Liberia: House of Reps. Condemns Government’s Food Distribution Exercise, Requests Detailed Plan, Statistics from Steering Committee

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The lawmakers, speaking separately in plenary last week, said the exercise lacks comprehensive plan and is not being done in line with accepted standards.

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Steering committee, working with the World Food Program (WFP) to implement the Government food distribution exercise as part of the COVID-19 stimulus package has come under staunch criticism from members of the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers, including Representatives Dr. George E. S. Bolley (District #2, Grand Gedeh County), Edward Karfia (District #5, Bong County), Moima Briggs Mensah (District #6, Bong County), Ivar Jones (District #2, Margibi county) and P. Mike Jurry (District #1, Maryland County).

Speaking separately in plenary last week, they said the exercise lacks comprehensive plan and is not being done in line with accepted standards.

The lawmakers’ criticism followed the testimonies of several members of the committee headed by its Chairman, Commerce and Industry Minister, Professor Wilson Tarpeh.

Plenary voted in favor of a motion, mandating the committed to return within one week with a comprehensive report, detailing the timeline and number of people that are being targeted.

The Committee, along with the WFP had been invited by the House to give updates on the food distribution exercise.

It comprises of the Ministers of Health, Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Director General of the Liberia Statistics and Geo Information Services (LISGIS), among others.

The Testimonies

Appearing along with Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Gender Minster Williametta Piso Saydee Tarr and LISGIS’ Director General, Professor Francis Wreh, Tarpeh said the budget for the distribution is US$30 million.

In his explanation, he said out of the amount, US$25 million was raised from the government’s recast budget, while US$5 million received from the World Bank.

As of the time of appearance, Prof. Tarpeh stated that 59 communities and institutions have been served in Montserrado County and the exercise is expected to be completed in Montserrado by the middle of July 2020.

The entire process, he revealed, is expected to be completed within 60 to 90 days. According to him, LISGIS has been tasked to conduct the enumeration exercise that will guide the process.

“Enumerators are important because they are able to do the counting and document the structures and number of person in each of the structures,” Prof. Tarpeh explained.

“And once it is completed, the data is sent back to WFP who initiates the distribution. We are on course to distribute the food in accordance with the joint resolution passed by the Legislation.”

Taking the witness’ stance, Professor Wreh informed plenary that a Letter of Understanding (LOU) was signed between LISGIS and WFP, authorizing LISGIS to collect data to guide the distribution exercise.

“The plan, in my view is not comprehensive. It doesn’t speak to the fact that this is something serious because you only have a sheet telling us different planning in Monrovia and saying you are going into the 15 counties to enumerate. The committee should go back and come up with a comprehensive plan.”

Edward Karfia (District #5, Bong County)

In the LOU, he said LISGIS will be given US$1.6 million for the exercise that will be carried out throughout the country. Wreh disclosed that only US$200,000 has been disbursed to LISGIS As of the time of appearance before plenary.

Speaking further, he stated that the enumeration exercise covers the marking of dwelling structures, recording household headsand occupancy per household and data management and transmission to WFP for processing.

For the exercise, he revealed LISGIS is recruiting 5,378 enumerators drawn from across the country, and the four first hotspot counties including Montserrado, Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru will be targeted first.

“By the end of Saturday, we will complete the greater Monrovia area for data collection and move to rural Montserrdo. Then to Margibi, Nimba and Grand Kru, to be followed by the other counties.”

Also speaking, Dr. Jallah said, as incident manager, the Ministry of Health’s role is to identity the various hotspots and affected communities and inform the WFP for delivery of supplies.

Minister Saydee-Tarr stated that the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has submitted a list of 60 orphanages sheltering 1,976 children, a list of save homes and community based welfare institutions to the WFP to receive ration.

She also testified that her ministry, working with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) identified 25,000 at-risk youth in Montserrado and its surroundings and 8,158 refugees from Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Nimba and River Gee Counties.

In addition, she said the ministry has submitted a list 1,089 Liberian migrants and 2000 locally integrated Sierra Leonean migrants. She also mentioned that they have engaged the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation of the Ministry of Justice to include food for the inmates at the prisons.

‘Enraged’ Lawmakers’ Response

Following the Committee members’ deliberation, several lawmakers expressed dismay over Minister Tarpeh’s report.

Rep. Karfia said the time for distribution exercise, as approved by the Legislature in the joint resolution has expired and the plan guiding the process was not comprehensive.

 It is to our advantage for this rice distribution to go ahead because there are people who are hurting in the community that need this rice.  But it is as though they are talking on paper and the impact is not being felt on the ground,” Rep. Karfia said.

“The plan, in my view is not comprehensive. It doesn’t speak to the fact that this is something serious because you only have a sheet telling us different planning in Monrovia and saying you are going into the 15 counties to enumerate. The committee should go back and come up with a comprehensive plan.”

Rep. Moima Briggs Mensah called on the committee to outline in detail the total supplies for each district and county. She reminded her colleagues that the Minister had earlier promised them to submit a complete data that will guide the process and promised that every lawmaker would have been informed if the distribution team is carrying out the exercise in their district.

“This thing is serious. We are talking about US$30 million dollars here and you come up and give us flying sheet and can’t even give us proper plan on how the Liberian people money is being used? Money that we are indebted with and have to pay back. It’s important that we leave the running around, the party sentiments and know what is going on,” she vented.

 Rep. Jurry added that it was conflicting for the committee to carry on distribution, while at the same time, LISGIS is still collecting data.

He said: “The idea of LISGIS doing enumeration while distribution is going on at the same time, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid that what is being done is a trial. There is no way that you can do food distribution without knowing the total number of beneficiaries that you are going to serve.”

“I am afraid that before this distribution team gets to Maryland, the US$30 million may be exhausted because we do not know how many people are going to be served.”

The COVID-19 food distribution exercise has been marred by controversy. Earlier, it was reported that the Committee was paying WFP US$9 million for the distribution. WFP has since denied the allegation.

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