Liberia: Making The Difference – NLA Uncovers Over S$700k Outstanding Debts Owed Government
Monrovia – Coming to power officially on January 22, 2018, President Weah made promises to his people and the world. One of such was that he would fight corruption and improve the lives of the ordinary Liberians by making sure that those given responsibilities to work in his government would perform and make the difference or else they would be let go of those responsibilities. In recent weeks we witnessed the dismissal of the Minister of Agriculture and the Director-General of the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) for, in the words of the government, lack of performance. Previously the Managing Director and a deputy at the National Housing Authority were also dismissed due to being caught in what has been termed as a corruption web.
The National Lottery appears to be up to the task in following the mandate of the Pro- Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development under the Weah-led government. Mandated by the Act that created it to serve as the Regulator of the Gaming Sector in Liberia, the NLA was previously seen as an under-performing agency of government. This paper has been following keenly the works and activities of the National Lottery Authority and reports the following observations:
In March, 2019, President Weah suspended for time in definite Mr. Martin Kollie from his position as Director-General of the National Lottery Authority for alleged acts of impropriety and ordered him to subject himself to an investigation. In that same suspension letter, the President appointed Mr. Neved P. Kortu, then deputy Director-General for Operations to act as acting Director-General with a special mandate to move the NLA forward in tandem with the Pro- Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development. And, it appears as though actg. Director-General Kortu got the message from His Excellency the President.
Immediately upon taking the helm of the NLA, Acting DG Kortu embarked upon understanding the sector better and looking at the staff and their development. He immediately embarked upon familiarity visits to all Operators in the gaming sector to thank them for their presence and service and to assure them of government’s commitment to be of service to them in order to grow the gaming sector, improve their business and create jobs for Liberians.
One of the first things was the commissioning of an internal process termed “Critical Evaluation” of the sector. This process, which was headed by Mr. Roger B. Abin-Karmon, Sr. a senior member of Management at the NLA, saw the review of each operator’s file at the NLA, instituting a ‘verification’ system to ascertain whether all the operators were up-to-date with their mandated legal documentations as required to be issued license(s) including payment records and statement of financial viability and solvency. The process also sought to review operators’ requests/applications for various licenses(s) accompanied with the required documentation.
According to sources inside the National Lottery Authority, this was a detailed process which was transparent and done with the highest degree of professionalism and respect for the gaming Operators while focusing on making sure the needed revenue and fees due government are remitted. The process was long and detailed and as well tedious, but ended with the production of a Report which was forwarded to President Weah on June 5, 2019.
Findings from the report show that some of the operators in the gaming sector owed government fees and revenue from far back as 3 to 4 years ago summing up to over half of a Million United States Dollars, to be exact, US$789,460 collectively owed by Doxx Bet, GoBet231, Mainline International, Fortuna Liberia and Palm Spring dating back a few years earlier. The report found that Oragon owes government, but it is in the current sphere and in fact has committed to clearing its account to zero balance in a few weeks. The report found that the only operator that had all its documents in order and did not owe the government of Liberia is Winners, Inc.
Many of the gaming operators have objected to the findings of the report claiming that the indebtedness being referred to was during the administration of then Director-General Martin Kollie who allowed them to operate though they had not met the legal requirements and paid the requisite fees. Some have even gotten their lawyers to write the NLA challenging the veracity of the report, though they have provided nothing to prove the NLA’s finding wrong.
Experts within the gaming sector have often spoken of the fact that the sector was not being properly regulated and that government has been losing immense revenue with no growth, but overcrowding of the sector with very little impact on jobs creation or expanded revenue base. However, many have said that with the direction that acting Director-General Neved P. Kortu is taking, government stands to benefit tremendously while the creation of jobs seems certain.
In order to balance our report, we spoke to many of the gaming operators named in the report who admitted to owing the government of Liberia for the many years as captured by the report, but dismissed the findings claiming that they are connected to ‘higher ups’ in government and on the NLA board who will protect them from paying into government revenue what they owe. They further claimed, though they provided no evidence, that the suspended Director-General Martin Kollie granted them the right to operate without proper documentation and the payment of government revenues.
However, our reporter spoke with officials at the Ministry of Finance, the LRA and the Ministry of State who all spoke on condition of anonymity that absolutely no operator in the gaming sector who has violated the laws of the Republic of Liberia and are indebted to the government will be protected. In fact, according to a Ministry of State official, who spoke on the same condition, said that emphatically the government of Liberia needs the revenue to meet its budget and improve the lives of its people in line with the Pro-Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity, hence, no one at the Ministry of State or anywhere in the government of Liberia will grant any special favors to operators who owe government.
It can be recalled that the Liberia Revenue Authority’s Deputy Commissioner-General Decontee King-Sackie in her capacity as acting Commissioner-General, admitted to a budget shortfall of US$8.2 million following the LRA’s failure to collect the needed revenue owed by taxpayers. Officials of the LRA, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, the ministry that appointed Neved P. Kortu to act as Director-General have all expressed great satisfaction at the work done by the NLA acting Director-General and his Team and urged them to do more to get the NLA properly functioning in order to support the government’s developmental agenda.