Liberia: Housing Authority Celia Cuffy-Brown Gets Away with Unilaterally Signing ‘Bogus’ Agreement; Commits Govt Assets
MONROVIA – Without the involvement of the Ministries of Justice and Finance, the Managing Director of the National Housing Authority (NHA), Madam Celia Cuffy-Brown signed an agreement with a Burkinabe company – AXHIS Liberia – for the construction of 50,000 low-cost housing units on lands that would be provided by the NHA without any cost to the investor.
Mr. Nathaniel Blama was dismissed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Wednesday for unilaterally signing an agreement without the signatures of the Minister of Justice and Finance. The Executive Mansion equated his action to “fraud”. Blama, however, insisted he did nothing wrong, as he acted within an environmental platform.
In July 2019, Ms. Cuffy-Brown single-handedly signed a 10-year agreement with AXHIS Liberia, an investor-owned, for-profit corporation engaged in development of affordable housing units.
See copy of the agreement here.
In August 2019, the NHA has received a technical team from AXHIS for further discussion on the contract.
Making the disclosure at the NHA on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, Cuffy-Brown Managing Director said, as a result of the mandate from the President to attract investment opportunities to Liberia, the NHA has entered into negotiations with a Burkina Faso firm (AXHIS) and has agreed for the provision of affordable and affluent communities in Liberia.
The contract, among other things, specifies that AXHIS would construct 50,000 housing units. The construction would be carried out in batches of 500 homes per phase after which he was cease construction, turn the units over to the government through the NHA which will then have to sell all 500 units, reimburse AXHIS in full before the commencement of batch.
The contract: “AXHIS Liberia shall invest capital for the construction of 50000 affordable housing units per annum, mainly composed of social two and three bedrooms (detached) and luxury houses provided, however, the NHA shall reimburse AXHIS Liberia in a timely manner for the first 500 units upon construction and subsequent sale. Depending on the types of houses and technology used, the construction cost will vary as follows: For social two and three bedrooms, from $15,000 to $20,000 USD and for social two bedrooms, from $20,000 to $25,000USD.”
“NHA shall ensure the acquisition of all lands needed for the development of the 50,000 housing units, free of litigation and at no cost to AXHIS Liberia. It is agreed between the parties that NHA shall be responsible for all land development prior to construction, however, provided the land development is undertaken by AXHIS Liberia at the request of NHA, then AXHIS Liberia shall include the said additional cost in the total construction costs of the housing units in determining the delivery unit prices.”
It further states: “NHA shall ensure the acquisition of all lands needed for the development of the 50,000 housing units, free of litigation and at no cost to AXHIS Liberia. It is agreed between the parties that NHA shall be responsible for all land development prior to construction, however, provided the land development is undertaken by AXHIS Liberia at the request of NHA, then AXHIS Liberia shall include the said additional cost in the total construction costs of the housing units in determining the delivery unit prices.”
FrontPageAfrica gathered that the construction project has come to a standstill due to the Liberia Revenue Authority’s refusal to grant them duty-free as stipulated in the contract.
The contract states: “It is agreed between the parties that all construction materials and equipment brought into the Republic of Liberia by AXHIS Liberia for construction of the 50,000 units shall be exempted from all duties and taxes to assure construction of its minimized and that the NHA shall be responsible to ensure that AXHIS Liberia materials and equipment are brought into the country duty free.”
Sources familiar with the project informed FrontPageAfrica that the LRA’s decision is owing to the fact that the Ministers of Finance and Justice who are supposed to approve the duty-free are not signatories to the contract.
AXHIS Liberia has now resolved to engaged the National Investment Commission (NIC) to investment incentives in order for it to carry on projects. The company has, however, threatened to increase the cost of the housing unit due to the extra expenses that it has been left to incur.
Ms. Cuffy’s contract with the AXHIS Liberia is a remake of an earlier contract with GELPAZ for the construction of 50,000 housing units. The contract with GELPAZ had provision for the signature of the Justice Minister.
“There is one thing to brief the Minister of State and there is another thing to act legally in the framework. By briefing me does not justify doing the wrong thing.”– Nathaniel McGill, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs
GELPAZ Real Estate was invited into Liberia for investment by a Liberian national, Mr. Augustine Weah, who was the lone Liberian with 20 percent shares in the company.
The agreement was, however, set aside after Mr. Weah blew the whistle on how the officials at the NHA at the time were extorting money from the investors on their own behalf and on behalf of some top-ranking officials of government.
This led to the dismissal of the head of the NHA at the time, Mr. Duanah Siryon along with his principal deputies. They, along with Mr. Weah, were prosecuted by the government for corruption, but were cleared by the court.
Ironically, the investors who formed GELPAZ came back to Liberia re-registered the company under AXHIS Liberia with the same terms of agreement.
However, the latest contract was consummated without the involvement of the Ministry of Justice which should have perused the legal document to ensure that the Government of Liberia was on the safe side.
When the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Mr. Nathaniel McGill was distancing himself from Mr. Blama’s assertion that he was aware of the agreement before it was signed, he said, “There is one thing to brief the Minister of State and there is another thing to act legally in the framework. By briefing me does not justify doing the wrong thing.”
McGill added: “It is unfortunate that he found himself in that situation and the President is firm against these kinds of acts because he will not tolerate it from any official of government. The Minister of Justice’s legal opinion informed that Blama did not follow the procedure that is laid down so the President acted to curtail these kinds of documentations.”
The Minister of State for Presidential Affairs insisted that he had no prior knowledge beginning the agreement was signed, adding that it was an error on the part of the dismissed EPA Executive Director to have signed the agreement without the signature of the Minister of Justice.
Minister McGill’s assertion on Mr. Blama’s action brings to contrast Ms. Cuffy-Brown signed with AXHIS Liberia without the involvement of the Ministry of Justice neither did she follow the Public Procurement laws for such public-private partnership.