— Is Liberia being robbed?
Ruling party stalwart, Montserrado County Senator Saah Hardy Joseph, has condemned the decision of the CDC-led government to pay the WFP US$9 as service fees to began the distribution of food as enshrined in President George Weah COVID-19 stimulus package designed for the Liberian people.
Such rare reprobation of the ruling party and its standard bearer by Sen. Joseph, who is Chairman on Executive-a position that makes him the third most powerful man in the Senate, comes as a time the country is hugely dependent on international goodwill and loans for COVID-19 protectives health equipment and other resources to fight the virus.
Such a condition, according to political pundits, may have compelled Sen. Joseph to come out to question the rationale behind the government’s decision when it is struggling to raise funds to speed up COVID-19 testing — a process that takes about three days before results are made available.
Over two months ago, the Government of Liberia promised the provision of a stimulus package as a way of easing the enormous economic burdens precipitated by the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease.
However, it came as a shock to many people including Sen. Joseph when the government, a fortnight ago, stated that it was finally prepared for the food distribution after reaching an agreement with the WFP to give it US$9 million to be used as an administrative cost out of the US$30 million earmarked for the project.
The shocking revelation that has left many to question the government’s decision is that the amount earmarked for the administrative cost is more than 33 percent of the cost of the entire exercise.
In support of such argument, Sen. Joseph, in a Facebook post early Sunday morning, said such decision “shouldn’t be happening in a poor country like Liberia.”
He deleted the post later that day probably due to pressure from his party.
He described the agreement as unappealing and not meant for a poor country like Liberia as the money being used for the stimulus package is not “free money but a loan that the state will have to repay,” he said.
Expressing his displeasure about the payment, the CDC lawmaker wrote: “Colleagues, WFP’s $9m charge for 21 food distribution is totally unappealing. This should not be allowed to happen in a poor country like ours. This is not free money! It is a loan that we, the people of Liberia, must pay. #COVID19IsReal #StaySafe #SocialDistance #ProPoorMustSucceed.”
Earlier, Commerce Minister and head of the stimulus package distribution committee, Wilson Tarpeh, made the disclosure about the US$9 million compensation to the WFP during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill recently.
Minister Tarpeh explained to the Senate that of the USD$30 million, USD$20 million will go to food cost while USD$9 million will go toward the operational cost. “This is the plan and distribution will begin this weekend. WFP has informed this committee that because of the road condition they will use sea transport to get to the southeast,” he said.
However, many are of the opinion that the recently commenced food distribution initiative is a recipe for massive corruption as no plan was provided as to how the money will be used and the how the distribution exercise will be carried out.
One of the initial critics of the exercise was Montserrado County Senator, Abraham Darius Dillon, who through a Facebook post claimed that there is a dark cloud of corruption hanging over the entire exercise.
But the popular and ever vocal lawmaker was swiftly rebuffed by the government who said his claim was a “diabolical lie” and an attempt by the opposition bloc to derail the progress of the government.
A local newspaper quotes Information Minister, Eugene Nagbe, as saying that the fund would be in the total control of the World Food Program which would spearhead the food distribution.
The Finance Ministry has already instructed Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to move US$25 million from the government’s account to the WFP to begin the implementation of the distribution.
The instruction from the Finance Ministry to the Central Bank was prepared on June 11. It is expected that the transfer of the amount would be made on June 15.
Minister Eugene Nagbe said the government remains focused on rallying and receiving international support to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on the citizens.
“The fact of the matter is that the government has transferred USD25 Million from the GOL Consolidated accounts at the Central Bank of Liberia to the World Food Program to implement the food support program.
“So, all this is a diabolical lie coming from Senator Dillon and other opposition leaders whose nasty politicking knows no bounds even in the wake of a national calamity like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Minister Nagbe also disclosed that the government has requested the World Bank and the WFP to refute the claims of the opposition, which he said are baseless.
Meanwhile, many have since begun criticizing the CDC’s Senator Joseph, terming him as a dishonest man that is only pretending to feel for the Liberian people as he was the main proponent of the hasty passage of the recast budget which some are of the opinion that it was not properly reviewed.
The move by the majority Senators at the time infuriated Senator Dillon who walked of the Senate Chamber in anger, subsequently describing his colleagues as “spineless”, “rotten” and “useless” — a statement that put him in hot water with that body.
“This was the same budget issue that Senator Dillon spoke about and his colleagues were upset with him,” one social media commenter said.