Liberia: LISGIS Bosses Implicated in Series of Alleged Financial Malpractices
MONROVIA – The pending population census may not be conducted this year; those in charge at the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Prof. Francis Wreh, and two of his principal deputies, and others, have been partying from the Census’ bank account, FrontPageAfrica’s investigation has established.
The National Population and Housing Census is estimated to cost US$18,956,650.00; of this amount, the Government of Liberia was expected to provide US$6,782,243.43 while the UNFPA and other partners matchup the government’s contribution to the estimated cost. The Liberian government, however, committed to contribute US$3 million.
LISGIS and the UNFPA signed co-financing agreement on May 15, 2019 wherein both LISGIS and the UNFPA agreed that the government through LISGIS will contribute US$6,782,243.43 in support of the census which should have been held since 2019.
In the agreement, both parties agreed all that contributions from the government will be transferred to the UNFPA’s account with CitiBank in New York.
It was agreed that the payment from the payment would be made as follows:
April 30, 2019, US$1 million; June 30, 2019, US$2 million; December 31, 2019 US$1.5 million and on June 30, 2020, the last payment of US$2,282,243.43 would be made.
However, the government was not able to meet up with the payment timeline due to financial constraints.
In February 2020, President Weah wrote the Legislature requesting the postponement of the census to 2021. This was the second time the census had been delayed. Pres. Weah informed the Legislature that his request for the rescheduling was due to financial constraints and the need for more time for adequate preparations.
It was therefore expected to have commenced on March 8, 2021 but again did not due to the government’s inability to meet up with its expected contribution.
Partying with the Money
While the government is struggling to meet up with its side of the bargain, the Directors at LISGIS have been heavily involved with the gross misuse of the government’s contribution to the process, FrontPageAfrica has gathered.
To date, the government has contributed a total of US$1,150,000 and L$97,721,761 for the purpose of conducting the census.
However, FrontPageAfrica’s investigation established that to date, only US$700,000 has been transferred to the census account with the UNFPA.
It can be recalled that Mr. Wreh in June 2021, informed the Liberian Senate that so far, LISGIS had received US$1 million from the government for the census and passed on the amount to UNFPA in accordance with the co-financing agreement.
However, after a FrontPageAfrica report that sources at the UNFPA had confided in the paper that only US$700,000 was transferred, Prof. Wreh called a press conference the following day after the publication to state that his pronouncement at the Senate was a “slip of tongue”.
Prof. Wreh said at the time, “By the slip of tongue, we said the US$3 million government promised to give is somewhere around 0.15 of the total cost of the census, but it’s actually 15%. We also stated that US$1 million was transferred. The actual money that was transferred to UNFPA was US$700k and the balance US$300k which was given in Liberian dollars equivalent was deposited in our census account because the UNFPA said they don’t accept Liberian dollars. The amount in the tone of LD$ 48million is being deposited in our Census account for census operation.”
FrontPageAfrica’s investigation established that to date, the remaining US$300,000 remains unaccounted for.
FrontPageAfrica also discovered that Prof. Wreh has been making withdrawals from the LISGIS census account unilaterally and converting same into personal use and in some instances, amounts withdrawn are distributed among him and his principal deputies.
One of such instances was when a cheque of US$50,000 was written and withdrawn in the name of Abigail T. Monboe who works as an accountant in the finance office. The cheque was raised without any voucher. The money was allegedly shared among the Director Wreh, Deputy for Administration Lawrence George, and the Deputy Director General for Information & Coordination, Wilmot Smith.
FrontPageAfrica could not get comments or explanation from LISGIS after making a formal inquiry on what the US$50,000 was used for and whether it was raised through a voucher though the inquiry was made via an email on the March 22, 2022 and followed up by several phone calls. Both deputies promised provide response to the email the following day after it was sent but failed to do so.
FrontPageAfrica investigation discovered that the internal auditors at LISGIS did not approve the payment because it was illegal
The inquiry also sought to know the status of the remaining US$300,000 that was to be remitted to the Census account with the UNFPA.
FrontPageAfrica further sought explanation for why only US$700,000 has been transferred to the UNFPA though LISGIS has received up to US$1.8 million from the government.
On February 21, Prof. Wreh withdrew US$350 from the census account for unexplained reasons and also on March 2, he withdrew another US$900 also for reasons unexplained.
The Deputy Director for Administration, Mr. Lawrence George also stands accused of withdrawing US$30,720 on January 27, 2022 from the census account for the purpose of purchasing a generator for the entity. However, a second-hand generator was purchased at US$15,000. It is against the Liberian government’s policy to purchase second-hand goods. According to sources at LISGIS, the generator broke down a week after it was purchased.
Mr. Wilmot Smith, Jr., FPA investigation established without regards to the PPCC guidelines signed a contract worth over US$115,000 with a firm called Avianet/Global Jet for the shipment of 21,000 tablets and power banks to be loaned to LISGIS the Ghana Statistical Services. Mr. Smith signed this contract on Saturday, February 26, 2022, which is a non-working day for government and the money was hurriedly transferred on the next Monday, February 28, 2022.
Mr. Smith is also on record for withdrawing US$800 on February 28, 2022, and allegedly diverted same to personal use.
Expression of Dismay
FrontPageAfrica’s investigation also obtained a copy of an email sent by G. Alex M. Williams, 2022 National Population & Housing Census Project Coordinator Deputy Director-General for Statistics & Data Processing to Director Wreh bemoaning the withdrawals from the census account without his knowledge.
He wrote, “On numerous occasions, both verbally and via emails, I have reported that multiple withdrawals are being made on the census USD account at Ecobank without my knowledge and without following the required due process. However, you have not taken any action to stop these. These payments violate Liberia’s Public Financial Management Laws, the Operational framework of the census project document, the Public Procurement and Commission laws of Liberia, and local and international best practices and accounting standards.”
He went on to state that over US$100,000 given by the Government of Liberia for the 2022 National Population & Housing Census were withdrawn from the census account in the subject line between the period December 9, 2021, to January 27, 2022, without any request from the Census Project Coordinator as required and without been cleared or seen by the Internal Audit Unit here at LISGIS.