Liberia: Weah Govt. Abusing Single Sourcing Rule to Favor Well-Connected Foreigners

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LONDON –  In various utterances since his inauguration in January, President George Manneh Weah has repeatedly stressed the need to include Liberians in the resuscitation of Liberia’s struggling economy. In reality, many of the opportunities available to date are being thrown in the direction of foreigners with closed business ties to the President.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

Visiting the National Port of Authority Wednesday, President Weah reiterated his inauguration-day pledge in which he said Liberians would not be spectators to the local economy. On the contrary, a FrontPageAfrica investigation has uncovered yet another attempt by the President to single source a major investment opportunity to someone with whom he has close connection.

Multiple sources have informed FPA that the President has instructed authorities at the Roberts International Airport to grant his long-time friend, the Ghanaian businesswoman, Ms. Angela Diala List, the Business Lounge and two stores at the new terminal at the Roberts International Airport.

Business Lounge, Shops Bid Opens

It all started in September when the Liberia Airport Authority  announced a Request for Bids in keeping with best International Competitive Bidding for the rental of Roberts International Airport Terminal Stores/Outlets). FPA has now learned that instructions from the presidency has left the LAA with no alternative but to grant List the business lounge and two shops.

The bid sought interested parties seeking to lease stores and outlets in the new airport terminal. 

The LAA–RIA announcement requested bids from interested and qualified firms with vast experience in operating the new Business Class Lounge, two high-end restaurants, three duty free shop/outlets and four shops.

Despite assurances from the LAA that the bidding would be conducted through the National Competitive Bidding (ICB), FPA has learned that the ICB Act was amended and approved on September 11, 2018, specifically to allow List an opening with emphasis that the bid would be open to ‘‘all bidders from eligible source countries as defined in the guidelines.’’

FrontPageAfrica has also learned that contrary to the guidelines of the bidding process which states that interested firms must demonstrate a strong commercial vision, expertise, outstanding shops and customer service program, and provide a passenger experience at RIA that is competitive with the world’s leading international terminals and have at least five years’ experience in Airport Lounge Management or other private lounges and a minimum average annual turnover of US$250,000.00 for the last three (3) years, List’s interest has been in the mining sector and not airport lounge management.

List is currently the Finance Director at BCM Ghana /International Ltd founded by she and her husband, Paul List. She serves as Non-Executive Director of GoldStone Resources Limited since November 27, 2017. She is a Director of BCM Investment Limited (“BCM”). She joined the BCM Group in 2001 as Finance Director. Prior to this she was a Member of the audit team at KPMG Ghana Limited. According to her Linked-in profile, she current holds Directorships / Partnerships with Bayswater AG, Bayswater Capital Partners AG, BCM Ghana Limited, BCM International Limited and BCM Investments Limited. 

List’s Eyeing Mining Interests

A previous FPA investigation detailed the massive influence List has on the Weah-led government. 

FPA reported  in July that List has been linked to a number of mining operations in Liberia and was the main engine driving a controversial plan by the CDC-led government to hire a power barge that would sell electricity to the Liberia Electricity Corporation for distribution to Liberian consumers.

The Weah-led government has been in serious negotiations with a Turkish company, Karpowership, a private electricity exporter, owner, operator and builder of the first floating power plant fleet in the world. Under the plan, Liberia would enter into a ten-year contract in which it would purchase power from Karpowership even though it already has an absorptive capacity of only 24 % of current installed capacity at Bushrod Island and Mt. Coffee. The plan has received a barrage of criticisms from key stakeholders who have cautioned the administration against the move owing to the massive investment already committed to the revamp of the Mount Coffee Hydro plant.

The Weah administration was further warned that signing of the agreement with Karpower could trigger serious repercussions with the Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC), the Norwegian government, the European Union, the World Bank and the German Development Bank.

List who was a special guest at President Weah’s inauguration in January, is also a close friend of Emmanuel Shaw, one of President Weah’s top economic advisors and Mr. Ibrahim Mahama, brother of the former president of Ghana, who reportedly provided a fleet of vehicles as gifts and the use of his aircraft when needed.

List’s BCM first started as “Bayswater Contracting”, a family firm in Western Australia in the early 1950s, primarily in the civil works and mining construction business. Under the same family ownership, BCM Group expanded into Ghana in 1990 and thereafter further into Mali, Tanzania, Guinea and Niger. By the year 2000, BCM had established itself as one of the leading mining and civil contractors in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area containing significant mineral wealth. In 2004, BCM became the first Western Style mining contractor in Central Asia and with operations in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

The company had not done any mining or related operation prior to the arrival of the CDC-led government headed by President George Manneh Weah. In the past five months however, FrontPageAfrica recently reported that the company had stepped up interests in a number of ongoing projects in Liberia, including Putu Iron Ore, Wologisi, Tawana Resources Cape Mount Project and the Hummingbird concession which was vetoed by the President over what sources say was triggered by List who has made her intentions clear about securing the concession.

In July, President Weah, in a bid to appease, List interests in the Hummingbird deal, vetoed the ratified Concession Mineral Development Agreement between the government of Liberia and Hummingbird Liberia Incorporated, returning the bill to the Senate with several recommendations.

While the President’s action was in keeping with Article 35 of the Liberian Constitution, FrontPageAfrica has learned that the move was triggered by interests from List.

Article 35 states: “Each bill or resolution which shall have passed both Houses of the Legislature shall, before it becomes law, be laid before the President for his approval. If he grants approval, it shall become law. If the President does not approve such bill or resolution, he shall return it, with his objections, to the House in which it originated. In so doing, the President may disapprove of the entire bill or resolution or any item or items thereof. This veto may be overridden by the re-passage of such bill, resolution or item thereof by a veto of two-thirds of the members in each House, in which case it shall become law. If the President does not return the bill or resolution within twenty days after the same shall have been laid before him it shall become law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature by adjournment prevents its return.”

In vetoing the concession, the President cited conflict in dates, authority to negotiate land expansion, negotiation of office space and support to community development by proposed concessionaire, telling lawmakers: “The document warrants review to ensure that provisions in the agreement are responsive to current and future situations.”

List and BCM, in addition to Hummingbird concession, also reportedly has interests in projects currently licensed to the Australian firm, Tawana Resources, which is currently involved in mining operations in the Mofe Creek project which has a Mineral Resource at 61.9Mt at 33% Fe.

The company recently transferred Mofe Creek assets and others in Western Australia to a wholly-owned public company (SpinCo), before undertaking a capital reduction and distribution by way of in-specie distribution of 85% of all SpinCo shares to Tawana Resources’ shareholders.

The Mofe Creek project is located within one of Liberia’s historic premier iron ore mining districts and is 10 km along strike from the abandoned Bomi Hills mine, 80 km along strike from the historic Bong Mine, 45 km from the Mano River mine and 20 km from the Bea Mountain resource.

The project is characterized by exceptionally coarse-grained, high-grade itabirite that has the potential to deliver a high-grade product (63%Fe – 68%Fe) at a coarse crush sizing, with high mass recoveries, and potentially low mine stripping ratios and free-dig material.

The project is exceptionally well-located being approximately 20 km from the coast for potential haul-road trucking or conveyor of product to the coast and transshipment via barge to deeper water for on-shipment or barging to the port of Monrovia.

Additionally, List and her company are also said to be tracking the Russian Iron Ore Company, Putu Mining operations which have been dormant for some time since it shut down its activities in Liberia.

The Putu mine is a large iron mine located in south-east Liberia in Grand Gedeh County and represents one of the largest iron ore reserves in Liberia and in the world with an estimated reserve of 2.37 billion tonnes of ore grading 34.1% iron metal.

In March 2017, Liberian authorities confirmed that Putu was exiting Liberia because it could not handle the mining process singlehandedly. “From all practical purposes, Putu is basically out of Liberia but technically the MDA is still valid though Putu walked away from the agreement,” former Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Patrick Sendolo said in March 2017 during an appearance before a Senate committee.

Since assuming office in January, the Weah administration has been pushing for the canceling the Putu MDA and thereby offering an opening for List’s BCM Group to take over the mining operation. Multiple sources have confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that List’s BCM group has also been pressuring the administration to give up the Wologisi Mountain range.

List was a driving force in the President’s decision in July to issue a directive ordering the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Mr. Gesler E. Murray to forward all applications for the issuance of Mining/Mineral Licenses to the President’s Office for review prior to final approval.

President Weah’s office says the move is intended to safeguard the country’s natural resources for the benefit of all Liberians. But experts say it violates the mining laws of Liberia.

The Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy (MLME) was established by a 1972 Act of Legislature to administer all activities relative to land, mineral, water and energy resource exploration, coordination and development in the Republic of Liberia, giving the ministry the sole authority to manage the mineral sector. With those responsibilities now under the guidance of the ministry of state, critics say issues of conflict of interests could trigger a wave of potential problems for the Weah presidency in the not too distant future.

Lebanese Benefiting from Single-Source

List influence in the Weah-led government comes against the backdrop of another FPA investigative report this week that a number of major contracts including the construction of the 14 Military Hospital have been contracted to Lebanese nationals with closed ties to the President.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, FPA received confirmation from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission that Lebanese national Mohamad Bittar has been contracted for work on the 14 Military Hospital. Another Lebanese National, Ali Kobiessi of Building Materials Center (BMC) is reportedly contracted to revamp the VIP terminal at the RIA.

Both Bittar and Ali of BMC are also said to be involved in construction of several of President Weah’s private properties including the reconstruction of the 9th Street property, the Jamaica Lodge Resort, and what is believed to be his dream house near the Baptist Seminary on the Roberts field highway. Bittar was also awarded the Doe Community road contract.

The PPCC informed FrontPageAfrica that the Bittar Construction Company was awarded the contract for the supply of building materials worth US$2,977,230.31 for the construction of the 14 Military Hospital.

In a confirmation letter to the FrontPageAfrica, PPCC noted that the Ministry of Defense which requested ‘No Objection to Bittar Construction Company for the supply of building materials, the Ministry assured the PPCC that construction works would be carried out by the Engineering battalion of the Armed Forces of Liberia. 

The decision to single source the 14 Hospital to Bittar contradicts the laws of the PPCC which states that a procuring entity can only sole source when: 

(a) When only one (1) supplier has the exclusive right to manufacture the goods, carry out the works or perform the services to be procured and no suitable alternative is available; 

(b) For additional deliveries of goods by the original supplier which are intended either as replacement parts for existing goods, services or installations or as the extension of existing goods, services or installations where a change of supplier would compel the Procuring Entity to procure equipment or services not meeting requirements of interchangeability with already existing equipment or services; 

(c) When additional works not included in the initial contract have, through unforeseeable circumstances, become necessary and the separation of the additional works or services from the initial contract would be difficult for technical or economic reasons, among others.

In Ghana, where List hails, foreign-owned businesses are not so lucky to get easy access to such lucrative endeavors. Ghana, in the latest World Bank Ease of Doing Business Ranking, dropped twelve points from the 108th position in 2016 to the 120th position in 2017. A number of businesses are looking at moving to other countries due to the high cost of doing business in Ghana.

Although Ghana has been taking steps to address the issue, most foreign-owned businesses find it difficult to break in so easily.

With an estimated GDP growth of close to 8% in 2012, Ghana has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, most companies find it difficult. 

Ghana’s Union of Traders has had an unfettered relationship with foreigners doing business there, particularly regarding sectors solely reserved for nationals as a deliberate government policy. By law any foreigner who wants to engage in retailing must first invest an initial $300,000.

It is unclear whether List’s finances meet the requirements as her BCM company has reportedly been struggling of late.

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