The recent disclosure by Senator Saah Joseph, a top-ranking member of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), that the US$30 million anti-COVID-19 response proposed allocation in the national budget is actually a loan has generated a virtual firestorm with tons of criticism aimed at this government over accountability concerns in the handling of its anti-COVID-19 response.
That the unquestioned CDC loyalist, Senator Saah Joseph, would publicly hold suspect declarations by CDC stalwart, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, that US$9 million, allegedly charged by the World Food Program(WFP), to oversee the distribution of a food relief package to Liberians, is a matter which cannot be taken lightly.
Now with clarifications from WFP’s Rome headquarters that the amount charged for distribution is only about US$1.6 million and not US$9 million as earlier disclosed by Minister Tarpeh, more and harder questions are being raised about the transparency of the entire arrangement.
There are suggestions from many quarters that, like the US$25 million corruption riddled infusion and liquidity mop-up exercise, the entire anti-COVID-19 response as well as the GoL’s food relief assistance package is also riddled with corruption.
On one hand, the Liberian people/public was informed that the amount in question was raised from budgetary allocations following the recast of the 2020-2021 budget. According to the argument provided at the time, the amount was allocated after readjustments were made in the budget.
One of such readjustments, according to sources on Capitol Hill, was a US$10 million slice from the already crippled national health budget reportedly allocated to road construction. The negative impact of this decision will certainly be long felt.
And now with revelations that the US$30 million is actually a loan contracted by the GoL, concerns are being raised, and rightly so, that the so-called loan did not and has not ever received legislative approval.
Commerce Minister Tarpeh now finds himself hard-pressed to provide answers to questions about accountability and transparency in the arrangements surrounding the food relief assistance package promised by President Weah.
But it can be recalled that the recast budget was given a speedy (“5-G”) passage by both Houses without debate. This coincided with the announcement by the World Bank/IMF that was providing an amount of US$50 million in budgetary support to the Liberian government, apparently under its Special Drawing Rights.
For the benefit of the public, the “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) is not money held or owned by the Liberian government. It is simply a privilege given to borrowing countries to credit money with imposed limits, which it will have to pay back with interest. But very often public officials tend to convey a false impression to the public that SDR is owned money and constitutes part of GoL’s foreign reserves.
But with Liberia facing crippling economic hardships, imposed mainly by adherence to World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs), the hard reality is beginning to dawn on national policy makers that the lives of ordinary Liberians, their economic situation, instead of getting better, continue to deteriorate as the value of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar continues to fall.
Such is the realization that may have dawned on Senator Saah Joseph and prompted his public utterances about Commerce Minister Tarpeh’s presentation. But that is all “water under the bridge” now, so to speak, because Senator Joseph and others including members of the House of Representatives had the opportunity to review and debate the recast budget but failed to do so apparently in deference to Executive diktat.
It can also be recalled that the Daily Observer, in its May 27, 2020 editorial captioned, “Senator Dillon Has Said Much; We Need Not Say More”, raised concern about the speedy passage of the recast budget and questioned the silence of World Bank/IMF on the lack of public vetting of the recast budget to which it had pledged US$50 million in support.
Amongst other things the Daily Observer wrote: “Questions must therefore be asked about the role or disposition of the World Bank and IMF in this surreptitious affair. Are these institutions going to work with a document that has not been publicly vetted? And if so, would they accept responsibility for the fallout from such action? Further would such suggest that transparency and accountability will be thrown to the wind?
“These are important questions to ask because a significant portion of the country’s national budget is being subsidized by donor contributions mainly from the United States, the European Union, Japan, etc. These are legitimate questions because it is Liberians — the ordinary Liberian — who will bear the brunt of economic hardships induced by IMF/World Bank debt servicing arrangements”.
Now, but rather belatedly, Senator Joseph is raising issues that he should have long since raised. What he should now be demanding instead is accountability for the money including a full expenditure report which will eventually form part of a budget performance report.
But it would not be surprising should Finance Ministry officials shrug off such concerns with apt responses, suggesting that a budget performance report will include a full expenditure report. But just when last did the Ministry of Finance submit a budget performance report is the unanswered question.
More besides, the public is now questioning whether Commerce Minister Tarpeh lied to the public when he disclosed that the World Food Program (WFP) had charged a whopping sum of US$9 million to distribute a food relief assistance package worth US$30 million, when the facts show that the WFP actually charged an amount of US$1.6 million to distribute the food. And hard facts suggest that the GoL lacks a reliable database on which basis food can be distributed to the public.
But GoL’s highly inflated cost of distribution, which the WFP has now refuted, is raising suspicion that officials have already “eaten the money” and are in search of a convenient scapegoat to blame for its inability to deliver on its promises. Surely, President Weah can do better, he must stop shifting blame!
“Don’t blame the place you fell but blame the spot where you stumbled” is an old wise saying.