Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh’s reaction to dismissed Deputy Commerce Minister Jamima Wolokolie’s barrage of accusations of corruption levied against him concerning the US$2 million loan scheme managed by his Ministry, has left more questions than answers. The loan scheme was intended to benefit female marketers of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
Dismissed Deputy Commerce Minister Jamima Wolokolie had charged that Minister Tarpeh was disbursing money without her knowledge and to unknown persons. However, the Minister quickly refuted the charges claiming instead that his former deputy requested and authorized a first payment of US$33,216 for training and the other in the amount of US$8,380.80 to cover advertisements and other related activities, on two separate occasions. The total amount comes to US$41,596.80.
However, Minister Tarpeh’s disclosed that as of March 31, 2020, total loans extended amounted to US$533,317.66. He noted that this amount includes loans made in Liberian dollars in the tone of L$82,591,290 and loans disbursed in United States Dollars, amounting to US$100,000. But what this newspaper finds troubling is the unexplained variance amounting to more than US$1 million.
The Minister did however disclose a list of beneficiaries totaling 14 individuals who, according to him, had received funding totaling US$533,317.66. But this amount was not disaggregated to reflect just how much each beneficiary received. Additionally there is no information provided that can explain the variance between the actual amount spent and the original amount US$2 million allocated from the national budget.
If the balance disclosed by the Minister As of July 3, 2020, the account had a credit balance of US$957,582.34. Adding this to US$533,317.66 the total sum given out to beneficiaries, yields the amount of US$1,490,900. If we add the sum of US$41,596.80, representing money allegedly received by dismissed Deputy Commerce Minister Jamima Wolokolie, the total expenditure thus amounts to US$1,532,496.80. If we subtract this figure from US$2,000,000 it yields an amount of US$467,503.20 as variance.
The presentation including figures put forth by Commerce Minister Tarpeh does not appear to account for this variance, neither does it provide any details to explain this variance that amounts to nearly half a million US dollars. In view of this the Minister needs to come clean on this matter by providing bank statements confirming what he actually claims to be a true statement of fact. This should be in addition to an audited financial statement which will clearly state what has actually obtained.
Anything short to the contrary will not cut ice with the public and the Minister should know this given his years of experience. Attempts to shrug off claims of corruption in the handling of the funds by flagging amounts (minuscule) allegedly received by his former deputy Jamima Wolokolie as evidence supporting charges leading to her dismissal will not fly in the face of such a huge variance which has not been explained so far in the proceedings.
As a matter of fact, the Minister will do himself well by inviting the Auditor-General to conduct a forensic audit of the fund in order to lay to rest claims and counterclaims from both players-the Minister and his former deputy. Liberians are watching these ongoing developments with keen interest. Memories of the case of the L$16 billion banknotes and the US$25 million infusion exercise, for which not a single individual has been held to account remains uppermost in the minds of the public.
The Minister has to tread carefully on this score. He must come clean with convincing arguments supported with irrefutably clear evidence accounting for the huge variance shown on the books so far. As the old saying goes, “anyone who has been bitten by a snake will cringe at the sight of even a worm”. Such is the case with the Liberians who, over the course of a decade plus of senseless civil war have become very cynical of pronouncements by government officials generally perceived as corrupt.
And their cynicism is rooted in the long years of civil war accompanied by looting and plundering of state resources by vicious warlords, unscrupulous politicians and greedy opportunists, carpet baggers and a host of unsavory slimy characters posing as saviors of the people. Thus it is by no means surprising that the spat between Commerce Minister Tarpeh and his dismissed deputy has attracted such widespread public attention and interest.
As it appears, “something must be rotten in the state of Denmark” and the Liberian people are all too aware of those causing the stink but desperately trying to make sure the stinking smell does not rub off on them. Such is the spectacle now unfolding before our eyes. And this has left the pundits wondering just for how long the Liberian people will continue to play spectators to this nightmarish debacle is anyone’s guess. The answer may not be a far stretch away.
Minister Tarpeh must come clean with full disclosure, nothing less.