Liberia: Where Lies The Truth in WFP-Liberia US$9M COVID-Food Distribution Saga as Breakdown Unveiled

A Trail Of Documents Sheds Light On A US$25m Transfer From The Central Bank Of Liberia To The World Food Programmme As Part Of Stimulus Package For The Covid-19 Lockdown;  But Thousands Paid To Unnamed NGO’s  Raise More Questions Than Answers. Wherein Lies The Truth?

Monrovia – The aftermath of the World Food Programme’s denial to  allegations that it charged the Liberian government US$9 million to distribute food items as part of stimulus package to aid Liberians during the State of Emergency lockdown, has been greeted with intense debate and discussions amid attempts to decipher a breakdown of what the government sympathizers and supporters floated on the social medium Facebook Tuesday, detailing how the money was disbursed.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

According to a communication in possession of FrontPageAfrica, on June 11, 2020, Mr. Aloysious Tarlue, the Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia approved the transfer of USD$25,000.000 (Twenty-five million United States Dollars) to the WFP. The transfer according to the document was for stimulus package which, the government says is being  executed by the WFP.

The transfer was in line with what President George Manneh Weah told the nation in April when he submitted the stimulus plan to the national legislature.

CBL Letter: US$25M Paid to WFP

In that proposal, President Weah proposed that for the remainder of FY 2019/20 the National Legislature re-appropriate the amount of US$25 million to support food distribution to households in designated affected counties for the period of 60 days. “The full costing to cover this period in affected and other areas may add up to around $40 million. The World Bank has agreed to finance this gap off-budget to the tune of US$10 million, using resources reallocated from existing projects.”

At the time, the President said it was the government’s intention to have the World Food Program implement the program in collaboration with the government.

According to the CBL, the US$25 million was due to be received by WFP on Monday June 15 2020. The document from CBL showed the GoL moved all the US$25 million to WFP account and notes that the WFP would be responsible for procurement, logistics of moving the food etc.

On Tuesday, the government’s chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe,  said while the government’s efforts to provide food aid to millions of people across the country, are reeling from the socio-economic shocks of the  COVID-19 crisis, some politicians have gone all out to discredit this honest humanitarian gesture to the Liberian people. “They’ve imputed motives for selfish political gains.”

The minister explained that the money for the distribution has been transferred to the WFP on the instruction of the government.  “The $US25 million from GOL and $5 million from World Bank. Money in WFP’s account can not be taken/used again by the government.”

Opposition Withdrew, Minister Says 

“The confusion is more of semantics and comprehension than substance. But politicians want to exploit. The public needs to be aware that ahead of the crucial senatorial elections, there will be all kinds of machinations to prey on the perceive gullibility of ordinary people.”

– Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information

Added Minister Nagbe: “The WFP communications officer has said they didn’t “CHARGE $9 MILLION” as has been wrongly insinuated, which invalidates the claim on social media that they were billing the government U.S.$9 million dollars for the distribution. The WFP official told a local daily that 6% is their “standard practice”, and it goes towards meeting “essential minimum cost for WFP”. However, there are the costs of transportation, enumeration, warehousing, food basket purchase from farmers, wages, etc.”
According to the minister, the finance committee for the food distribution is headed by the World Bank and not the government of Liberia. It also consists of other international financial institutions, including the IMF and USAID.

 The minister accused the opposition who were invited to serve on the committee but refused, of playing politics with the issue. “The opposition was placed on that committee, demonstrating the government’s commitment to transparency. But they withdrew before the government even secured any money, apparently as a ploy to begin peddling exactly the kind of lies we are now seeing.”

The minister insisted that the food distribution committee set up by the president is only a policy arm while WFP carries out all operations and inplementation. “The confusing is more of semantics and comprehension than substance. But politicians want to exploit. The public needs to be aware that ahead of the crucial senatorial elections, there will be all kinds of machinations to prey on the perceive gullibility of ordinary people.”

Ali: GoL Explanation Not Adding Up

Mr. Mo Ali, Acting Secretary General of the former ruling Unity Party disagrees.

Speaking to told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday, Mr. Ali averred that the government’s explanation is not adding up.

Said Ali: “Breakdown of administrative costs for food distribution as released by the government this morning. Are payments for enumeration and other costed going to the routed through the WFP or done directly by the GOL? Does it make sense to pay the Steering Committee of the COHFSP (Food Distribution Committee) a whopping sum of US$297K (almost US$300K) for their services when the Committee comprises mainly government entities (as almost all opposition political parties have withdrawn)? We should note that the committee’s task is not operational and it involves mainly policy setting. The committee meets mainly through zoom. How can the committee defend said amount?”

Mo says the nearly $US300,000 allocated to the committee was one of the red flags that led him to turn down serving on the steering committee.

The committee comprises several cabinet ministers including, Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh as Chairman, Gender Minister, Wilhemina Piso Tarr, Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah, Agriculture Minister, Jeanine Milly Cooper, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Information Minister, Lenn Eugene Nagbe.

As the debate intensified Tuesday, attention shifted to the breakdown of the disbursement.

“Judging from the breakdown of administrative costs for food distribution as released by the government this morning. Are payments for enumeration and other cost going to the routed through the WFP or done directly by the GOL?”

– Mo Ali, Acting Secretary General, Unity Party

The breakdown showing a total of US$9, 638,848(nine million, six hundred thirty-eight thousand, 848 dollars), was reportedly doled out with several thousands of dollars paid multiple times to an unnamed Non-Governmental Organization(NGO) and 1.696,918 paid to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) for the enumeration of houses.

A total of 2,092,694(two million, ninety-two thousand, six hundred and ninety-four dollars) was set aside for in-country transportation, 121,365(one hundred, twenty one thousand, three hundred sixty five dollars was set aside for casual labor while 52,800 (fifty-two thousand, eight hundred dollars for GPS installation service and a host of others.

Critics of the government are still struggling to decipher how on the one hand, WFP was tasked with running the entire operation and paid US$25 million but the Liberian government still wound up handling US$9 million for operational and other expenses. Did the WFP pay back some of the US$25 million paid to them back to Liberia to pay NGOs and LISGIS for their role in the distribution scheme?

The breakdown appears to have created more questions than answers Tuesday as many Liberians seek answers especially in the wake of WFP’s own assertion that it is not charging US$9 million to the Government of Liberia. “Any suggestions to the contrary are totally unfounded, James Belgrave, Communication Officer, UN World Food Programme in Rome, Italy told FPA Monday.

“In Liberia, the Government-led COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) has a total budget of US$30 million. This comprises the cost of the food basket (rice, beans and vegetable oil) as well as the costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted under the programme. A very small percentage of the budget (around 6%) goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its life-saving assistance – this is standard across all the countries where WFP works and is in line with international standards of aid delivery.”

Legislature Misled, Senator Says

Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(Liberty Party, Grand Bassa), in a statement Tuesday expressed frustration at the lack of transparency dogging the controversy.  “When we requested the National Response Plan for the fight against COVID-19 from the Executive, we were greeted with insults including from the Ministry of Information. We requested details and a chance to question the MFDP authorities concerning the recast budget and associated sources of funding and contracts including of the WFP. Again, we received condemnation and insults, and were maligned as bent on working against the interests of our people. The recast budget was rushed into uncharacteristic  passage without required scrutiny and without our votes.”

 The Senator who is also Chair of the Food Distribution Committee in the Senate, said she has once more requested the contract between the WFP and the Government. “We have also demanded the Food Distribution Plan for the entire Country. We expect that we will receive a copy prior to any distribution. It’s disgraceful, embarrassing and shameful for the Government to say that the WFP is charging 9million for operations and WFP debunks the claim essentially as a lie in stating their charge is only 1.8 million. Should we determine that the Minister misled the Legisture, we will call for his dismissal, investigation and prosecution!”