An agreement by the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to compensate the representatives of the late George T. Jackson and the late Thomas Wilson a staggering amount of USD300,000 for 1.48 acres of land in Paynesville, has sent the court of public opinion in a rage, especially following recent claims by the LEC’s newest and youngest managing director, Foday Soko Sackor, that the corporation loses approximately one-third of its revenue every month to illegal connections.
While many are crying foul – even flagrant corruption – the LEC management remains unyielding that the procedure, up to and including the transaction, was transparent; that they made the right move and have nothing to hide.
The property in question is the LEC sub-station located on Lots #7 and 7A, at Joe Bar, Paynesville City. Many people know the substation as a landmark in the municipality for well over forty years, and find it rather strange that the LEC would occupy said property for so long without proper ownership.
Records in the possession of the Daily Observer suggest that among a total of 15 sub-stations belonging to LEC by “warranty deed”, three of those properties are located in the Paynesville municipality. Two of the 3 Paynesville properties were obtained in the year 1974 from Gertrude E. Garnett (10 lots) and O.K. Davies (1 lot). Given the time frame, it is plausible that the Joe Bar sub-station would be located on one of these properties, though it is not clear which, if either at all. The third property was obtained from Juwelsa Gob and Maina Kromah in 1987.
In a nutshell, according to Mr. Adolphus Scott, LEC’s External Relations and Corporate Coordinator, the matter has been in court for over a year and a half – predating Sackor’s appointment – and that due to pressure to move forward with the LEC distribution projects that were stalled because of the land dispute, the previous management saw the need to act, based on a comprehensive investigation it conducted as well as advice from the Ministry of Justice.
The report from the investigation, produced in 2016 by the previous management team of LEC, on which Joe Maya served as deputy managing director, “substantiated the claimants’ ownership of the land,” and that, “Foday came in pushing for eminent domain, but could not execute because the matter was in court, and time was running out,” Scott told the Daily Observer in an interview yesterday.
“The issue predates the arrival of Mr. Foday Soko Sackor, the current managing director of the LEC,” Scott explained. “Our work on the Liberia Accelerated Electricity Expansion Project, otherwise known as LACEEP, was affected because we could not continue with our project that would enable us to keep with the official timeline as it was arranged with the World Bank.”
He said the LACEEP mandate is to provide for the transmission and distribution of electricity from the Mt. Coffee Hydro Plant to the LEC’s substations located on Bushrod Island and at the Paynesville Joe Bar.
Contractors hired by the LEC for the LACEEP could not carry out their job, due to no fault of their own, Scott explained, and the LEC was forced to pay out thousands of US dollars, which affected the entity’s progress. Thus, when Mr. Sackor took over in January 2017, the LEC began to move more robustly with the project and it became necessary to find an amicable solution to the land matter, once and for all.
“An investigation was initiated and results of it were sent to the Ministry of Justice, and draft copies and final reports were also sent to the Land and Housing Development of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, for their review and advice,” Scott said.
A January 18, 2017 letter addressed to the LEC’s Legal Counsel, Cllr. Mayalan Keita-Brown, by Ministry of Justice, under the signature of the Minister and Attorney General, Cllr. Frederick D. Cherue, after a review of the matter, among other things, said based on representations during the investigations, which included representatives of the late George T. Jackson and Thomas Wilson, “It will be prudent for the management of the LEC to enter into discussions with Mr. Freeman and others with the view to determine whether or not they have valid claim to the land, and thereafter purchase property. Meanwhile, the management of LEC should impress upon Mr. Freeman and others that construction works at the substation proceed while these discussions are held so that LEC does not miss out on this important investment.”
For clarity, Mr. Freeman is the living representative of the late Geroge T. Jackson and Thomas Wilson.
The investment in question, according to Scott, is a dual project comprising the LACEEP, funded by the World Bank and another project funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), with a total value of US$540 million. Both projects converge at the disputed property – the LEC substation in Paynesville (Joe Bar), from where distribution of electricity would be implemented in two different directions. Thus, a team of World Bank contractors were already in the country to carry out the works.
The LACEEP component, when completed, is expected to feed “some 30,000 customers along the Kakata corridor up to Weala,” Scott explained, “while the AfDB component will feed approximately 20,000 customers along the corridor leading to the Roberts International Airport (RIA).”
Scott told the Daily Observer that, as a result of the agreement, which he said gained support from the Ministry of Justice, the LEC managed to get the Jackson and Wilson families to accept US$300,000 as the total cost of the land, instead of the US$650,000 that the families originally demanded.
He said after the successful conclusion of the cost arrangement, the LEC was able to make a partial payment of US$200,000, through the Jones & Jones Firm, legal counsel for the George T. Jackson Estate on March 7, 2017, confirmed by a receipt from Jones & Jones.
The Jones & Jones law firm receipt shows a payment of US$200,000, which represents “partial payment for the purchase of two (2) lots of land already occupied by the LEC for more than two (2) decades and an additional two point three (2.3) lots, making a total of one point three (1.3) acres of land for the total value of US$300,000. And the balance payment of US$100,000 to be paid within seven (7) working days, as of the date of this payment.”
Scott told the Daily Observer that, “contrary to rumors and misinformation, the land issue was done authentically with relevant members, including the Ministry of Justice that gave the LEC positive advice.
‘A management issue’
The Daily Observer contacted two key members of the LEC board of directors, including its chairman, Ian Yhap, who declined to comment on the matter, “because it is a management issue, so let the management handle it,” he said. “There have been too many accusations going around, so it would be important for the management to have a chance to respond.” When asked whether the board was informed beforehand about the negotiations, Yap again returned the question to the LEC management. “Let the management be the one to tell you whether the board was informed or not,” he said.
The other person, representing a government agency that has a statutory seat on LEC board, when contacted, told the Daily Observer that he was “not aware” of the LEC substation land negotiation. According to him, the board meetings he attended did not discuss the matter, nor did any of his proxies report on it from board meetings he himself did not attend.
Scott, however, recalls a board meeting in which “the matter was discussed and the board was quite clear on purchase of this land.”
He noted that the LEC management under Sackor did well to purchase the land hosting the Joe Bar substation with the amount of US$300,000.
“It is a prime valued property and it is worth the cost that we agreed to pay of which we have made a partial payment of US$200, 000,” Scott said. He explained further that the whole arrangement involved LEC’s Legal Department, Finance Department, Audit Department and the MD’s Office.
“There is not one drop of irregularity or any sinister motive involved in the purchase of the land by the LEC. Let me make it clear that the Joe Bar sub-station is now owned by the Liberian government forever.”
He concluded that the LEC management has nothing to hide in the purchase of the land and welcomes any official investigation or audit to confirm its position in the matter.