In 2010, the Bong County Community college opened its doors to the public. This was during the administration of President Sirleaf. Ten years later, the project which was to be funded by contributions from the county development fund remains uncompleted despite lofty promises made at the time by leading officials to have the college attain a status comparable to that of the neighboring Cuttington University College.
But the project had from the very start been plagued by corruption involving top officials of government. The project cost, originally estimated at 4 million US dollars, was later revised and upped to an amount of 7 million US dollars. The contract for the construction of the college was signed on October 13, 2010, for a twin storey academic and administrative building of Dolokelen Gboveh Community College.
The revised estimates bringing the project cost to 7 million US dollars was contained in an addendum signed by Senator Henry Yallah, then Chairman of the Bong County Legislative Caucus. And the addendum was negotiated and signed despite the glaring fact that very little progress had been achieved in the implementation phase of the project.
Others who signed the addendum were Thomas K. Cisco, Project Management Team; Selena Polson Mappy, County Superintendent; and Lian Zhi, General Manager of the construction company and it was witnessed and attested by William Gyude Moore, former Minister of Public Works in the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Pending the completion of the project, the college was housed temporarily on the campus of the Gbarnga School of Theology. But ten years later, in 2020, the college has yet to produce a single graduate, neither has its structure been completed.
An audit conducted by the Internal Audit Agency(IAA) did reveal that there were fatal flaws in the contract awarded to the Chinese company. Even the tender process leading to the award of the contract was said to have been compromised and flawed.
Investigations conducted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) showed that three sitting lawmakers from the 52nd Legislature had shares in the company. Lawmakers Bhofal Chambers, Alex Tyler, and former lawmaker Kettemuehn Murray owned shares in the company hired to construct the college.
Those officials charged included Edward W. Karfiah of District 5 and Marvin Cole of District 3. Others included former lawmakers George S. Mulbah, former chairman of the legislative caucus, and Tokpa J. Mulbah of Bong County, Kenneth Yao Awadjie and the then Bong County Project Engineer, Marcus Berrian, were charged for fraud, Criminal facilitation, Criminal solicitation
and Criminal Conspiracy.
Also, Mr. Lian Zhi Contractor/CEO of Liberia China United Investment Group (LCUIG) was charged for Theft of Property in a contract worth over US$2 million. The head of the Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Authority (LACRA), John Flomo, was charged for theft of property.
Aside from this cast of officials, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor who was one of those involved in the conception and design of the project was discovered to have written letters to a local mining company soliciting funds on behalf of the college but directing that such money be paid to a private bank account in Scotland.
On January 5, 2018, shortly after President Weah assumed office, the LACC confirmed that it had submitted an amended report to the Justice Ministry forwarding the names of those listed individuals to the Justice Ministry for prosecution. Since then, the matter has died a natural death. Representative Bhofal Chambers is now Speaker of the House of Representatives and is virtually immune from prosecution by virtue of his big-shot status.
In February 2018, students of the college staged a boycott of classes in protest against the prolonged delay in completing the project which was effectively denying access to higher education. Since then, nothing much has been forthcoming from government. The pronouncement by President Weah declaring tuition free education for tertiary education students at public institutions of higher learning has had the effect of drying up funding sourced from tuition payment and government is not taking up the tab.
The situation is made worse by the ongoing strains between President Weah and Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor. She has often been accused of harboring intentions of challenging President Weah at the polls. And apparently for fear that successful completion of the project could enhance her standing in Bong County, which may be a source of crucial political support in the 2023 elections.
Now, as to whether any of these two future antagonists will prove deserving of support from that populous county remains to be seen. For now, the project remains stalled and it appears unlikely that there will be any upturn in its fortunes anytime soon. The people of Bong County are all too aware that nothing is going to come out of this. Nobody will be held to account and it will be business as usual; but the people of Bong County deserve better.