Sherriff’s Blunder Stalls USAID US$4.6M Damages Hearing

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A US$4.6 million damages lawsuit for breach of contract, filed against the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Winrock International, could not take place again yesterday after it was discovered that the sheriff (Court officer) of the Commercial Court did not serve the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) a copy of the complaint levied against the two US-based entities.

The allegation was brought against the defendants by the Semoh Group of Companies, a local construction firm.

The Ministry serves as a liaison between the court and the two US-based institutions.

The case was first suspended when the ministry’s lawyers and those of the two US entities failed to appear in court.

The dramatic event started yesterday when both lawyers of the MOFA and Semoh Group of Companies appeared in anticipation of a hearing due to a communication from Judge Chan-Chan A. Paegar.

When the lawyers appeared, a lawyer from the ministry informed the court that they were not served a copy of Semah’s complaint.

To establish the truthfulness of the ministry’s claim, Judge Paegar launched an investigation in the matter.

It was during the investigation that it was established the sheriff never served the ministry with a copy of the complaint.

When the sheriffs were asked why they did not serve the ministry, one of them secretly told Judge Paegar that he left the document in the office of the Chief of Protocol at the ministry.

Besides, there was nothing in the court’s file to show that the document was served on the ministry.

Thereafter, Judge Paegar suspended yesterday’s hearing and advised that the process be restarted.

In their lawsuit, Semoh Group of Companies pleaded with the court to order the defendants to pay US$379,043.37 as specific damages, which they claimed represents the initial contract price and an additional amount of US$4,500,000 as general damages for the psychological effect and disparagement of the defendants’ conduct and injury caused them.

The court records alleged that on May 1, 2014, Winrock International, an American run non-profit organization obtained a contract from USAID for the construction of the Kwendin Biomass Electricity Pilot Project in Nimba County to the tone of US$296,535.56 to provide electricity.

They further alleged that on July 18, the same year, seven modifications to the original contract were initiated and effected with an additional cost of US$82,575.82, thereby increasing the contact value to US$379,043.37.

Fortunately, the records claimed, Winrock International sub-contracted the project to Semoh Group of Companies.

The duration of the contract, according to the document, was from May 2014 to September 2014, but Semoh claimed that due to the Ebola crisis in the country, they extended the contract to October 2014.

They also claimed Winrock International advised them that before they could be qualified for the contract, they should obtain an overdraft facility of US$150,000 which they obtained from Afriland First Bank in Monrovia.

They said to implement the contract they obtained a performance surety bond from the Africa Insurance Company of Liberia in the amount of US$59,307.13.

They further paid an amount of US$97,000 to the All Power Labs of USA for three gasifiers units in the contract, and an additional US$30,000 payment against the US$78,775 for poles and cables from Richmond Company in Ghana.

But to their surprise, USAID said Winrock International had breached the contractual agreement and so they re-advertised it. It also gave the construction of the Kwendin Biomass Project to another company in violation of the contractual agreement between the two entities.

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