Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 relief food distribution exercise has come under fire from lawmakers of the House of Representatives, apparently for what appears to be the haphazard manner in which the food distribution exercise is being carried out.
The lawmakers have demanded a full and comprehensive report from the Committee headed by Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, who appeared before that body to address concerns about transparency and accountability in the handling of the food distribution exercise.
Of particular concern is the fact that the food distribution exercise is being carried out while, at the same time, the LISGIS is conducting enumeration exercises around the city and perhaps the country to identify potential beneficiaries.
According to a Liberian humanitarian worker (name withheld), with experience both local and foreign, the ongoing food distribution exercise, is a highly sensitive matter in both political and economic terms.
If the exercise is not managed properly and with care, it could trigger a wellspring of popular resentment against this government with a potential to morph into general civil unrest and possibly violence as experience suggests.
To recall, the Daily Observer in its June 19, 2020 Editorial headlined, “The Choice Is All Yours Mr. President” drew public attention to what it had recognized as potential flaws which could wreck the entire exercise if left unchecked.
The Daily Observer wrote “…In view of this, it should behoove those handling the emergency relief intervention, to ensure that all what they do is transparent and meets the highest standards of accountability”.
“This is exigent because the patience of the people should not be tested in such times of imposing economic hardships. President Weah, as the one whose head actually bears the crown, should TAKE CHARGE AND LEAD FROM THE FRONT”.
“…This is no ‘Play-Play’ affair and should not be treated as such. Should officials not see reason to do the right thing by making the COVID-19 response more transparent and accountable, especially the promised relief food distribution exercise, they run the risk of ushering the country into a renewed spate of general instability”.
The head of the COVID-19 relief exercise, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh should be aware of the cloud of public suspicion about the motives and intent of those in charge of the COVID-19 response. Lingering questions about the breakdown of the US$30 million appropriated for the exercise have not been fully addressed.
Of special concern to lawmakers is the US$5 million contributed by the World Bank which, according to available information, is a loan to be repaid at a later date. And the staggering figure of US$1 million plus associated with administrative costs has not been justified to the satisfaction of lawmakers as well as the general public.
Perhaps it is such cumulative concerns that prompted lawmakers to demand the appearance of the Committee to provide explanations and clarification about the conduct of the entire exercise. According to Minister Tarpeh, the exercise will be completed in Montserrado County by the end of July.
Further, according to him, 59 communities and institutions in Montserrado have already been served. Just which communities have been served including the number of beneficiaries remain unknown at this point.
And with the disclosure that the exercise will be concluded in Monrovia at the end of July, there are growing public fears that some communities and deserving families and individuals will be left out. Already, there is a general public perception that the relief food exercise is targeting only CDCians.
And that is a matter which has to be addressed in view of grave public suspicion that the money allocated to the exercise is going into the pockets of top officials. This is in view of the unsettled question of the US$25 million infusion and liquidity mop-up exercise, which was, according to investigators, characterized by fraud committed under the watch of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah.
In view of this, public suspicion of malintent and unworthy motives on the part of public officials handling the COVID-19 relief exercise appears well-founded and justified. Commerce Minister Tarpeh and team must step up to the plate and provide accurate and truthful information to the public.
He should be ever mindful of the implications of making false starts, which are but harbingers of failure that usually bear unforeseen and unpalatable consequences.