Liberia: USAID Probes Mercy Corps Grant to More Than Me

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Monrovia – The US Government, through its relief agency, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has disclosed that it is reviewing documentation that enabled More Than Me (MTM) to receive a grant from Mercy Corps in 2014.

Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]

MTM was one of the grant recipients during the Ebola crises, just around the same time its co-founder McIntosh Johnson, was arrested and sent to prison to await trial.

In response to an inquiry done by this newspaper, USAID said in response to the 2014 to 2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, Mercy Corps was provided funding for social mobilization activities from September 2014 to July 2015. 

Mercy Corps subsequently gave 26 sub-grants to local organizations, including one to More Than Me, to help maximize their reach in Ebola-affected communities.

“USAID is currently reviewing documentation related to the award to Mercy Corps and has additionally notified the USAID Office of Inspector General regarding the allegations,” said Selim Ariturk, Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy, Liberia.

According to him, USAID requires that its partners’ assistance programs respect—and protect—the rights of all people at all times, especially those affected by crises. 

“Every grant from USAID is subject to a strict Code of Conduct requirement, mandating that partners ensure the protection of beneficiaries from sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian relief operations.” 

When this newspaper contacted Mercy Corps, Charles Holt, a staff within the communications office, promised to text the contact for the head, but failed to do even after many attempts. 

We also got in touch with another staff, Julateh Mulbah; but she told our reporter that FrontPageAfrica should have done its research to know whom to call before calling her and she hung off.

This newspaper found out that the State Department has been unable to find evidence of a separate grant MTM put on a 2014 tax return.

“We have found no evidence of financial support from the U.S. Department of State.  However, we continue to search for any records related to a US$500,000 grant that More Than Me declared in a 2014 IRS filing.”

The American Government confirmed that it is aware of the investigation of MTM, which is an American charity organization.

“We find the allegations of sexual abuse deeply troubling. The United States believes that girls and boys around the world should be able to receive an education in safe environments.” 

In Dec 2014, MTM founder Katie Meyler was named Times Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year.’ 

Gov’t Wants MTM Declare Assets

Gender, Social and Children Protection (MGCSP) Minister Willametta Saydee Tarr disclosed that the Ministerial Committee has requested Meyler to do full declaration of assets and financial transactions.

According to Madam Tarr, they are trying to establish the salary and benefits received by McIntosh Johnson, who is accused of allegedly abusing the teenage girls in MTM’s care. 

The Ministerial Committee comprises her Ministry, Ministries of Justice, Education, Youth and Sports and Finance and Development Planning. 

The Liberian government’s representatives had met with MTM’s board of directors in order to further ascertain if there were any lapses in adherence to the provisions of the Children Law of Liberia, 2011.

On Friday, October 19, in a press conference, Min. Tarr stated that even though MTM’s Advisory Board had asked Katie to step aside, government wanted to know clearly what that ‘step aside’ entails.

The Gender Minister disclosed that they are going to make sure among other things that Ms. Meyler is not allowed to view any documents relating to MTM while on the side; she won’t be allowed to make any contact with the affected girls or any of the girls, sponsored students, faculty, staff, Liberian Advisory Board or USA board of Directors unless it is allowed by the investigation or special Ministerial Committee.

Min. Tarr further stated that Katie won’t be allowed to get her pay check while she is on the side and must remain disengaged with a day-to-day operations of the Academy.

She also disclosed that among other thins, they are going to get the phone records of Meyler dating to the time prior to and during the incarceration of McIntosh Johnson.

She also stated that they are going to ask survivors if they got in contact with Meyler before or after the court trial and whether they have received any assistance.

The Gender Min also disclosed that they all are weighing all options including civil and criminal lawsuits depending on the outcome of the investigation.

No Record of a Case

She further stated that she has not been able to lay her hands on any record(s) concerning the previous case at the Ministry.

The SGBV referral pathway calls for both Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberia National Police and the SGBV Section of MGCSP to collaborate prior to sending any case to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

The Minister disclosed that her Director of the Section has informed her that the alleged rape case involving MTM’s co-founder, did not reach them.

Ministry of Justice SGBV Section Issued Clearance to MTM

A communication from John A. Gabriel said he a living witness to the humanitarian assistance provided by MTM of which Meyler runs.

He added that works of MTM clearly shows that they provided not only humanitarian assistance to young Liberian girls but also provided work opportunity for professional Liberians, who are regularly paid by MTM.

The Liberian Government has reassured that it case will reopen the 2014 case of which the alleged perpetrator died after a hung jury came from jurors

Legal luminaries say there is nothing there to reopen as the defendant is dead and the indictment was directly done for the deceased.

“The Government has nothing to reopen because the case was a mistrial which the case is still open but since the defendant is dead, the only thing is to quash the case and do another indictment.”

“There was no rape because the defendant was not held liable, so the case is still alleged and the Government must test the girls who were reportedly raped to see if they got infected with HIV virus.”

Protest for MTM

Parents, whose children are beneficiaries of the organization have disclosed that they are going to protest in favor of MTM.

Two times meeting held in West Point shows that the parents were told that the government is planning to shut down the school, and doing so will deprive their kids of education.

Sources told FPA that the meeting over the weekend was to show that MTM has worked in the interest of the girls, who were reportedly abandoned by the Liberian government.

Since 2009, the works of MTM began in West Point where she contacted McIntosh prior to his incarceration and subsequent death.

The protest, according to sources, is planned for Tuesday, October 23, where parents will demand government to not shut the school down.

Meanwhile, Liberia Feminist Forum (LFF), has called on the government to revoke the operating accreditation of MTM Academy and their management of schools under the Government of Liberia-Ministry of Education’s Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP).

LFF recommended that GOL reassigns all 19 public schools under the management of MTM Academy within the LEAP program.

Facia Harris, member of the technical working group of LFF, called on GOL should appoint a Trustee to take over the affairs of MTM.

DNA Machine Not Functional

A DNA machine, which was donated to the Liberian government in April 2018, by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), is still sitting and not in use owing to the lack of experienced technicians to operate.

According to the Gender Minister, Liberians are being trained on how to operate the machine.

She, however, failed to disclose when the training will be over.

VP Taylor Appeals for Training in DNA Machine Operation

Recently, Vice-President Jewel Howard Taylor appealed to a delegation from Mercy Ships to train Liberian technicians in the operation of the DNA machine.

A five-member Mercy Ships International delegation headed by the Country Representative of the World Health Organization to Liberia, (WHO) Dr. Pierre M’Pele, had paid a courtesy call at her Capitol Building Offices.

“The DNA machine which is first of its kind in Liberia will help stop people traveling to Ghana to conduct DNA tests, and the machine will also help to make the work of the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection easier,” she told her guests.

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