By Rodney D. Sieh, email@example.com
It wouldn’t’ take a rocket scientist to figure out what is unfolding in Liberia. In less than six months, the new government is entangling itself in not one, but now two questionable and shady financial transactions surrounding road construction that has all the markings of money laundering.
All or most of you have been following our coverage of the administration’s quest to secure a US$536 million through a shady company out of Singapore called Eton Financial Private Limited.
A colleague, economist Sam Jackson summed it up best: “When they doing their corrupt deals they throw away their education. Someone lending you US$536 million to build roads. They pick their own contractor. Where is the performance bond from the contractor? Which insurance company providing the bond? What’s the international rating of the insurance company? Corruption is a damn cancer. Educated people just act blind.”
As if the controversy over that deal is not enough, FrontPageAfrica has now come into possession of a contract for yet another loan agreement that has all the markings of shadiness and money laundering.
Payday for Burkinabe Businessman?
Remember Mr. Mahamadou Bonkoungou, the Burkinabè businessman friend of President George Manneh Weah, who until recently emerged as the owner of an airplane President Weah has been using for his presidential travel?
Well, it turns out that he is now on the verge of securing a whopping US$420 million loan agreement to finance the design, construction, and supervision of road corridors in Monrovia(Somalia Drive-Kesselly Boulevard to Sinkor) and northeastern Liberia – Tappita-Zwedru Raod, including Toe Town to La Cote D’Ivoire and Zwedru-Greenville.”
The transaction, according to the document obtained by FPA has been labeled “The Loan” is between the Liberian government and Mr. Boukoungou’s road construction company, EBOMAF.
The US$420 million is in addition to the US$536 million already under public and legislative scrutiny.
The US$536 million loan, is geared toward the construction of a coastal corridor connection of counties’ capitals road project, via the construction of the Buchanan-Cestos City to Greenville to Barclaryville Road, the Barclayville to Sasstown Road and the Barclayville to Pleebo Road. Other roads to benefit from the loan include; the Medina to Robertsport Road and the Tubmanburg to Bopolu Road. Also to be constructed are ‘rest stops’ and ‘roadside service areas.’
In a communication to the Senate recently, President Weah indicated that the US$536 million loan will also include the construction of a vocational training center in Greenville, Sinoe County; construction of a mini soccer stadium in Harper, Maryland County; Barclaville, Grand Kru County; Greenville, Sinoe County, Cestos City, Rivercesss County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount Count and Bopolu County.
The principal amount of the loan is said to be payable in 15 years by level payment at an interest rate of 1.46 percent per annum, with a seven-year interest and principal free grace period.
No one enjoys plying rural Liberia on bad roads. I’ve made the journey several times in the past few years and each time I came back sick, the grinds of the journey can be unbearable, so I too have a stake and interest in at least in my lifetime seeing those parts of Liberia paved with good roads.
Code of Conduct Breach
The truth of the matter is, we should proceed with caution and make sure that we follow on the international best practice processes before signing off on loans that have questionable bearings.
Liberia’s laws are clear regarding conflict of interests.
Section 9.1 of the Code of Conduct states: “Public Officials and Employees of Government shall not receive nor encourage the giving of any form of bribe or casual gift in connection with the performance of his or her official duties, whether for himself or herself or members of his or her family or any other benefits that could have any influence on his or her professional approach to issues and the discharge of his or her official duties. This shall not include gifts given during traditional ceremonies and celebrations, and fees paid for Lobbying. The Legislature shall enact laws for the regulation of lobbying activities.”
Mr. Boukoungou is not just President Weah’s friend but the head of Ebamof, the company tasked with the responsibility of going out to secure this US$426 loan.
Just last week, both he and President Weah issued denials saying that there were no strings attached to the lending or borrowing of his plane to the Liberian President for his travel. In fact, President Weah says he saw no big deal his friend giving him a plane to use.
The Ebamof loan, FrontPageAfrica has learned is a single source, meaning it will not go through the vetting channels of the Public Procurement Concessions Commission(PPCC).
President Weah has left instructions that the legislature pass both loan agreement before his return from his European tour next week.
After a number of FrontPageAfrica inquiry on the new loan, the President’s office issued a statement Saturday confirming the loan, stating that President Weah has submitted a new Pre-Financing Loan Agreement in the tone of US$426 Million entered into between the Government of Liberia and Group EBOMAF to the National Legislature for ratification.
The statement noted: “Under the Agreement the loan will be financed by EuroBond, redeemable after 15 years with a 5-year grace period and a 10-year interest only on payment. The loan, when ratified will be used for the construction of 256.2 kilometres of paved roads and bridges in Monrovia and major corridors of the interior of the country. Group EBOMAF will begin pre-financing the road project within three months after the agreement is ratified.”
FrontPageAfrca, it can be recalled, reported last week that Mr. Bonkoungou is currently embroiled in a nasty legal wrangle with the former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, whom Mr. Bonkoungou has accused of refusing to repay him money loaned Zinsou for his failed 2016 Presidential bid in Benin.
What we do not know is whether these loan arrangements with Mr. Boukoungou were made prior to President Weah becoming President or after?
During his press conference last week, President Weah said: “The plane that they talking about, I got a friend in Burkina Faso, the managing director of Ebomaf. He said George I have a plane. I see you take the Republic of Cote d’ivoire – that’s good but you also when you going to meetings, you need to also build your prestige. He said when you ready to travel just tell me and I will send the plane to you – and that’s the plane when it comes one day it stays, that’s the plane, that’s the plane they say we buying US$30,000 – I mean US$30 million”.
There is no way in hell that Liberia’s international partners who have been with us through our transition from war to peace, will accept these shady arrangements.
These actions by the President also breaches laws in some western countries, notably UK Bribery Act 2010 (the “Bribery Act”) and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The US FCPA forbids to the giving of gifts of any value to foreign officials of government, as means to obtain favors or influence the official actions of foreign government officials. The US Congress enacted the FCPA to bring a halt to the bribery of foreign officials and to restore public confidence in the integrity of the American business system.
Truth vs. Denials
Just last week, Mr. Bonkoungou dismissed suggestions linking his gift of a plane to President Weah as a premise for getting a road construction contract. Said Bonkoungou: “Mr. Bonkoungou does not need planes to build roads, building roads is the main activity of the EBOMAF group and it has nothing to do with the friendship between President George WEAH and us. The plane is no longer with him; he had two trips to make so we put it at his disposal so he could make them for free. After his journey, the plane left for other destinations.
Mr. Bonkoungou insisted that there were no strings attached to his gift, insisting that “the context is a friendly one”.
Pressed whether there were any plans in place to sell the plane to the Liberian president, Mr. Bonkoungou said: “The intentions were friendly. I just told you that he is my friend and that I voluntarily lent him the plane for his trips.”
The businessman said when asked whether he would again make the plane available to the Liberian President said: “Mr. George WEAH is a model for Africa and whether by the mean of a plane or by other means, provided we have them, we will support the actions of President George WEAH in Liberia. And besides, our friendship is not new, it goes as far back as well before he was president, and he can count on the support of the EBOMAF group and mine.”
The lack of transparency and accountability over both transactions raises more questions than answers and clearly suggest that something sinister is amiss in both financial deals.
It is important that Liberians demand more from their leaders and Liberia deserves better than this. Constituents should pressure their representatives in the national legislature to scrutinize these transactions with eagle eyes and demand that voting records on these critical loan arrangements be made public so that when things go haywire tomorrow, the world will know those responsible for the toll on Liberia and its people.
Each and every Liberian has a stake in this country’s future. No one has more stake than the other. It is our job as media practitioners to speak truth to power and hold the government’s feet to the fire. It is the responsibility for all of us to raise red flags when we see danger lurking that could hurt Liberia and generations yet unborn.
Laying a one-billion-dollar debt, six months into office with two transactions lacking transparency, accountability in a self-proclaimed pro-poor environment is unwise and does not pass the smell test. We raise this because, like you, we have a stake in Liberia. Contrary to what some of you may feel or believe, I bleed red, white and blue with a star in the left-hand corner. Liberia belongs to all of us and no one has a right to deny anyone the right to free expression or pointing out the ills in our society.
Too many people died so that we can live; too many have fallen by the wayside and just too many governments have and warring factions have come in the name of changing Liberia and rescuing the people from the bondage of despair, corruption, nepotism and greed.
Now is the time for all to stand and be counted. Bluegrass singer Aaron Tiplin sang it right when he said: You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Liberia is on the verge of an important chapter and the world is watching. It is important for the likes of Emmanuel Shaw, Nathaniel McGill, Archie Bernard and Charles Bright – who are enjoying this president’s ear to guide him in the right direction before the light dim on his change for hope vision.
If this government fails, we all fail. Thus, we owe it to those who died in a senseless war to make things right and put us back on a path to economic and political stability.
Liberia deserves better.