— As Prof. Tarpeh shifts blame on LISGIS
Some members of the Liberian Senate have rebuked the former Minister of Commerce and Industry, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, for the slow distribution of food items funded by the government COVID-19 Household Food Support Program.
The COHFSP program is a US$30 million food support initiative by the government, comprising the cost of the food basket comprising rice, beans, and vegetable oil, as well as costs of storing, transporting, and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted through this program.
Prof. Tarpeh, who was recently transferred from Minister of Commerce and Industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was heavily criticized on Wednesday during a senate appearance to provide updates on the food distribution has the head of the COHFSP Steering Committee.
The senators, including Varney Sherman and Abe Darius Dillon, of Grand Cape Mount and Montserrado Counties, respectively, expressed disappointment in the failure in Prof. Tarpeh and his committee in the ability to fast-track the food distributions process.
Sen. Sherman, in a strong-worded remark, accused the former Commerce and Industry Minister of using flimsy excuses as a means of covering up his team’s poor performance that is hurting the most vulnerable Liberians who need the food support.
“We gave you US$25 million, plus World Bank US$5 for the program and yet, everything you are saying is on obstacles. I am [totally] disappointed in your government. It makes us wonder whether our money has been properly spent. I am [also] completely disappointed in the performance of your committee. Our people may be dying but you do not know because you have not been there. We know how bad these roads are, that [is] why we give you the money to solve the problem,” Sen. Sherman said.
Sen. Sherman further lamented that since the start of the food distribution program five months ago, not a single bag of rice or oil has gone to the people of Grand Cape Mount County, especially in such a difficult time.
Sen. Sherman also blasted Prof. Tarpeh for blaming road conditions for the delay in reaching his (Sherman’s) constituents with their just and due benefits.
“What kind of difficulties [did] you have that I did not experience when I toured the county recently? The trucks are traveling on the road, the one you call a bad road. [But] not a single bag of rice has gone to my county, neither oil nor beans. I do not accept your report,” Sen. Sherman said angrily.
In support, Sen. Dillon chided Prof. Tarpeh for submitting a report that lacks detailed explanations on the entire US$14,881,46.00 spent so far on the purchase of food items.
According to Sen. Dillon, the reports also contain integrity issues due to the fact that the World Food Program started the food distribution before signing a memorandum of understanding with the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) for the household enumeration exercise.
“I am disappointed in your committee and the reports you submitted. The report itself is not detailed. It does not provide any financial breakdown of the money spent. Furthermore, WFP started the food distribution on May 23, according to the report, and on June 4 later signed a memorandum of understanding with LISGIS.
“[It is sad] that the WFP, which has been contracted by the government, is contracting government entity to do the work, which they were contracted to do,” Sen. Dillon said. He also claimed that the food distribution is now being used as a “political campaign to win Montserrado” County, which explains why, he noted, none of the other counties has received their distributions.
However, in response to the senators’ outbursts, Prof. Tarpeh blamed LISGIS for the slow pace of the food distribution process. He noted that the slow pace of the food distribution process is due to the failure of LISGIS to adequately perform the enumeration task awarded the institution.
Prof. Tarpeh added that as a result of LISGIS actions, the WFP is experiencing a delay in distribution.
“We have had a serious challenge with the enumeration exercise. The data LISGIS give us, is incomplete. You know, at the start of the program, the steering committee decided to hire the service of LISGIS, which is the government institution responsible for statistics to carry out the enumeration exercise.
“Unfortunately, the challenge of LISGIS was so served that they were not able to comply with the level of work need to accelerate the food distribution process,” Prof. Tarpeh explained yesterday during an appearance at the Senate to provide Update on the program.
Prof. Tarpeh, through a report, informed the Liberian Senators that from the months of May to September, the committee and WFP have fed an estimated 2.5 million people, who mostly live in Montserrado County.
The report from the former Commerce Minister revealed that the 2.5 million people represent only five percent of the total number of households that have received the food out of the country’s population of approximately 5.5 million people.
“I do not intend to shy away from the responsibility, but is it important to inform this august body that the steering committee of the food program is a policy committee to direct it. Its entire operation was consigned to the WFP. At the steering committee, we are not happy with the level of performance but it is due to challenges.
“The level of performance is not at the level we want it. This is the result of numerous difficulties including numerous issues. The quality of the data we got from LISGIS was not enough,” he said.
However, after shifting blame, Prof. Tarpeh added that his committee takes full responsibility for the slow pace of the food distribution process as the report submitted to the senators presents the situation on the ground.
“We take responsibility as a committee for poor performance. But the steering committee is taking important steps to ensure that the challenges are overcome to speed up the process,” he said. “I am not defending the low performance but what I am saying to you is that there are challenges, some of which are man-made, like the long procurement process and natural, including bad road conditions during the rainy season.”
He further explained that due to issue with LISGIS data, the steering committee of the food program has now hired the National Food Support Agency to help with data collection in a bid to fast-track enumeration and food distributions.
Earlier, the Institute for Research and Democracy (IREDD), in a report released last month, disclosed that only 5.5% of the population were said to have received the COVID-19 stimulus food in four months, with a serious reservation of flaws and unreasonable procrastination.
IREDD’s report added that, of the 17 electoral districts in Montserrado County, food had been distributed only in four districts, amounting to 23.5%. IREDD said Liberia has 73 electoral districts and only four districts (just 5.5% of the population) had been served at the time of its report.
“With just four districts served in four months, it will take 12 months to serve communities in Montserrado, and 54 months (4 and a half years) to complete distribution in Liberia at the current pace,” the IREDD’s report noted.