Commerce and Industry Minister, Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh, has in a sharp reaction described as “Grossly baseless, false and unfounded” assertions by former Deputy Commerce Minister for Small Business, Jamima Wolokollie, that the US$2 million alloted to small businesses under the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) was misused.
At a press conference on July 8 in Monrovia, Minister Tarpeh said the accusation by the former Minister is nothing but a product of a ‘depraved mind of a functional illiterate.’
“For the record, the loan program is administered, managed and operated by the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI). The Ministry only provides strategic oversight and guidance as a sector Ministry,” Minister Tarpah indicated.
Displaying the bank’s documents dated July 3, 2020, a copy of which is in possession of the Daily Observer, Minister Tarpeh said Ms. Wolokollie maliciously twisted the facts to tarnish his good name and the reputation of the Commerce Ministry.
It can be recalled that in December 2018, President George M. Weah formally launched the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) with the Government of Liberia contributing an initial amount of US$1 million.
The LBDI committed US$2 million to the project, thus bringing the program to total US$3 million, but the bank paid or disbursed the first US$1 million.
“Ms. Wolokollie claims that she knows nothing about the SBPDF Account and the financial activities of the project because it was not handled by her office. This is a blatant lie because Wolokollie is one of the A signatories to the account,” said Minister Tarpeh.
According to Minister Tarpeh, the LBDI US$1 million of its commitment which is a particular Account created by the LBDI, is controlled directly by the bank without an outsider of the bank.
“In other words, the LBDI’s contribution is not in the SBPDB Account opened by the Commerce Ministry, but is available to the loan program. The amount is, however, reflected in the total loan resources available under this program. As of July 3, 2020, the account had a credit balance of US$957,582.34,” Minister Tarpeh said.
According to Minister Tarpeh, there are two check payment transactions over this account since its opening, and Ms. Wolikollie authorized the first payment of US$33,216.00 for training she “reportedly conducted.”
Meanwhile, Madam Wolokollie, appearing on a local radio, alleged that there are no records including borrowers, addresses, loan amounts, interest rates, tenure, and maturity, but Commerce Minister Tarpeh described her allegations as “barefaced fabrication, unfounded and untrue.”
He said Ms. Wolokollie also authorized the payment of US$8,380.80 to cover the cost of advertisements and associated activities that she (Wolokollie) said were needed to support the SBPDF.
“How can she say she knew nothing about the account when she signed the checks drawn on the account? Documents marked exhibits A, B, C, and D.” Minister Tarpeh said.
According to Minister Tarpeh, to guide the administration, management and operation of the loan program, MOCI and LBDI entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), thereby ensuring that all loan applications are addressed and delivered to LBDI.
“Credit decisions are made solely by the bank, following appropriate scrutiny using its own professional standards. The Ministry plays no role in the process. The bank makes semi-annual reports to the ministry covering the activities of the program for each reporting period,” Minister Tarpeh said.
He continued: “the report, among other things, indicates the name and address of each borrower, amount borrowed, interest rate, number of years for which the loan payment is made per period and when the loan must be repaid.”
According to Minister Tarpeh, one of such reports was made on November 20, 2019, and a copy was sent to Deputy Minister Wolokollie for her appropriate action which is the document marked “exhibit E.”
Minister Tarpeh said as of March 31, 2020, the total loans extended amounted to US$533,317.66. He said the amount includes loans made in Liberian dollars (L$82,591,290.00) and loans disbursed in United States dollars (US$100,000 and fourteen (14) persons received these loans.