By: J. Patrick Kollie
Reports emerging from the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicate that two top officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs covertly linked to a company that is believed to have defrauded Gbarpolu County of USD$300,000.00 United States Dollars. The two officials conspired and participated in affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of forming a company to undertake contracts in Gbarpolu County.
Communication in the possession of this writer shows that Internal Affairs Deputy Minister for Administration, Hon. Varney A. Sirleaf on June 23, 2015 wrote Gbarpolu County Superintendent Hon. Armah M. Sarnor requesting the Superintendent to authorize the remaining 10% balance retention payment in the amount of USD$29,875.00 (Twenty nine thousand eight hundred seventy-five United States Dollars) in favor of Renewable Liberia Limited, the company believed to have fraudulently won the Bopolu City layout contract in 2012.
On October 13, 2012, the head of the Gbarpolu County Administration, Hon. Allen M. Gbowee in a mass Gbarpolu County Citizens meeting in Bopolu City announced that Renewable Liberia Limited was the winner of the USD$300,000.00 dollars City layout contract.
After reviewing the procurement process that led to the result in favor of Renewable Liberia Limited, Attorney Harris F. Tarnue filed a formal complaint to the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission through the Commission’s Complaints, Appeals & Review Panel (CARP) against the process. Upon receipt of Atty. Harris Tarnue’s written complaint with all his supporting documents attached, the PPCC’s CARP requested Superintendent Allen Gbowee to submit all documents pertaining to the Bopolu City layout bid process in a specified time. According to the CARP investigation report also in the possession of this writer, the following list of documents was requested from Superintendent Gbowee.
1. List of participating bidders and qualification criteria
2. Minutes of procurement committee & bid opening meetings, including attendance record
3. Bid evaluation Panels report/recommendations
4. Bid evaluations criteria
5. Finding of a review proceeding held upon the complaint of Atty. Harris F. Tarnue
6. Copies of the signed contract and
7. Copies of bid advertisement and other related document not specifically named herein.
The qualification requirement listed by Superintendent Gbowee in the advertisement reads below:
-Current business registration certificate
- Current valid tax clearance certificate
-Ministry of Public works certificate
-Instant Financial statement
-Ability to pre finance per stage
-Past performance records/report, including project title, Project location, Project value, client’s full addresses and contact number(s).
The PPCC’s CARP waited for Superintendent Gbowee’s response but to no avail till the expiry of the statutory period. Complainant Atty. Harris F. Tarnue wrote the PPCC to inquire about the status of his complaint. In his follow up letter, Atty. Harris F. Tarnue urged the PPCC CARP to investigate his complaint in manner as follows:
1. Review the procurement proceedings and tendering process leading to entry into of the said illegal contract with Renewable Liberia Limited
2. Hear, determine and declare whether or not the cited provisions of the PPCC were violated
3. Cancel or cause to be cancelled,” voidable contract” entered into in violation of the PPCC Act, and
4. Declare such further rights and remedies complainant would be entitled to under the PPCC Act.
Also Attached to Atty. Tarnue’s follow up inquiry letter was a list of relevant documents further supporting his allegations. Among those documents was a letter over the signature of the Chairman of the Gbarpolu County Legislature Caucus in an attempt to intervene in the situation but Superintendent Gbowee failed to give credence to the County Caucus’ intervention and went ahead to sign the contract with Renewable Liberia Limited.
After the statutory period, Superintendent Gbowee decided to reluctantly reply to the CARP request by submitting documents and responding to Atty. Tarnue’s complaint. After carefully reviewing and analyzing all documents submitted by Complainant Atty. Harris F. Tarnue and Defendant Hon. Allen M. Gbowee, along with other accompanying instruments and referencing the applicable provisions of the PPCC Act of 2010 and regulation No. 003 on the schedule of thresholds, the panel declared in its opinion that the Procurement Committee of Gbarpolu County Administration headed by Superintendent Allen M. Gbowee did not act consistent with the PPCC Act of 2010 and regulation No. 003 on the schedule of threshold during the conduct of the procurement proceedings/tendering process of the Bopolu City layout contract when it proceeded to award the contract to Renewable Liberia Limited.
The CARP ruled; “Therefore, it is the opinion of this panel that respondent, the Honorable Superintendent of Gbarpolu County, Allen M. Gbowee and his procurement committee violated all of the above cited provisions of the PPCC Act and regulation No. 003 during the conduct of the tendering process of EOI No. GBARC/NCB/001/12/13, and also failed to perform their functions in line with section 27 (c) (d) (f) (k) of the Amended and restated PPCC Act of 2010 in the conduct of the proceedings described above and the award of the works procurement contracts to Renewable Liberia Limited. In view of the above, the panel hereby upholds the contentions of the complainant that the procurement committee of Gbarpolu County Administration headed by Superintendent Allen M. Gbowee grossly violated the above cited provisions of the PPCC Act and its regulations during the tendering process. Accordingly, the panel here by invalidates and reverses the decision of the procurement committee to award contract for Bopolu City layout to Renewable Liberian Limited. The Gbarpolu County Administration is hereby ordered to re-run the procurement process with provision that those companies that participated in the July 2012 procurement proceedings do not pay any additional fees for participation”.
Conspiracy or Gross Incompetence
The above narration does not need a rocket scientist to tell that the Bopolu City layout contract was in violation of the PPCC Act. What remains a multi-million dollar question now is whether Deputy Internal Affairs Minister for Administration Varney A. Sirleaf and Internal Affairs Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs Hon. Losene F. Bility (Esq) both conspired and participated in affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of forming Liberia Renewable Limited to undertake the Bopolu City layout contract or both are grossly incompetent to read and analyze the above public documents.
An internal Memorandum (LFB/AMLA/) 91) in the possession of this writer also reveals the legal opinion of Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs Hon. Losene Bility (Esq). In his opinion dated May 12, 2015, Hon. Bility writes, “In consonance with your April 28, 2015 instruction to the Deputy Minister for Administration, Hon. Varney A. Sirleaf, which was forwarded to me for legal advice, I have reviewed the attached instruments and arrived at the following findings:
1. That, the project was successfully completed as same was dedicated during the July 26, 2013 Independence Day celebration in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County by Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia.
2. That, the assessment report of the Public Works Resident Engineer of January 28, 2014 certified the work
3. That, the 1st payment was made in April 2013
4. That, the 2nd payment was made in October 2013
5. That, the 3rd and final payment as retention was due in January 2014 but up till now is has not been paid,
Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, and couple with the fact that the 3rd and final/retention payment in the amount of US$29,875.00 is overdue, I advise that same be paid in accordance with the terms and conditions enshrined in the contract”.
It is professionally amazing to read such a legal advice that has absolutely no legal basis. In my view, the Minister is either in a covert conspiracy or is grossly incompetent to know that no contract exists between Gbarpolu County and Renewable Liberia limited. How could this Legal Affairs Minister be so blind to the law he professes to know?
New Gbarpolu County PMC Chairman Draws Corruption Lines
In a leaked package in the possession of this writer, it is becoming crystal clear that someone is finally prepared to draw a thick line between corruption and accountability. In a respond to what appears to be a letter received from Gbarpolu County Superintendent Hon. Armah M. Sarnor, Gbarpolu County newly elected Project Management Committee Chairman, Mr. Sam K. Zinnah seems to be sitting pretty good and ready to battle or challenge the legality of the Bopolu City layout contract.
In a well written letter to Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh dated June 28, 2015, Chairman Zinnah wrote:
I present compliments and write to seek the advice of the Ministry of Justice about the request for payment to Renewable Liberia Limited concerning a purported contract for the layout of Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County.
On July 20, 2015, I received a letter dated July 10, 2015 in which Superintendent Armah Sarnor, acting on advice from Hon. Varney A. Sirleaf, Deputy Minister for Administration, Ministry Internal Affairs requested the Gbarpolu County PMC to pay Renewable Liberia Limited the amount of USD$29,875.00 (Twenty nine thousand eight hundred seventy five United States Dollars). Please see attached letters regarding the request for payment.
Notwithstanding, the request for said payment, my attention has been drawn to the June 6, 2013 ruling of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) and the November 2014 General Auditing Commissions report regarding the unlawfulness of the above mentioned contract.
Hon. Minister, the holding from the June 6, 2013 PPCC’s ruling reads as follows:
“The Panel hereby upholds the contentions of the complainant that the procurement committee of Gbarpolu County headed by Superintendent Allen M. Gbowee grossly violated the above cited provisions of the PPCC Act and its regulations during the tendering process. Accordingly, the Panel hereby invalidates and reverse the decision of the procurement committee to award the contracts for EOI No.GBARC/NCB/001/12/13 to Renewable Liberia Limited and Trans-Africa Trading Company. And that to ensure compliance with the PPCC Act, the Gbarpolu County Administration is hereby ordered to re run the procurement process with provision that those companies that participated in the July 2012 procurement process do not pay any additional fees for participating”.
A finding from portion of the November 2014 General Auditing Commission’s report covering the fiscal years 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 states “ The Gbarpolu County Administration grossly violated the PPCC Act and PFM law in awarding the contract. Also, despite a precept from the Public Procurement and Concession Commission’s CARP, prohibiting the execution of the contract and ordering the re run of the procurement process, the County Administration opted to ignore the CARP’s ruling and preceded with the execution of the said contract at the detriment of public resources”.
Also, recommendation on page 16 of the November 2014 GAC report states “The Gbarpolu County Superintendent, Allen M. Gbowee, Assistant Superintendent for Development, Yassah Karmo-Fallah, the PMC Chairman, Desmond A.T. Boimah should be held accountable for the USD$268,875.00 paid to the contractor for the layout of the Bopolu City”.
It is also interesting to know that the laws specifically requiring that the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning and Justice to sign and attest to contracts above$250,000.00 were ignored. According to the November 2014 GAC report for fiscal years 2011/2012 & 2012/2013, the individuals who signed the contract on behalf of the two Ministries were not the statutorily authorized officials thus raising more credibility issues about this contract.
As the newly elected Chairman of the PMC, it is one of my sworn in or oath commitments to ensure that the resources of Gbarpolu County are expanded in line with the laws of this Nation. I am seeking your advice in order to move forward with the payment request”.
In an effort to get Mr. Sam Zinnah to discuss his letter to the Justice Minister, the PMC chair, in a short telephone conversation said, “If you claim you have copy of a letter written by me, go ahead and continue your investigation. I do not intend to discuss my professional work in the media”.
Suspected owners of Renewable Liberia Limited
Since the emergence of Renewable Liberia Limited, there have been many speculations in Gbarpolu about the owners of this suspicious company. According to the November 2014 GAC report, Renewable Liberia Limited did not meet most of the important requirements for participating in the biding process but the Company still won the bid which later dragged in to PPCC court and resulted to cancelling of the contract. Although the contract was nullified by the PPCC, payment of over US$260,000.00 to the Company was processed through the Ministry of Internal Affairs thus raising more questions than answers about the powerful hands behind the company.
It is widely speculated that Renewable Liberia Limited is covertly owned by Deputy internal Affairs Minister for Administration, Hon. Varney A. Sirleaf, Former Assistant Minister Florence Dukuly and Gbarpolu County Senator Daniel Naatehn. The status Of Hon. Losene Bility, Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs is not too clear as he remains under close watch. Hon. Bility’s recent (May 12, 2015) legal advice in favor of renewable Liberia Limited share more lights on his covert connection to this suspicious company.
In one of my many attempts to track some of the fishy activities of Renewable Liberia Limited, I’ve been trying to investigate how the earth moving equipments that were used by Renewable Liberia Limited landed in the hands of the company. The equipments in question were bought by Bokomu and Gou Ngolala Districts with the aim to undertake road works in the two District but the machines have been in the Possession of Senator Daniel Naatehn. Without the knowledge of the owners of the Mechines, a purported rental contract was entered into by Renewable Liberia Limited thus shinning more lights on Senator Naatehn’s connection to this suspicious company. As I pen this story, the people of Bokomu are gearing up to file a law suit against the fronting General Manager of Renewable Liberia Limited, Mr. James Q. Folokula.
If it is proven that the above named officials are in any way beneficiaries of Renewable Liberia Limited, their action will be total conflict of interest. I am of the strongest conviction that the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission would be highly interested in digging out the owners of this suspicious company as they anxiously wait to take care of their final chopping from the US$300,000.00 contract.
Deputy and Assistant Ministers denied knowing about PPCC ruling & GAC report
In a August 6, 2015 edition of the Frontpageafrica news paper sub caption “who wants Gbarpolu County 29K road Money”, reporter Henry Karmo contacted Internal Affairs Deputy Minister for Administration “Hon. Varney Sirleaf to get his view about the dubious transaction. In Minister Sirleaf’s respond, according to reporter Karmo, Minister Sirleaf claimed his instruction to the Gbarpolu County Authority to pay the contractor (Renewable Liberia Limited/James Folokula) the remaining $29,875.000 United States Dollars was base on a legal advice from Assistant Internal Affairs Minister for Legal Affairs, Hon. Lusene Bility. Minister Sirleaf Also claimed that he had no knowledge that the PPCC had ruled in the awarding of the contract. He claimed that the PPCC ruling was not communicated to him when he wrote the Gbarpolu County Administration about the ten percent retention payment.
When contacted, Internal Affairs Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs, Hon. Luseni Bility claimed that he too was not aware of the PPCC ruling and the GAC report. He pushed that it was only fair to pay the last money since the first and second payments were done. Minister Bility’s legal advice further exposes him to either conspiracy or gross incompetence.
Additional documents raised more questions than answers
Additional documents obtained from the Liberia Business Registry shows that a list of what appeared to be fake names are shown on the Renewal Liberia Limited's article of incorporation. Among those names is one that appears to be the traditional name of Gbarpolu County Senator Daniel Naatehn. The name shown on the Article of incorporation is "Flomo D. Kparlee". Mr. Kparlee holds 20% share in Renewal Limited.
Further investigation have revealed that the purported General Manager of Renewal Liberia Limited, Mr. James Q. Folokula was on regular payroll while he was working in Bopolu. It is now clear that Mr. Folokula is fronting for some big hands either in Gbarpolu or in Government.
For the past few months now since PMC Chairman Sam K. Zinnah blocked the $29,875.00 payment to Renewal Liberia Limited, Mr. James Q. Folokula has reportedly been roaming the streets of Bopolu threatening court action against Sam K. Zinnah and Gbarpolu County but to date, Mr. Folokula is yet to file a single paper at the court in Bopolu City thus clearly showing empty threats on the part of Renewal Liberia Limited management.
Gbarpolu County has finally put a competent person in office. From my own observation and good sense of thought, the next three years of Sam K. Zinnah's PMC Chairmanship will bring some sanity in the County. During his acceptance speech immediately after his election in Bopolu City on June 6, 2015 at the Gbarpolu County council sitting, Mr. Zinnah sounded a very loud open warning to contractors and individuals in the County. He said "the honey mood is over. all those who have been taking money from Gbarolu County in the name of doing contracts and walking away either without doing or completing those contracts will be brought to Justice". Just few months into his three years position, it is now becomming clear that Mr. Zinnah means serious business.
What remains unclear now is weather Renewal Liberia Limited/James Q. Folokula will walk away with the illegal $268,875.00 United States dollars he illegally received in exchange for a contract that was nullified by PPCC or he will face justic. Thousands in Gbarpolu are very anxious to see the next action of the PMC.