-GAC cites mismanagement and irregularities
Nimba County– In the town of Gbahn, county officials approved $30,000 from the Nimba County Social Development Fund (CSDF) in 2012 to build a four-bedroom guest house to generate revenue for the town, a five-minute drive from Ganta. The guesthouse was completed in 2014 but, four years later, the town has not generated a dime.
The guest house is surrounded by overgrown grass. There are no beds, signage, curtains and other furnishings to welcome guests. The well that was built with CSDF money has dried up and is of no use to the town’s 700 residents. The building has been locked for most of the last four years.
The guesthouse was one of the several projects approved during the Nimba County Council Sitting in April 2012. The projects, budgeted at $413,436.13, included two other guest houses, one in Bunidin and the other in Duo; and the construction of the Bololewee and Lugbaye elementary schools. Those projects were completed during 2014-2016.
Nimba County’s CSDF has also been marred with financial mismanagement and irregularities, according to a report by the General Audit Commission (GAC), covering fiscal years 2011/2012 and 2012/2013.
According to the GAC, the county failed to follow rules governing the CSDF and the Public Procurement Concessions Commission (PPCC) for expenditures totaling $5,024, and 295.35. The GAC said the county awarded a $260,000 contract for the renovation of the Saniquelle Sports Stadium to Jungle Water Group Investment without providing evidence of a competitive bidding process.
“We observed that the chairman of the Nimba County sports steering committee was the owner of the company,” the GAC said, referring to Floyd S. Tomah, who owns Jackie’s Hotel in Ganta and Saniquellie and other businesses. The stadium is one of the unfinished CSDF projects in the county. The renovation included a space to host players during the county meet, but that has not been done.
In an interview over the weekend, Tomah said the stadium is almost complete. The unfinished works include landscaping and fencing the stadium, he said.
“The dressing room, bathroom and others have been completed but additional work was required to be done on the stadium,” he said.
Tomah said he could not provide further details on the stadium project.
School projects and bridge show some impact
James Gatei, development chair of Gbahn, said citizens are disappointed that the county spent money on a guest house that is of no value to the community.
He wants the county to furnish the guesthouse and make the necessary repairs, so the facility can benefit the community. He said $30,000 was budgeted for the building, but the county spent $26,000 on the building.
“Look, we can still make money from this facility if is completed,” Gatei said. “We want the balance US$4,000 to revamp the facility.”
Nohn Flomo, Gbahn’s town chief, said the town has not been able to market the guest house because of the lack of sheets, beds, windows and other furnishings.
There are a few CSDF projects that are having an impact on citizens, however. For example, children in Blololewee, the Nimba County town bordering Guinea, now have their own school. Before the new school was built, the Blololewee Elementary School students met in a two-bedroom mud house. The new school, which has an enrollment of 162 students, includes six classrooms and office space.
The county spent $32,000 to build the school in a town where many of the 500 residents are farmers. Mary Menkor, who has lived in Blololewee before the civil war began in 1989, has two grandchildren at the school.
“We are happy for the school because our children have a real school,” she said. “Government needs to help us with copy books for the children. I don’t have anywhere to take money to buy books and uniform.”
Before the new school, parents worried about the future of their children because of the condition of the mud house school, with palm thatch roof.
“We no longer worry about place for our children to go to school,’’ she said.
At Zolowee Elementary School, enrollment increased from 127 to 175 because of the expansion, said Principal Joseph Souh. Before the expansion, children were turned away because of the lack of space, Souh said. But the school has another problem — the lack of teachers. The school relies on volunteer teachers. The teaching staff of seven includes four on government payroll and three volunteers.
“The lack of teachers is greatly affecting the school,’’ Souh said.
Citizens of Mahn District in the town of Meimpa no longer have to travel to Ganta to settle disputes. Since 2014, residents have been bringing cases of domestic violence, child support, land disputes and witchcraft to the Commissioner’s Compound, which includes a guest house, a palava hut and an outside bathroom.
But the compound lacks chairs, tables and electricity. The roof leaks during the rainy months. On a recent day in July, the commissioner summoned 19 people from a nearby town after 10 and 11-year-old boys accused them of being in witchcraft.
“I think the center is good for the district because if someone accuses you now, there is easy access to justice,” said a 61-year-old woman who identified herself as YB. “We have an opportunity to resolve issues that could possibly lead to death or serious problems.”
In Saclepea, officials and citizens are happy with the new city hall that houses offices and provides space for community meetings and workshops. The city hall, named in honor of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, cost $75,000. The project was approved in 2012/2013 during the District Council Sitting held in Bahn.
Mayor Jeremiah B. Yangean said the citizens have taken advantage of the building since it was dedicated in 2014.
Before 2015, commercial motorcyclists said they risked their lives traveling on Karn and Din Bridge between Sanniquellie and Blolowee, the town bordering the Guinea border. Motorcyclists said the planks that were put on the bridge were not strong, so they encouraged passengers to walk on the bridge to get on the motorbikes.
“Before the bridge was built, we had difficulty coming this way,” said Mark Johnson, 35, a commercial motorcyclist. “Everyone wants to see the road from Ganta to Sanniquellie built now. The road is cut off during the rainy season, thereby causing increment in transportation fares for the people.”
MFDP delays impacts development
In addition to the $200,000, Nimba County gets from the government every budget year, the county also receives money from ArcelorMittal’s mining operations. Since 2007, Nimba County received an annual allotment of $1.5 million under the CSDF from ArcelorMittal. The mining company decreased its allotment in 2015 because of the Ebola crisis and the drop in iron ore prices.
ArcelorMittal’s annual allotment dropped to $750,000, according to Peterson G. N. Walker, chair of the county’s Project Management Committee (PMC). In the 2018/2019 budget, the county is expected to receive $435,000, but it is not clear how much of that money includes allotment from ArcelorMittal, Walker said.
Walker said the county may receive $2 million this budget year because the Ministry of Finance Development and Planning (MFDP) owes the county arrears on the CSDF, dating back to 2016.
Walker, who served as comptroller before he became PMC chair in 2015, said the last county council sitting was in 2016. The county did not have County Council Sitting in 2013 and 2014, but did have one in 2015 and 2016.
Some of the projects were completed in 2014, 2015, 2016 and others are stalled due to lack of resources. Citizens and officials say they’ve had problems undertaking and completing CSDF projects because of delays in receiving the funds from MFDP.
For example, during the 2012 county council sitting, the county was earmarked to receive $3.5 million for development, but the county only received $2.6 million from MFDP. It was some of that money that was used to build the three guesthouses, the Saclepea City Hall, expand the Zolowee Public School, build two elementary schools, one in Gbondin and the other Blololewee; the commissioner’s compound in Meimpa; and the Karn and Din bridge between Saniquellie and Blololewee, the town bordering the Guinea border, among others.
Nimba County Representative Roger Dumah (District 7, Unity Party), who was elected in 2017, said there have been a lot of problems with the CSDF, ranging from mismanagement to delays in transmitting money from the government. Some of the projects, he said, are not impacting the communities because citizens were not involved in the planning process.
“The contribution of our people in development is very cardinal,” Dumah said, referring to the development projects. “It’s good for the people to identify their own projects within the various districts instead of the officials making decision for them during the county council sitting.”
Rep. Dumah said he will push the county legislative caucus to give citizens greater say in the selection of projects and the implementation. He plans to hold elections for a district council that will begin identifying projects based on the needs of the people.
“The various communities have to identify their own project before any funding can be provided,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Staff Writer Alvin Worzi reported this story with support from the Center for Accountability and Transparency International (CENTAL) under a project aimed at engaging citizens, the media and government stakeholders on the national budget and County and Social Development Fund.