— To settle Small Business Loan controversy
Weeks after Commerce Minister, Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh released to the public what he termed as a clarification to the allegations levied against him concerning the disbursement of the GOL’s US$3 million loan to small businesses, Madam Jamima Wolokolie has called for a comprehensive audit of the loan program.
President George Weah, in December 2018 launched the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), with an initial contribution of US$1 million by the Liberian Government, while the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) committing to give US$2 million, totaling US$3 million.
Since then, the public corridors have been overwhelmed by mounting speculations and disagreements over how the much-talked-about loan initiative is being handled by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
Beyond the public space, questions are also being asked internally, particularly by the now-dismissed Deputy Minister for Small Business Administration Jamima Wolokolie, whose department should have had direct oversight over the loan program as per its official terms of reference as Small Business Administration Department.
But after exerting fruitless efforts internally to ensure transparency and accountability in the administration of the loan program, Wolokolie, about three weeks ago, opened up on both social and mainstream media, stating that she has been kept in the dark by her boss, Minister Wilson Tarpeh who, according to her, had taken over the disbursement of the loan, expending over US$513,000 to purported beneficiaries who are yet to be properly identified.
She urged the public to direct their concerns and questions to Minister Tarpeh and not her, because she knows nothing about the disbursement of the loan, even though her department should have been directly involved every step of the way including disbursement.
Days after her appearance at OK FM 99.5, where she also made some strong comments about issues in her political party, the governing CDC, Jamima Wolokolie was dismissed by President George Weah for what the Executive Mansion termed as conduct incompatible with her status as a public official.
Following her dismissal, Wolokolie still made several radio appearances, proclaiming her innocence and calling on Minister Tarpeh to account openly for the administration and disbursement of the loan in order to reduce the anxiety and confusion in the public space, especially members of the business community who are seriously in need of empowerment to lift and strengthen their businesses as Liberia enters a new era of economic recovery and renewal.
But addressing his long-awaited press conference on July 8, 2020, Minister Tarpeh denied that he was single-handedly disbursing the loan money to the beneficiaries from his office. He presented documents which, he claims, bear evidence that Wolokolie was involved in the administration and disbursement of the loan in question.
He termed Wolokolie’s outburst as maliciously twisted comments aimed at burying the facts surrounding the loan program and defame his good name and the reputation of the Commerce Ministry.
Tarpeh added that the loan program is administered, managed and operated by the LBDI, with the Commerce Ministry only providing strategic oversight and guidance as a sector Ministry and Mrs. Wolokolie, as one of the “A” signatories to the loan account, is known or should be knowledgeable about the processes governing the loan.
But in her latest response to her former boss, Madame Wolokolie called on the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to audit the entire Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) or an independent panel be constituted, drawing its membership from the religious community and other moral institutions to investigate the program and make findings public in order to address the many concerns and allay the apprehension of the Liberians people.
She described Minister Tarpeh’s recent press conference as a failed attempt to cover up his dishonesty and lack of courage to do public business with transparency and accountability, particularly in the management and direction of the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF).
Madame Wolokolie rubbished Minister Tarpeh’s claims that she participated in the disbursement of the loan and challenged the Minister to stop displaying documents that are far unrelated to her specific allegations that he (Tarpeh) did not allow her to perform her statutory and administrative role as head of the department responsible for small business activities and/or programs at the Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
She termed as shameful, Minister Tarpeh’s failure to produce any documentary evidence to back his claims that she (Wolokolie) ever participated in the actual disbursement of the loan, emphasizing that her allegations against Prof. Tarpeh are specifically about the disbursement of the loan to beneficiaries and not the preceding formalities ranging from the receipt of the symbolic check from LBDI, the opening of the account, training of potential beneficiaries and the mobilization of resources to pay the firm that was hired to train targeted beneficiaries.
All of these, according to Madame Wolokolie, were done long before the questionable disbursement of the loan by Minister Tarpeh and his cohorts, as such, it is disingenuous for the Minister to mislead and confuse the public by displaying documents that do not address or undo her allegations that he (Tarpeh) had taken over the disbursement of the loan to the exclusion of the Deputy Minister for Small Business Administration whose direct responsibility it is to oversee such exercise.
On the question of money spent to repair her assigned vehicle, Madame Wolokolie clarified that after she endured several months without a vehicle, it was Minister Tarpeh who directed and approved the request for US$3,040 to be used for the repair of her assigned vehicle and the repair work was done by Africa Motors Service Center, as evidenced by available documentation.
Madam Wolokolie has exhibited documents showing that Prof. Tarpeh instructed that US$3,040 be taken from the US$8,000.00 allotted for radio jingles to publicize the loan program.
She further challenged Minister Tarpeh to show proof that he ever spent the remaining US$5,000 for the radio Jingles and other means of publicity before the disbursement of the loan, noting that the US$5,000 has been expended without evidence that it was used for the intended purpose.
Madam Wolokolie maintained that instead of displaying flying sheets to the media, Minister Tarpeh must submit himself to an audit by the GAC and or any credible auditing or investigative institution so that the Liberian people and the world would know who’s telling the truth.
The though-talking former Deputy Minister of Commerce for Small Business Administration has reiterated her willingness and preparedness to submit to a credible forensic audit or a truly independent investigation of the disbursement of the Small Business Pro-poor Development Fund (SBPDF).
Meanwhile, Madam Jamima Wolokolie has adduced a dossier of documents showing how she has always endeavored to ensure a smooth, effective, and open working relationship with her former boss, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, and co-workers, and to particularly ensure that the Pro-poor loan initiative achieves its intended purpose.