Liberia: Accountability Issues at FDA As Levy Collected are Paid Into Mobile Money Account; Workers Alarm Corruption

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MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority has been collecting hundreds of thousands in Liberian dollars as levy on non-timber products at various checkpoints across the country but said money is not deposited in government revenue account, rather transferred into a mobile money account after being collected in physical cash by the agents at these checkpoints.

The mobile money number, 0888-207721, though registered as Forestry Development Authority (Central Office), is mobile number of the Mr. Edward Kamara, Marketing Manager. All 30 checkpoints across the country transfer fees collected to his mobile money number.

Documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica show that for the month of January, agents assigned at the Klay checkpoint in Bomi County were able to raise and transfer a total of L$570,415.

The fees are collected on non-timber products like sawn timber, charcoal, round pole/rafer, bamboo, rattan cane, rattan (bitter root), Raphia palm fond, xylopia fruits, fuel wood, chewing sticks, natural honey, palm wine, specialty wood species, tree bark, bitter root, etc. Prices for various items varies.

Ironically, despite the over half a million Liberian dollar collected in January from a single checkpoint, checkpoint agents are complaining that though they make a monthly salary of only L$12,000, they have not been for several months.

“We collect a lot of money and it is all transferred to a mobile money account. The top hierarchy at the FDA have been mismanaging this money and diverting it to their personal use instead of depositing into government’s revenue account. Right now, the Managing Director and the Deputy Managing Director for Administration are at loggerheads because of this money,” an agent who preferred anonymity told FrontPageAfrica.

An FDA insider confirmed the information to FrontPage Africa. He said previously, the Deputy Managing Director for Administration supervised the collection and the mobile money account to which moneys were being transferred to. However, due to some misunderstanding on how the money was being managed, said responsibility was taken from him and assigned to a committee. Agents at checkpoints were also changed. According to the FDA insider, this was the cause of the fracas between the Managing Director Mr. C. Mike Doryen and the Deputy Managing Director for Operations, Mr. Benjamin T. Plewon III.

Our source also confirmed that agents have not been paid for several months. “Though I’m highly ranked at the FDA, I also cannot explain to you how that money has been used or is being used. I know there is a committee set up to oversee it and little do we know what is becoming of the money. But I know very huge sums are being reported.”

“We collect a lot of money and it is all transferred to a mobile money account. The top hierarchy at the FDA have been mismanaging this money and diverting it to their personal use instead of depositing into government’s revenue account. Right now, the Managing Director and the Deputy Managing Director for Administration are at loggerheads because of this money.”

– An aggrieved FDA Checkpoint agent

MD Denies Mismanagement/Delayed Salaries

FrontPageAfrica could not reach Mr. Plewon, the Deputy MD. However, Mr. C. Mike Doryen, the Managing Director who was reached for comments said FDA being an autonomous agency has the authority to collect fees to run its activities.

He said the FDA was constrained to transfer all fees collected from checkpoints due to the unavailability of banks in some remote areas. According to him, the fees are then transferred from the mobile money account to the FDA bank account.

He also debunked the allegation that checkpoint agents have not been paid for months, claiming that those complaining of delayed salaries are those who want to continue benefitting from the spoiled system.

“Because of this new system we’ve put in place, we have been able to clear most of their arrears from the previous regime and in the next few months, we will be current on salary,” he said.

FrontPageAfrica contacted the Liberia Revenue Authority to ascertain whether such fees should be deposited into government’s revenue account, however, the Revenue Authority informed FPA that it will respond after ascertaining all the facts surrounding the fees being collected.

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