The controversy surrounding the misapplication of US$138,402 for Botota Magisterial Court, in Bong County construction project that involves the Judicial Branch of Government and the Semoh Group of Companies, a contracting entity has now reached Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice for determination.
Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court ‘C’ last Thursday heard arguments into the matter and later reserved his judgment indefinitely.
The US$138,402 was donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to the judiciary for the courthouse construction project in Bong County.
The judiciary claimed that in November 2015, it executed a construction contract agreement for the construction of the Botota Magisterial Court in the amount of US$138,402 with Semoh Group of Companies, but before the work could start US$124,402 was already paid to Semoh.
Semoh Group of Companies is reportedly owned by Moseray Momoh, the deputy managing director for administration at the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC).
The parties agreed to complete the construction work within 18 months following its signing in 2015, but could not be completed due to what Momoh described as intervening factors.
But, the judiciary is claiming that Semoh should payback US$48,000 of the US$124,402 that was given to him for the remaining work that he is yet to do.
That decision for Semoh to restitute US$48,000 was reached by Magistrate Kennedy Peabody of the Monrovia City Court where the matter was first heard after the Court charged Momo Monseray and his accomplice (one James P. Mator) with misapplication of entrusted property.
Magistrate Peabody claimed that his action was based on a report from the Arbitration Board set-up by the court with the agreement of both Momoh and the judiciary that awarded the US$48,000.
The Peabody judgment was rejected by Momoh’s lawyer, Amara Sheriff on grounds that the report excluded the remaining amount of US$14,000 that the parties (Judiciary and Semoh) agreed to be a retention fee, which should have been given to Semoh upon the completion of the contract.
It was that judgment Cllr. Sheriff appealed against before Criminal Court ‘C’ whose judgment is reserved indefinitely.
Magistrate Peabody’s judgment demanded that Momoh and Mator should be made to restitute US$48,000 without any mention of the balance of US$14,000 as retention fee that was still with the judiciary.
The board then included a representative of the Ministry of Public Works through its designated engineer to serve as the chair that came out with the recommendation after conducting an assessment of the work done on the Botota Magisterial Court by the company said to be owned by Momoh Monseray.
But the question that lawyers at the judicial are asking was, why did they have to pay 89.8 percent of the contract money to Semoh when the company had not started the work?
Another issue raised by legal experts was that the 89.8 percent of the money was paid to Semoh, because someone was interested in a kickback which made the judiciary to hurriedly pay most of the money.
Some of them argued that contractors are usually paid in phases which did not happen in the case of the Botota Magisterial Court.
At Thursday’s argument, Sheriff claimed that since the judiciary said Semoh failed to carry-out the project as per the schedule, and instead of filing cancellation proceedings against Semoh Group of Companies, now the defendant, the judiciary instituted a criminal action against Momoh and Mator.
Besides, Sheriff claimed that Momoh and Mator were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison upon the orders of Magistrate Peabody, but were later released after they posted a bail and were subsequently compelled to make a commitment that if they failed to show-up during the trial, Sheriff would be arrested.
Cllr. Sheriff also argued that Momoh and Mator in their natural capacities did not have any private contract with the judiciary, and thereby asked Judge Blamo Dixon to reverse Magistrate Peabody’s judgment.
Further, Momoh’s lawyer argued that despite the fact that Magistrate Peabody constituted the arbitration board that comprised of representatives of the Judiciary, Semoh Group of Companies and the Ministry of Public Works through its designated engineer, said “only one party which is the chairman from the ministry conducted the assessment that arrived at the US$48,000 without any deduction of the retention fees of US$14, 000.”
According to Cllr. Sheriff, members of the arbitration board should have jointly worked together to prepare the report and subsequently given an award. “In the instant case,” Sheriff argued, “it is only the chairman that prepared the report and signed said report without the input of the other members, the judiciary and Semoh.”
Cllr. Sheriff also argued that during the assessment the chairman of the board was informed about furniture and fixtures purchased and intended to be used for the construction project and were in the warehouse far away from the project’s site.
“But the chairman refused to go and assess the furniture and fixtures and matched the cost against the total cost of the work undone,” Cllr. Sheriff further said.
“Magistrate Peabody committed reversible error when he declined to order the arbitration board to proceed to Botota Magisterial Court to assess and analyze the cost of the furniture and fixtures so that the cost amount would be deducted from the US$48,000 aside from the retention fee of US$14,000,” he said.
In counter-argument, the judiciary’s lawyer asked Judge Dixon to confirm the board of arbitration’s report as was similarly endorsed by Magistrate Peabody.