–Searches office for incriminating documents
The Managing Director of the National Housing Authority (NHA), Duannah Siryon, on Friday, November 23, questioned intensively by three officers from the National Security Agency (NSA) after a leaked tape revealed that he solicited a bribe from a representative of Gelpaz Liberia Construction, owned by a Burkinabé magnate.
Gelpaz Liberia has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build 100 affordable homes as a pilot project to be followed by additional 400. The total number of housing units in the project is 50,000, according to an NHA worker who spoke to the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity.
On the questioning of MD Siryon, the employee informed the Daily Observer that Mr. Siryon was picked up from his NHA office last Friday afternoon after the three security officers had spent at least one or more hours in his office, collecting data and computer printouts that could be used against Siryon in court.
Workers told the Observer that their boss was arrested, along with one of his principal deputies, though they stopped short of disclosing the alleged deputy’s name. Both were interrogated by state security at the LNP headquarters concerning a voice clip that sounded like Director Siryon’s.
It is understood that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is working with the NSA on the case.
Siryon’s working and communication equipment, notably his computer and mobile phone, according to sources, was extensively examined by the officers before he was taken away. The recording at the center of this saga got in the public domain late Thursday evening.
In a voice believed to be that of the NHA MD, Siryon is heard soliciting bribes from a representative of GELPAZ Liberia, the construction firm that is expected to launch the construction of its share of 50 affordable units on December 7.
The voice that appeared to be that of Managing Director Siryon was heard requesting kickbacks in the tone of US$160,000 for NHA, US$100,000 for the Justice Minister, US$100,000 for Nathaniel McGill in President George Weah’s office and US$100,000 for the Finance Minister before the contract could be consummated.
According to one Augustus (Gus) Weah, vice president of GELPAZ Liberia, he said during the negotiation with Siryon he told the NHA director that GELPAZ Liberia did not have that amount of money on hand. However, Gus said he made a transfer of US$80,000 via Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to him, to be shared with Minister McGill, his team and the NHA.
“After that the US$80,000 was presented to Duannah Siryon, and he told me, ‘I’ll give you US$20,000 to keep and I’ll take the US$60,000 to McGill to disburse,’” Weah is heard saying in the leaked audio recording. Weah further alleged that the NHA Managing Director requested and was offered a percentage in the construction, but pleaded that such would be kept secret from his principal deputies.
The stealing was exposed when Augustus Weah (President Weah’s cousin) claimed Siryon had earlier accused him of receiving US$400,000 for President Weah and other members of the Executive branch for the consummation of the MOU in order for GELPAZ Liberia to start construction work. Gus had said he was confronted about the money by the President via a WhatsApp message when he was in Paris, France, in September.
However, many who had felt that top government officials taking or demanding bribes was a phenomenon of the past have to reconsider, as officials of the infant CDC administration have also started trending along a similar path.
The infamous “You eat, I eat” tape that involved former Montserrado District #16 representative Edward S. Forh, who in 2013 was recorded by then Montserrado County Superintendent Grace-Tee Kpan for his alleged request for a portion of the County Development Fund, shocked the nation.
Another leaked tape involved former Minister of Defense, Brownie Samukai, who was caught gossiping about his boss, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In the case of Siryon, It appeared that the exercise was a sting operation since the audio recording was made from the beginning of the case, an insider said, adding that Siryon had no idea that he was being recorded.
“It was pure greediness,” another NHA worker said. “Why did he (Siryon) choose to consume so much of the money since it is reported that he gave two of his deputies US$5,000 each.”
Also on Friday afternoon, several NHA employees held an emergency meeting and concluded that the NHA Management should be able to pay their three months’ arrears. The employees threatened to make their demands on Monday, November 26.
Many of the workers told the Daily Observer that they are afraid that President Weah would see Mr. Siryon’s action as a disappointment and would replace him. “You know we have the L$16 billion case behind us and see what you have done at the NHA…” President Weah was reported to have commented in disappointment when he held a meeting with NHA top management at his Foreign Affairs office.
It may be recalled that Mr. Siryon, in a recent statement, called on Liberian government officials to leave positive legacies as they work to rebuild the country. But, an NHA worker said, by illegally consuming US$82K in a pro-poor economy, he has shown that he is a hypocrite who calls for transparency when his official behavior proved otherwise.
Another employee said Mr. Siryon has lost credibility among his employees and his deputies and, therefore, President George Weah should save the National Housing Authority from crumbling by re-assigning Mr. Siryon if he (the president) still believes that Mr. Siryon has something positive to offer his administration.
Since he resumed the position in March 2018, Siryon initiated a clean-up campaign of the Executive Mansion grounds and got all the Small & Medium Size Enterprises, of which the NHA is a part, to carry out a major clean-up.
President Weah participated in the exercise, brushing a large body of weeds in the process. He also initiated the painting of the NHA building, secured a couple of vehicles for the NHA and also introduced electronic time-keeping to ensure effectiveness and control of the workers. According to some of the workers, Siryon has promised to bring several computers and has negotiated with the STARZ Computer School to send some NHA employees there to improve their capacity.
As Daily Observer reporters cruised around the NHA headquarters located at the Executive Mansion grounds, several women expressed disgust at what has happened to their Managing Director, while others ran around for newspapers that had carried the story on Friday, because Siryon’s undoing could lead to their downfall as well. Many, however, wondered why he could be so gullible as to succumb so easily, allowing greed to destroy himself.