GBARNGA, Bong – The superintendent residence in Bong, the official dwelling place of the county’s superintendent within the Civil Compound Community in Gbarnga, stands in ruins at the moment.
Nearly half the portion of the roof of the two-story building has fallen as a result of neglect. The window glasses are broken, and electrical wires are strewn all over the building as well.
The grass is overgrown around the building that criminals now use as a hideout, next to rodents and insects.
The building has been in this condition for almost two years – since Bong’s last superintendent under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Selena Polson Mappy, left the premises.
It is not that there are no funds in the county’s account for renovation on this facility and the completion of several other stalled projects; the issue is funds intended for this project and many others, have been allegedly misdirected by county officials.
During November 12, 2018, Development Council Sitting in Bong, delegates apportioned US$50,000 for the renovation of the building for the current superintendent, Esther Walker, to move in as she steers the administrative affairs of the county.
County councils, according to Liberia’s Budget Law, are the highest decision-making bodies of each county. During each county council sitting, citizens from all parts of a county converge annually to decide on appropriations of the county and social development funds for the budget year.
A total of US$1,999,750 was allotted to different development projects, institutional support, and administrative cost for the project management committee and the county administration during the county sitting last year.
The chairperson of Bong’s Project Management Committee, Stephen Mulbah, told The Bush Chicken that the government provided US$1.15 million in County and Social Development Funds, against the total amount budgeted during the county sitting.
Being that the US$1.15 million could not match up with the US$1,999,750 in allotments made during the last county sitting, the Bong Legislative Caucus and the local leadership reportedly entered another agreement to pay 50 percent each against all the projects agreed during the county sitting.
The agreement expanded that the remaining 50 percent would be paid to finish up payments for those allotments when the county receives another batch of its development funds.
Many citizens in Bong, including civil society actors, have described that agreement as being “outside of the Budget Law.” Section 9 of the Budget Law says all allocations for the spending of social development funds must be done through a resolution derived at a county council sitting.
Even though a majority of the members of the legislative caucus signed unto the new resolution, some of them say the Project Management Committee and local leadership of the county are not spending the US$1.15 million as was agreed.
Bong’s second district representative and the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Prince Moye, recently informed citizens during a live radio talk show in the county that funds have been spent outside of the agreed resolution.
“To date, I am told that the balance of that account is just US$272,000. We haven’t seen any new projects, the [Public Procurement and Concession Commission] processes have not been concluded and then the money has reduced to US$272,000. I think it is worrisome,” Moye said.
He said people are using the money for campaign purposes ahead of the 2020 midterm senatorial election in the county, even though he failed to name those allegedly using the funds for the campaign.
Moye indicated that the Project Management Committee and the county authority have failed to make expenditure reports to the caucus.
He also expressed concerns about the current status of the superintendent’s residence and called for a comprehensive report from the Project Management Committee and the superintendent on how the fund was used.
When contacted, Stephen Mulbah said he was “taken aback” that Moye would say accuse his committee of not having made an expenditure report when Moye received a package of the report from the committee, along with other members of the caucus, following a request.
“We gave him a package and I am sure it is from that he is giving some of those details as to how we went on with some of the payments and what have you,” Mulbah said in an interview with The Bush Chicken in Gbarnga.
Mulbah, however, agreed with Moye’s claim that no new projects have been completed and that the US$1.15 million is almost depleted.
The Project Management Committee head, however, maintains that Moye and other members of the Bong Legislative Caucus are fully aware of how the payments were made.
“Every time we receive money, there is a meeting with the caucus, and what they give us is advice. They advise that based on what was received, apply at this level, which is what we have been doing,” Mulbah noted. “We are all aware that we received US$1.1 million and I can say, for now, approximately 80 percent of that money has been expended.”
The renovation of the superintendent’s residence and other new projects budgeted for during the county sitting are currently going through the necessary public procurement procedures for implementation, according to Mulbah.
Aaron Juaquellie, the acting executive director of the Foundation for International Dignity, has described the recent revelations on the expenditure of the county’s funds as “unfair and unrealistic.”
Juaquellie said funds have been spent outside the resolution adopted during last year’s county council sitting, and warned that the county may not get the needed development, considering the missteps and financial improprieties on the part of officials.
Jesse Cole, a rights activist and former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, is calling on citizens in Bong to begin holding county authorities accountable through the courts in cases where development funds are mismanaged.
“You go to county sitting and have two versions of the resolution coming out. Our authorities will have to be true with what they put on paper with regards to the budget law,” Cole said in a Radio Gbarnga interview on Tuesday.
Mulbah, the Project Management Committee head, said US$400,000 of the US$1.15 million was used to settle some of the arrears the county owes contractors for projects they did in the past.
One such contractor is the Sesay Brothers Construction Company. Bong reportedly owed the Sesay Brothers some US$429,753 for a chip sealing pavement in Gbarnga, a project jointly done by USAID and the county.
Mulbah said the county paid Sesay Brothers US$214,000, pending the balance payment when another development fund hits the county’s account.
The C.B. Dunbar Hospital also received US$65,000, Phebe Hospital got a little over US$39,000, and community radio stations in Bong were given US$15,000, he noted.
With the current revelations about the use of the social development funds in the county, many citizens are calling for a clearer and more comprehensive explanation of the different disbursements being made for past and current projects.
Some think that the arrears captured in the controversial resolution adopted in Monrovia are unrealistic and intended to divert the county’s development funds for personal use.
Featured photo by Moses Bailey