CENTAL Wants Government’s Clarity on Questions Surrounding the Procurement of 285 Earth-Moving Equipment

By: Sylvester Choloplay & Jeremiah Cooper

Liberia-May 30, 2024: Following the pronouncement of 285 earth-moving machines to be arriving soon in Liberia by the Liberian Government, an integrity watch institution, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), is asking the Liberian Government to answer questions on the procurement of these equipment.

Recently during a three-day cabinet retreat in Monrovia, the Government of Liberia through the Minister of State Without Portfolio, Madam Mamaka Bility, announced that 285 pieces of earth-moving equipment had been presented to the Government of Liberia in a virtual turnover ceremony attended by her, Hon. Sylvester M. Grigsby, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Hon. Roland Layfette Giddings, Minister of Public Works.

During the cabinet presentation, Minister Bility released a video featuring Mr. Xu Ming, Senior Vice President of Sany Group, a Chinese multi-national heavy equipment manufacturing company and the 3rd-largest heavy equipment manufacturer in the world, and Robert Gumede, Chairman of the Guma Group based in South Africa.

However, the pronouncement has been greeted with mixed reactions from the public. On social media and other platforms, Liberians have welcomed the development, but call for transparency, accountability, and full compliance with procurement and other related laws in acquiring the equipment.

During a press briefing at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs, and Tourism on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, Information Minister Jerolinmek Piah said the announcement made by Minister Bility was not as a result of an agreement reached but rather an update on plans of the government. He stressed that even though the government of Liberia has the power to negotiate deals in the interest of the country, such deals will be negotiated with respect for the rule of law and separation of powers.

However, the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia is deeply concerned about the pronouncement and the entire process surrounding it.

CENTAL said it is appalled by the Liberian Government’s official response, which leaves more questions than answers.

“First, Minister Bility’s pronouncement lacked the required details to adequately inform the public about the process. The Government was not compelled to speak on the matter, since it claims that the arrangement is premature or in its formative stage. Yet, if the video presented by Minister Bility is anything to go by, the pieces of equipment have already been marked with the photos of President Joseph N. Boakai, decorated with the Liberian Flag, and in motion as if en route to Liberia’’, CENTAL’s Executive Director, Anderson Miamen, stated during a press conference in Monrovia on Thursday May 30, 2024.

Anderson said while his institution welcome the Government’s plans to acquire multiple key assets and logistics to facilitate works and development in different sectors, including road/infrastructure in this instant case, but there is no publicly available information regarding a competitive bidding or tendering process that informed the government’s decision to begin negotiation with a group to provide such huge quantity of earth-moving equipment reportedly valued over 20 million USD, above the 1 million USD required for International Competitive Bidding by the amended Public Procurement and Concessions Commission Act of 2010.

“Many questions linger. At what point of process, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission would have been involved? When the deal is in an advanced stage or concluded, as it appears to be? How then will the process be Competitive and Transparent? The government is reneging on divulging the source of neither the equipment nor the company behind the deal, which reportedly has business interests in Liberia is highly concerning” he said.

Stressing, “This singular act raises more questions about transparency, robustness and integrity of ongoing discussion and even have implications for future processes that will occasion the award of any contract or concession to them(the company or those at the center of saga) for works and services in Liberia”

The CENTAL Executive Director further said ‘’we are also aware of the dangers of government receiving donations or gifts from companies with business interests in Liberia. May we remind the Government of the situation involving the 100 Toyota Hilux DXD4 double cabin pickups donated to members of the 52nd National Legislature by Arcelor Mittal, the company mining iron ore in Nimba County.

Following the donation, the Liberian Legislature ratified the company’s new Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) in 2007. Since then, there have been claims and counterclaims about the Pickups influencing the decision of the government to ratify the new deal, which is believed to be largely favorable to the Company.

There have been multiple incidences of violence, resulting from reported poor treatment of citizens by the company, especially those within the concession area, with little to no redress. It would be very difficult, if not impossible to argue against the thought that the 100 Pickups given then, in the midst of the negotiation of the deal played a key role in government’s treatment of the Company’’.

Meanwhile CENTAL recommends to President Joseph Boakai and his government to proceed with extreme caution in initiating discussions around potential support from individuals and groups, especially those with business interest in Liberia.

The CENTAL’S Boss said lack of transparency around the acquisition, source of funding, and tendering may paint a dark picture and erode public trust and acceptability of the project.

‘’We call for more transparency, competition, and inclusiveness of processes around transfer of our national assets as well as acquisition of equipment for road, agriculture and other critical sectors and activities. We urge President Boakai and his team to fully comply with the PPCC Guidelines in any procurement related matters. Equally, we call on the Legislature to lead by example and be robust and independent in performing its duties, especially through ensuring transparency, accountability, and integrity around this and other related critical matters”, he admonished.

Mr. Miamen concluded by applauding Liberians for their courage in speaking out on governance, accountability and other issues bordering on their interest and the wellbeing of the country.

He also commanded Liberians’ stance on this issue and encourage them to keep constructively engaged with their government to ensure more transparency, accountability, inclusion and robustness in decision-making and implementation, especially those with implications for the future and well-being of the state.

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