It is called “Front Loading” in Government circles and it has been trending since 2006 and there is no sign yet on the horizon of the scrapping of this odious policy that promotes and encourages corruption in the handling of government contracts.
Front Loading is a system or practice wherein a contractor of a given project is paid fifty percent (50%) of the total value of the contract well before any actual work is done. Under such arrangements kickbacks are paid upfront by the contractor to holders of the project. In a number of cases on record, the projects are left uncompleted, thus requiring the project holder to seek new contractors to complete the project.
When selected, the new contractor’s first action is to condemn all work done by the previous contractor in order to provide justification for refinancing of the project. When the bidding/selection process is completed, the new contractor is front-loaded meaning fifty percent (50%) of the fees charged is paid up front to facilitate and enable the payment of kickbacks.
Thus for example, a donor may provide financial support to a government project which the donor may not have the resources or expertise to execute directly. Under what is referred to as a “Loan on Arrangement” (LOA) funds are transferred on request to the particular government agency in charge of the project.
Under such arrangements, the Government of Liberia, upon completion of the project, provides a full report to the donor agency detailing how the funds were expended. It is a process meant to facilitate and enhance rapid and efficient delivery of services to the Government of Liberia.
But the system has been subject to abuse and it is now high time that such system and practice come under critical review. Why? Because through abuse of the system by corrupt functionaries, thousands if not millions of dollars intended for public use, are siphoned off to private pockets.
It is this practice which appears to be embedded in the recently passed EBOMAF contract agreement wherein the selected contractor will be paid sixty percent (60%) upfront even before he commences the project. And this may probably be the same situation with the Eton financed road project agreement.
To drive the matter home the story carried in the June 22nd edition of the Daily Observer and subsequent revelations is a case in point. The United Nations Development Program provided support to the Liberian Judiciary for the construction of court house facilities in Botota, Bong County.
According to Daily Observer reporter Abednego Davis who covered the story, the cost of the project was put at US$138,269.96 and that UNDP proceeded to pay 90 percent of the project cost before the project was completed. The project was not completed and the contractor, Semoh Group of Companies was taken to court as a result.
What is now emerging is that a corrupt functionary, then in the employ of UNDP had manipulated the bidding results and awarded the contract to a company he owned, never having disclosed his personal connection to the Semoh Group of companies.
Consistent with the practice of “Front-Loading” the Semoh Group of Companies requested fifty percent (50% ) payment upfront from Judiciary officials, under the “LOA” arrangement frequently used by government agencies executing donor supported projects.
The Judiciary paid this money upfront rather than as per completion of milestones or benchmarks as would ordinarily be the case. New contractors hired to complete the project according to available information, firstly condemned previous work done on the project and accordingly demanded “Front Loading”.
But the problem was Semoh Group of Companies had already been “Front-Loaded” and the Judiciary was not placed to provide the required funds for new “Front-Loading”. It is our understanding that the owner of the Semoh Group of Companies had been separated from the UNDP after he fraudulently manipulated the bid results, although his fraudulent act had not at the time been discovered.
The point being underscored here is that our financial and accountability systems especially those concerning procurement of goods and services have over the years been bastardized and transformed into instruments of personal control and self-enrichment. Consider how, for example, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission was conveniently left out of the process selecting the road contractors in the recent road financing agreements.
The both loan agreements appear to be smelly of the odious “Front-Loading” arrangements. The raucous cheers from legislators, calling on the George Weah Government to source yet more loans, without even subjecting the loan agreements to rigorous scrutiny, ring loud bells of suspicion about the unprecedented haste with which those agreements were approved by the Legislature.
As it appears, the uncompleted Belle Yella road project and several uncompleted projects around the country which are all suffering from the “Front-Loading” syndrome have not taught our leaders any lessons at all. More worrisome is the prospect of possible failure of the newly proposed road projects, since no performance bonds required of the proposed contractors.
Why were all such lapses including the virtual waiver of due diligence requirements permitted to stand? Is it because our officials have been “Front-Loaded”? The practice of Front-Loading must be stopped and it should be done NOW.
Donor agencies are called upon to ensure that funds intended for the use and benefit of ordinary Liberians are not used to “Front-Load” corrupt officials.