Liberia: Why The World Food Programme Is Not Void Of Blame Amid Lapses In Liberia Covid-19 Stimulus Saga


Monrovia – At the height of the debate surrounding the distribution of food and other supplies related to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Program (WFP) declared that was independently managing resources from the Liberian Government’s COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) budget, and that the government managing the resources.

In a June 2020 statement, the WFP disclosed that the total budget of the COHFSP was set at US$30 million, comprising the cost of the food basket comprising rice, beans and vegetable oil, as well as costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted through this program.

What Went Wrong?

The WFP role is coming into play amid concerns that the program did not live up to its true essence and commitment to ensure the provision of food to vulnerable citizens.

Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe(Independent, Bomi) raised alarm bells when he raised questions about the way the program was conducted.

Appearing on OK FM Morning show, the Senator said: “The issue of the stimulus package and the way it was handled I think that it deviated too far from the actual intent from the Legislative and Executive branches of the government. Our hope and desire was that the vulnerable communities could benefit from the stimulus package during this major health pandemic where our people could not generate the needed resources to sustain their families and government needed to make some interventions. Unfortunately, people thought that the stimulus package was for their personal aggrandizement or house party”.

Senator Snowe further noted: “They said that they fed over two million people; it’s a lie. You are telling me that you fed about 80,000 persons in Bomi County – I challenge that. You did not feed up to 80,000 persons in Bomi. The distribution in Bomi was marred with different happenings; people stole the rice; people sold the rice and to some extent it was done on political lines and our people did not benefit”.

Just when the virus was at its peak, the Government of Liberia and partners launched a US$25M Covid-19 Household Food Distribution Stimulus Package for vulnerable households in Liberia.

With much scrutiny on the government’s performance, questions are being raised about the WFP’s role. “The entire operation was contracted to WFP. The only role of the government was to set guidelines regarding recruitment of contractors, payments and involvement of locals in the process. We emphasized that local food must be purchased from Liberians and local partners properly vetted,” a senior official in decision making told FrontPageAfrica at the weekend.

Communications in possession of FrontPageAfrica suggest that as far back as the early stages of the pandemic, some red flags were raised.

In one of those communications Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh, Chair of the National Steering Committee of the Covid-19 Household Food Support Programme(COHFSP) expressed some concerns to Carrie Morrison, Deputy Country Director of the WFP in Liberia.

Prof. Tarpeh explained that he had in fact, met with the Liberian Senate in Plenary to addressed some of the concerns regarding the distribution of Covid-19 supplies.

Communications Detail Early Issues

Following almost two hours of discussions, Prof. Tarpeh informed Ms. Morrison that the Senate concluded that the WFP prepare and submit a comprehensive report of the program detailing  among other things, operations and financial management, to the Senate not later than May 4, 2021; and that WFP, as the contracted party ,and the entire National Steering Committee appear before the Senate on May 11, 2021.

Prof. Tarpeh wrote: “It is very important and prudent that the WFP complete and submit this report to the Steering Committee ahead of the Senate due date in order to review same before submissionto the Senate. I underscore the critical importance of submitting comprehensive report because there is a good chance that  we risk undue political, public and to some degree, potential reputational harm from what I sense is a purposeful  misunderstanding of the enormous progress made by all on this program.

Please let me know if you have any questions.”

In response, Ms. Morris expressed appreciation for the Steering Committee chair’s concerns and said that the WFP was in fact, already in the process of submitting to the COHFSP Steering Committee.

The aim of the COHFSP was to assisting the most vulnerable households affected by COVID-19 prevention measures in Liberia.

Prof. Tarpeh, who was the Minister of Commerce and Industry at the time went a step further in another response to provide to the WFP details of those served by Counties and Districts. Include photographs and associated documents included signature sheets, names and telephone numbers. I realuze the challenge associated with exercise but I pleaed that we produce and submit these details as support/source documents to the comprehensuve report.”

Prof Tarpeh explained: “I spoke with your Mr. Amos Bellayan and stressed this critical requirement.  As a matter of fact, we can also produce every report as a standalone document to be given to each Senator.  Additionally, we should empower the Communication sub-committe to inundate the locate press with these reports. The COHFSP has been a remarkably successful endeavour especially when we consider the enormous adversities it faces. We should not and allow this success story to be smeared and wilfully discredited.”

The communication while offering clues as to what went on behind the scenes of the distribution during the early stages, still leave a lot to ponder.

The WFP for example, says on its website that it has, along with partners, provided 3,084 mt of staple food commodities to 243,140 beneficiaries (48,628 households) under the Government-led COVID-19 Household Food Support Programme (COHFSP).

Acknowledging delays, the WFP says it continued to accelerate the COHSFP implementation in January with food commodities being distributed in 11 of the 15 counties.

The WFP says it started preparations to provide emergency food assistance for two months to 15,500 food insecure Ivorian refugees who have crossed into Liberia following contentious presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire in October 2020.

So, why has so many communities been crying foul and how is it that Liberians have not felt the effect of US$30 million worth of package meant to feed folks during COVID?

Questions Linger Amid Allegations

Today, questions continue to linger amid public condemnations of the alleged US$9 million administrative and operational cost, with some Senators terming as wasteful, the alleged proposal by the Executive Branch allotting such amount for food distribution cost.

The WFP has insisted that US$25 million of the amount came directly from the Government of Liberia and US$5 million from the World Bank.

The government of Liberia reportedly transferred the amount to WFP’s account to implement the project.

In fact, the transfer is done as per the signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

WFP validated this by indicating that around six percent of the budget would go toward meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its lifesaving assistance, which it said was standard across all the countries where WFP work and was in line with international standards of aid delivery.

The WFP noted: “These include allocations toward the support costs of the Liberia Country Office directly linked to the execution of the programme (e.g. applicable rental costs, back office staff costs etc) and allocations toward the support costs of WFP Headquarters/Regional Bureau in their oversight and support function, called Indirect Support Costs (ISC),” WFP continues. Together, WFP says these can be referred to as the administrative costs, detailing that the value of the food is estimated at an approximate total cost of US$20.4 million, pending the final award of all contracts to suppliers.”

Portion of the budget that constitutes the costs of storing, transporting, and delivering the assistance (or operational costs) was estimated at US$7.8 million. This, according to WFP include in-country transport cost, costs for cooperating partners supporting the program, food safety and quality control, casual labour services, and household enumeration/registration, among others.

Blames All Around

Amid all the explanation regarding expenditure and who was responsible for the ongoing messy distribution scandal, eyebrows like those being raised by lawmakers like Senator Snowe are debating the million-dollar question: What went wrong?

Senator Snowe claims that rice, oil and beans that form part of the package were stolen and found under the beds of some citizens, he did not name while expressing disappointment over the manner and form in which cases reported on the Covid-19 stimulus package distributions were handled by the courts. “As I speak to you, there are still cases at the court even though I am quite disappointment over the way most of those cases were handled. For someone to be caught with 800 bags of rice or 500bags and you sent them to court; and the court said go and pay 200 dollars into government revenue-there were several local government officials involved”.

Amid all the attention on the government of Liberia regarding the distribution aspect of the stimulus package, there appears to be a lot of blame are going around although many Liberians are unsure what to make up the entire process. In spite of all the drama, the WFP finds itself engulfed in a lingering dilemma of bad governance and corruption in the midst of a global pandemic when those really in need of help have once again been left in the cold.