USAID Hinders Court Hearing in US$4.8M Damages

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In the absence of lawyers representing both the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Winrock International from the Commercial Court yesterday was enough for Judge Chan-Chan A. Paegar to suspend his scheduled hearing into allegation of US$4.8 million damages for breach of contract.

The allegation was brought against the two US entities by the Semoh Group of Companies; a local construction firm.

Immediately after waiting for hours and could not see any representatives of USAID and Winrock, Judge Paegar, who is one of the three judges presiding over the court openly said, “We don’t know why the defendants did not appear in court, because, they received and approved our communication for their appearance, but chose not to attend the hearing.”

He said the defendants did not give any excuse about their failure not to attend yesterday’s deliberation, which was intended for the parties to appear in court to decide if the trial should go ahead.

“We did not receive any communication asking for an extension of the matter, “Judge Paegar said in total disbelief and shocked his head over the defendants’ failure to attend the hearing.

Besides, Jude Paegar told the court that they communicated with the Ministry of Foreign Affair informing them about the case against the US agencies, but according to him, the court did not know whether or not the ministry communicated with the defendants.

“The ministry had not informed us whether or not they have informed the defendants about the case before the court,” Judge Paegar disclosed, adding, “We have the legal authority to ensure that people or institution are brought under the jurisdiction of this court.”

Meanwhile, Judge Paegar has postponed the hearing to an unspecified date. He did not institute any penalty or charge against the defendants for their failure to appear before the court.

“For fair play and transparent justice, we are going to postpone the case and issue another communication to USAID and Winrock International to have them brought under the jurisdiction of this court, and if they again refuse to appear before us, we are going to use the law and decide the matter,” Judge Paegar warned.

His action was supported by lawyer representing Semoh Group of Companies, who had earlier pleaded with the judge to postpone yesterday’s proceedings and issue another communication to that effect.

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

The court records alleged that on May 1, 2014, Winrock International; an American runs 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 cents to provide electricity to the people in that area.

They further alleged that on July 18, the same year, seven modifications to the original contract was 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 can 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.

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

They also sent two of their staff to Ghana to finalize arrangement for the procurement of poles and cables outside of the terms and condition of the contract. But up to present, members of their staff were waiting in Ghana for the final arrangement of payment by Winrock International and USAID so that they can bring the poles and cables into the country.

The court records said, on October 1, 2014, they received a stop order from Sindy Lungstin, senior procurement manager of Winrock International and that on February 2 and 26 of 2015; they received two emails from USAID for a joint visit to the project site in Kwendin, Lower Nimba County.

The USAID delegation was headed by Hillary Marshall and Lisa Velazquez, who both visited the companies’ respective offices.

During their visit, the two female officials said they submitted their bill of quantity and additional cost to USAID.

But to their surprised, 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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