By: Sam K Zinnah
One opinion piece and one direct respond to issues raised about the most publicized and now abandoned Belle Yallah Road project has drawn what observers referred to as “serious attention” to Liberia human rights activist tuned politician Kofi Woods, II. The tough talking minister is beginning to lose grip on media control as many attempts by him to stop the publication of my opinion piece in several local news papers and online magazines have caused the minister some inner stairs that might not be easily repaired. The unfortunate lesson which the Honorable Minister is yet to learn is that he is beginning to lose control of the media gradually. With all the maneuvering he did after my first publication, he failed to stop other papers from publishing the second one. I must admit that the Daily Observer, InProfile Daily and www.limany.org stood up to the task of promoting free speech in Liberia. Unlike Mr. Rodney Sieh, Publisher of Front Page Africa online, who has made promoting Kofi Woods’ impossible mission of becoming Liberia’s First President with an Ashanti name from Ghana one of his top priorities. The media institutions showed their commitment to the promotion of free speech unabated. Since Rodney Sieh started his publication, he has repeated shown how bias he is about some public officials and other issues affecting public and private Liberians at home and in the Diaspora. A simple example is the issue of the Dual Citizenship bill. Mr. Sieh deliberately refused to publicize the bill and debate until one or some of his favorite politicians were entangled in the political web concerning their alleged dual status. In fact, there are other unconfirmed accounts about Rodney and Kofi plan together at times and Rodney can go after potential contenders for the presidency, all to the liking of Kofi Woods. Anyway, I will leave this discussion for another time.
What remains widely undetected by the majority of the Liberia populace is how Minister Woods has successfully managed his complex media connections to mask reports about his inability to properly and technically draw an effective project plan for the Belle Yalla Road. In my recent opinion piece “When a Human Rights Activist becomes a politician: The case of Samuel Kofi Woods, II”, I attempted to exposed some of the Honorable Minister’s covert activities and further detailed the case involving the Belle Yalla Road.
In this two-part series, I will go little bit further compared to the previous two. The problems surrounding the Belle Yalla Road can largely be blamed on Minister Woods’ lack of both technical and common sense managerial skills. Why do I say so? Because it has now become clear to the public that the Belle Yalla Road started without plan which would include starting point, width, number of bridges, the end point and duration. To add insult to injury, the project was never bided but I will deal with the bidding issue separately. The larger question is, why would anybody start a project which Government put in US$3million without a plan? Without even a competitive bid! Does this point to the other side of Kofi Woods which he has been masking for years from the public? Does it show that the Honorable Minister is or has been in bed with corruption? Not now! I will deal with this issue in separate article about why I believe Kofi Woods is not who he has portrayed himself to be all along. To this end, I would like to send out this SOS call for information on Kofi Woods current and past activities both in civil society movement and in government. Send them to email@example.com. Your identity will strictly be protected.
My investigation has revealed that Public works initial estimate cost for the construction of the Belle Yalla road was put at US $3million for a dusty road which is less than 60 kilometer. Because President Sirleaf was objectively eager to have the Belle Yalla Road project completed quickly and was willing to put more taxpayers money into it. Minister Woods saw an opportunity to take a ride on President Sirleaf (a Former Prisoner at Belle Yalla Prison Compound) eagerness. With many Liberian Road Building Contractors waiting at the doors of Ministry of Public Works to take the contract, Minister Woods instead gave this US$3 million project as a NO BID contract to a Nigerian Businessman by the name of Praise Lawal. Why a Nigerian Businessman, not a Liberian Engineering Firm? The truth many do not know because of the Minister’s “Kofi” name is that his Father actually came from Nigeria to Liberia via Ghana. His father was originally born as a Nigerian and left Nigeria as a result of the Biafra Civil war. May be this will help us understand why a Nigerian Businessman got a no bid contract at the expense of Liberian Contractors. At the time of Mr. Lawal’s initial involvement, the Ministry of Public works did not include the kilometers or miles from totoquelle to Belle Yallah in the contract.
After President Sirleaf spent the historic 2009 Christmas in Belle Yalla and left, Mr. Lawal put forth a new argument that the initial information given him by the ministry of public works was misleading, as such, he couldn’t complete the contract unless the money was increased from US$3 million dollars to US$14 million. Mr. Lawal’s argument won him a fair opportunity to shift the blame from his PEALAT construction company to Ministry of Public works thus leaving the Government through the ministry of public works to contract an independent firm (believed to be a Ghanaian engineering firm) called LAMDA to conduct full calculation of the road and submit the cost to the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of public works. Surprisingly, the cost of the Belle Yalla road jumped from the initial us $3million to us $14 million.
My investigation uncovered that LAMDA was asked or directed by Minister Woods not to publicize the report. According to my investigation, the Nigerian businessman, Mr. Praise Lawal, managed to get hold of copy of the report thereby prompting renew argument by his PEALAT construction company to review the contract. The million dollars and unanswered question remains “where in the world you can re-negotiate contract value after being signed, work started and money paid in the amount US$3 million? Not only that, the new contract value is nearly five times more than the signed contract”. Please, let somebody help me here. The significant development is that all these happening under the watchful eyes of the self-declared corrupt-free and anti-waste in government advocate! Is this the Minister who recently blasted his colleagues at the recent cabinet commissioning ceremony about not doing enough to fight corruption?, he maybe right!! They are not detecting or doing enough to expose his deals. For example, the $3 million dollars no bid contract awarded to Mr. Lawal’s PEALAT construction company is a clear violation of the public procurement procedure. Did the PPPC take any action? I leave that with the public.
The Minister who is known for talking tough against contractors for poor performance has until now remained silent about the Belle Yalla road issue even though materials for the road are seeing damaged and abandoned on the road. It is difficult to imagine that the project which started in 2009 is still not completed and Minister Woods has again requested Government to put in additional money for the same project in the 2012/2013 National Budget.
Whatever took place between the Minister and Mr. Lawal remains a top secret. But the symptoms are reflected in how some employees close the Honorable Minister deal with this contractor. For example, on Saturday December 8, 2012 at about 1:00 pm local Liberian time, a public works ministry employee identified as Paul Kanneh, who was disgracefully dismissed from the GAC under auditor general John Morlu for writing false statement with the intent to steal GAC issued laptop in his possession, went to harass Mr. Lawal with alleged message that Minister Woods sent him to request for money from Mr. Lawal to counter recent articles in the local and online news papers about the Belle Yalla road project. The contractor was frustrated due to the constant wave of harassment from public works employees.
Surprisingly, Minister Woods, out of fear for his possible replacement recently wrote President Johnson-Sirleaf requesting for an excuse to attend matter outside of the ministry’s work for a good portion of the dry season. A portion of minister Woods letter to president Johnson-Sirleaf states:
“Ref #: SKW-M/MPW-RL/04116/12P
Ref: Request to travel
To attend the international advisory board meeting of the Catholic organization for development (CORDAID) scheduled from January 24-25, 2013”
Besides, minister Woods is additionally asking president Johnson-Sirleaf to permit him to travel to the U.S.A from January 26 to February 22, 2013 to continue his medical checkups.
According to the December 3, 2012 press release published on the executive Mansion website announcing the postponement of President Sirleaf’s visit to Gbarpolu County, the ministry of Public works attributed the bad road condition to the heavy rains caused by climate change.
What is surprising about this request is that the Minister has blamed bad road and his inability to complete projects on time on “climate change” implying too much rain. If the Minister is genuine about this, why is he taking away good portion of the dry season which he should be working to attend to personal matter? For the records, CORDAID is one of the donors funding Minister Woods personal NGO, ‘FINHD’. FINHD has been invited to CORDAID scheduled conference to defend its request for continued support. Therefore, Minister Woods is now using both his profile in government to solicit support for his private organization. If this is not another form of corruption, then I do not know what else is it?