Liberia’s US$9M Question: WFP Says Only 6 Percent(1.8 Million) Charged to Govt. For COVID-19 Food Distribution

The WFP’s assertion that it is charging six percent of the US$30 million, brings its portion to around US$1.8 million, raising questions as to how Minister Tarpeh came up with his number before the Senate

Monrovia –  The World Food Programm trumpets itself as having a  long experience in humanitarian and development contexts, well-positioned to support resilience building in order to improve food security and nutrition while helping the most vulnerable people strengthen their capacities to absorb, adapt, and transform in the face of shocks and long-term stressors.


Analysis By Rodney D. Sieh, rodney.sieh@frontpageafricaonline.com


In Liberia over the last 72 hours, the international organization has come under fire for what some lawmakers say is an outrageous US$9 million charged to Liberia to distribute food as part of the government’s stimulus package to aid Liberians during the State of Emergency lockdown.

Fuming Senators Cry Foul

The issue has caused serious division in the government and the country as many question the rationale of paying an international aid organization US$9 million dollars just to distribute food.

“The WFP’s $9M charge for $21 million food distribution is totally unappealing. This should not be allowed to happen in a poor country like ours. This is not free money! It is a loan that we, the people of Liberia must pay,” Senator Saah Joseph, a member of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, representing Montserrado County posted on his Facebook page at the weekend.

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon(Liberty Party, Montserrado County) thought the entire scheme did not seem right.  “Out of $30 million for “free food”, nearly #10 million(1/3 or 33%) to be used for unexplained administrative costs.’  Something is Fishy.”

The issue was triggered last week when Commerce Minister Professor Wilson Tarpeh appeared before the Senate Plenary. Mr. Tarpeh, who also heads the Special Committee Overseeing the COVID-19 food and relief items distribution, made the disclosure that US$9 million would be used for administrative expenses.


Minister Tarpeh explained to the Senate that of the USD$30 million, USD$20 million will go to food cost while USD$9 million will go toward the operational cost. This is the plan and distribution will begin this weekend. WFP has informed this committee that because of the road condition they will use sea transport to get to the southeast,” he said.


Minister Tarpeh explained to the Senate that of the USD$30 million, USD$20 million will go to food cost while USD$9 million will go toward the operational cost. This is the plan and distribution will begin this weekend. WFP has informed this committee that because of the road condition they will use sea transport to get to the southeast,” he said.

A ‘Diabolical Lie’, Government Says

On Sunday, the government’s chief spokesperson, Information Minister Minister Eugene Nagbe told FrontPagAfrica that the fund is in the total control of the World Food Program which is spearheading the food distribution.

Minister Nagbe explained that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has instructed the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to move US$25 million from the government’s account to the WFP to begin the implementation of the distribution.

The instruction from the Finance Ministry to the Central Bank, a copy of which FrontPageAfrica has obtained was prepared on June 11. It is expected that the transfer of the amount would be made on June 15.  

Minister Eugene Nagbe said the government remains focused on rallying and receiving international support to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on the citizens. “The fact of the matter is that the government has transferred USD25 Million from the GOL Consolidated accounts at the Central Bank of Liberia to the World Food Program to implement the food support program. So, all this is a diabolical lie coming from Senator Dillon and other opposition leaders whose nasty politicking knows no bounds even in the wake of a national calamity like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Steering Committee ‘Didn’t Do Liberia Good’

Liberians both at home and broad have taken to social media to voice their frustration.

Cheick Ousmane Toure posted: “The steering committee didn’t do Liberia any good. Whoever recommended WFP as the best alternative  didn’t do his /her homework correctly. UN has its own SOP that cover all US agencies, admin related to cost is prepared in line with the UN standard on how you want it. Hon. Saah Joseph, at least a minimum of  two international staff, P4 and P3 respectively will be required  to cover such a humanitarian intervention, package – all inclusive ranges from 15K to 16K per person will be charged, excluding logistics related activities. Life insurance coverage, a minimum of 1 million for each international staff in COVID-19 situation will be fully covered by GoL budget, not counting  staff DSAs and other related cost. The Liberian Red Cross would have distributed the food for a maximum of 450K based on their existing structure.”

Patrick Mbayo, a former Deputy Minister of Labor during the regime of ex-president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said:  “To spend 9 million United States dollars as administrative  cost against  21 million dollars for food distribution  in Liberia would be a five-star self incriminating evidence  of cruelty against our own people. We are talking about almost 43 percent of the total money for food distribution  going toward administrative cost? This is unimaginable, and it doesn’t matter if the United Nations and the World Bank approved of this scheme .Public expenditure  should be an instrument for economic growth and development. It shouldn’t be a tool that perpetuates poverty.

WFP: Only 6 % –  ‘Not Charging US$9 million to Govt’

James Belgrave, Communication Officer for the WFP in Rome, responding to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry Monday, dismissed suggestions that the WFP is charging Liberia US$9 million to distribute food to Liberians during the COVID pandemic lockdown. To the contrary, Mr. Belgrave said, the WFP is being allocated only a small percentage, “around six percent.

Said Belgrave via email: “WFP is not charging US$9 million to the Government of Liberia – any suggestions to the contrary are totally unfounded. In Liberia, the Government-led COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) has a total budget of US$30 million. This comprises the cost of the food basket (rice, beans and vegetable oil) as well as the costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted under the programme. A very small percentage of the budget (around 6%) goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its life-saving assistance – this is standard across all the countries where WFP works and is in line with international standards of aid delivery.”

The WFP’S clarification contradicts what Commerce Minister Professor Wilson Told the Senate Plenary last Friday, tthat of the USD$30 million, USD$20 million will go to food cost while USD$9 million will go toward the operational cost.

The WFP’s assertion that it is charging six percent of the US$30 million, brings its portion to around US$1.8 million, raising questions as to how Minister Tarpeh came up with his number before the Senate.

At least two Senators confided in FrontPageAfrica Monday that they intend to request from the Executive branch, the contract with the WFP in a hearing Tuesday. Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, chair of the Food Distribution Committee told FPA, she will write the executive requesting the contract.

According to Belgrave, the WFP’s top priority is meeting the food security and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable and needy communities in Liberia. “WFP distributes food in a fair, gender-sensitive, accountable and transparent manner, to ensure that the most urgent needs are met in an equitable way, and that the highest standards of assistance are applied, providing value-for-money to our partners who support our vital work in Liberia.”

Over the past few days there have also been concerns that the WFP had not followed best international practice when it single sourced the purchase of rice earmarked for distribution to only one importer, SWAT.

“In Liberia, the Government-led COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) has a total budget of US$30 million. This comprises the cost of the food basket (rice, beans and vegetable oil) as well as the costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted under the programme. A very small percentage of the budget (around 6%) goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its life-saving assistance – this is standard across all the countries where WFP works and is in line with international standards of aid delivery.”

James Belgrave, Communication Officer, World Food Programme, Rome, Italy

According to Belgrave, WFP applies competitive and transparent procurement processes to purchase food commodities in all its operations around the world, including in Liberia. “This includes market assessments to establish standard costs, as well as robust scrutiny of vendors to ensure they are fit-for-purpose in terms of food quality and storage facilities. This safeguards the quality of WFP food as well as ensures that tendering processes do not distort local markets. WFP’s expertise in procurement is more important than ever in the current situation where the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted supply chains and created volatility in prices and availability on local and international markets.”

In April, President George Manneh Weah submitted a stimulus package to the national legislature in which he proposed that for the remainder of FY 2019/20 the National Legislature re-appropriate the amount of US$25 million to support food distribution to households in designated affected counties for the period of 60 days. “The full costing to cover this period in affected and other areas may add up to around $40 million. The World Bank has agreed to finance this gap off-budget to the tune of US$10 million, using resources reallocated from existing projects.”

At the time, the President said it was the government’s intention to have the World Food Program implement the program in collaboration with the government.

Loan or Grant? Lawmaker Raises Concern


It was in this light that the President announced the setting up of a COVID-19 Food Support National
Steering Committee comprising relevant Government entities and the international development community to provide oversight over this process. “This set-up is in keeping with the All-of-Government and All-of-Society approach we are adopting in this stage of our management of COVID-19. The Steering Committee will have an oversight role, will prescribe rules and address challenges, while the WFP will implement the program.”

Since the announcement, however, the food promised had not materialized. Multiple sources confirmed to FrontPageAfrica in recent days that the delay has been tied to a disagreement between the government and the WFP over the US9 million issue.

Over the last 48 hours, the issue has also been compounded by comments from Representative Samuel Enders(District No. 6, Montserrado), who expressed concerns that the US$25 million allotted toward the feeding program was actually a loan which the lawmakers did not sign off on.

Said Rep. Enders: “It is also misleading and very troubling  to read that the US$25 million is a loan. I cannot remember signing a loan agreement for such. We need to know how much loan was taken and who authorized the loan during the COVID-19 period with specific reference to the recast.”

As the debate over the millions allocated for food distribution lingers, a number of unanswered questions continue to linger. Did lawmakers ignore the fine prints of the stimulus package before fast-tracking its passage with a 5G speed? What would be the extend of the distribution when it finally gets underway and who are likely to benefit. More importantly, as the government prepares to open up the country on June 21st with the resumption of flights, how much impact would the food distribution have?

It was in this light that the President announced the setting up of a COVID-19 Food Support National

Steering Committee comprising relevant Government entities and the international development community to provide oversight over this process. “This set-up is in keeping with the All-of-Government and All-of-Society approach we are adopting in this stage of our management of COVID-19. The Steering Committee will have an oversight role, will prescribe rules and address challenges, while the WFP will implement the program.”

Since the announcement, however, the food promised had not materialized. Speculations have been rife that the delay has been tied to a disagreement between the government and the WFP over the charges for the distribution.

LiberiaWFPWorld Food Program
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