its debts is having serious impact on the growth of his business. Mama & Son is one of the top businesses in Grand Bassa County dealing in spare parts for vehicles and generators or machines.
“The county owes us a little over US$14,000. We have made some efforts in ensuring that my money is paid, but the leadership keeps promising us of paying. Again, the private sector or businesses are the supporting arm of the government and we have to pray that government gets money to pay us,” Mr. Mendi-Masa said.
According to him, in spite of the debts owed Mama & Son, the company continues to do business with the county leadership. “We started this venture since 2013-2014 and it continues to present. We have to keep working together until things can improve. We just supplied spare parts to the county last week, because of the partnership,” he added.
Liberia Hardware Building Material Incorporated, one of the leaders in general building materials, including plumbing, roofing, steel and electrical materials said the county owes the company over US$20,000. A source told the Daily Observer that the corporation has stopped doing business with local authority due to continued delays in settling the debts.
But the County is not in denial of the situation. PMC Comptroller Bryant says the county has some arrears for vendors, which dates as far behind as 2012 thru 2015, prior to the coming of the current leadership of the PMC. “We actually met over US$100,000 worth of debt to vendors, which was due to some of the projects initiated including road projects, and infrastructure,” Mr. Bryant said.
Mr. Bryant said the government has remitted US$350,000 for the fiscal year, some of which was used to settle debts and the balance is now used to initiate new projects. “We actually met lots of arrears and some are still unsettled, which the county is trying to pay. During our first term, all of the programs and projects initiated were all paid for, therefore only the ones our predecessors owed,” Mr. Bryant said.
“We will continue to be indebted to vendors, because every year, the county initiates different programs and projects. For instance, the county is interested in football and kickball games as a priority during the county meet, which comes in force every year,” he said.
“This is to the attention of the leadership of the caucus and the caucus has been making sure that these debts are paid. We were told to verify during the 2018 county sitting, which the leadership has completed and made available to the caucus. This is intended to give rise to a decision for payment,” he said.
According to him, some of the companies continue to do business with the county, in spite of the delays to settle their payments, while some have withdrawn from the contract arrangements.
He said the new leadership has not committed the county to new debts, but the previous debts continue to be a challenge for the current leadership.
Resolving this situation is important if local businesses must be strengthened and the relationship between the county and business entities salvaged.