GAC Detects Discrepancy In Small Business Loan Scheme At Commerce Ministry; Prof. Tarpeh, Others Linked

The General Auditing Commission (GAC) has released report on audit conducted on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. GAC said it was a Financial Audit on Financing, Disbursement of funds and the Administration of the SBPDF loan scheme for the period January 1, 2019-July 31, 2020 and revealed key findings.

In funding the SBPDF Loan Scheme, President George Weah on December 19, 2019, launched a US$3,000,000 pro-Poor Loan scheme aimed at empowering struggling Liberian businesses, according to the Executive Mansion website, to overcome their long-time spectator’s role in the Liberian economy.

Furthermore, count 91-2 of the MOU signed between the government of Liberia and the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LDBI) require that the parties (GOL and LDBI) shall, in participle, work in collaboration to address some of the many challenges of and access to finance faced by Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) and Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and the Liberian Business Association (LIBA) in Liberia, with the view to create jobs and wealth for Liberians involved, and by so doing accelerate the participation of Liberian-owned businesses in the economy of Liberia.

The GAC observed that in October 2019, the GOL and LDBI signed an MOU in which the Government agreed to make available to LBDI the amount of US$3,000,000 for lending to SMEs, MFIs and VSLAs and LIBA but only US $1,000,000 was deposited into the SBPDF bank account.

The GAC also observed that as at July 31, 2020, US$533,317 of the US$1,000,000 deposited into the SBPDF bank account was disbursed to recipients, a total number of 16 businesses, in four counties.

It was further noted that although the SBPDF was financed in US Dollars, US$433.317 of the fund was disbursed to beneficiaries in Liberian dollars.

In violation of the MOU, GAC disclosed that that 9 beneficiaries of the SBPDF loan scheme who received a total amount of US$216,785 did not submit all documents to LBDI as required by the MOU.

GAC therefore wants the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and LBDI to provide substantive justification for disbursing loans to businesses without the required documentation.

The MOU provides that business applicant package should contain Business Registration, Tax Clearance, Real Estate Tax clearance and a business plan.

But, according to the GAC, 10 of the 16 beneficiary businesses, constituting 62.5% did not pay their loan installments when due; and as such, most of the loan accounts were in default.

The GAC made it known that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry paid US$8,380.80 from the SBPDF Loan Scheme Account to Liberia Events Marketing Services (LEMS) to advertise the loan scheme without evidence of using the competitive procurement method.

Furthermore, GAC said the Ministry of Commerce and Industry presented no evidence that loan was advertised on any radio station, local newspapers or social media platform.

The GAC pointed out that on March 29, 2019, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry paid US$33,216 to Business Star-Up Services (BSC) to provide business skills training service for 11 Micro-finance Institutions (MFI) without evidence of a binding contract, a competitive procurement process and a valid tax clearance. Furthermore, the amount paid to train the 11 institutions for five days appears to be high for the services provided.

It can be recalled that Mrs. Jamima Wolokollie, whose office was charged with the disbursement of the loan scheme as Deputy Minister for Small Businesses, opened up in the media, stating that she was kept in the dark by then Minister Wilson Tarpeh, who, according to her, had taken over the disbursement of the loan, expending over US$513,000.00 to purported beneficiaries who were yet to be properly identified.

She urged the public to direct their concerns and questions to Prof. Tarpeh and not her, because she knew nothing about the disbursement of the loan, even though her department should have been directly involved every step of the way including disbursement.

In the wake of her public outburst, she was dismissed by President Weah for “conduct incompatible with her status as a public official.”

Yet, Madam Wolokollie continued to claim her innocence and called on then Minister Tarpeh, now Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to account openly for the administration and disbursement of the loan in order to reduce the anxiety and confusion in the public space, especially members of the business community who are seriously in need of empowerment to lift and strengthen their businesses as Liberia enters a new era of economic recovery and renewal.

But addressing a press conference on July 8, 2020, Prof. Tarpeh denied that he single-handedly disbursed the loan funds to the beneficiaries from his office.

He presented pieces of documents as evidence that Mrs. Wolokollie was involved in the administration and disbursement of the loan.

Prof. Tarpeh termed Mrs. Wolokollie’s accusations against him as maliciously twisted comments aimed at burying the facts surrounding the loan program and defame his good name and the reputation of the Commerce Ministry.

He said further that the loan program was administered, managed and operated by the LBDI, with the Commerce Ministry only providing strategic oversight and guidance as a sector Ministry and Mrs. Wolokollie, as one of the “A” signatories to the loan account, was knowledgeable or should have been knowledgeable about the processes governing the loan.

However, in her reaction to Mr. Tarpeh’s

press conference, Madam Wolokollie said it  was a failed attempt to cover up his dishonesty and lack of courage to do public business with transparency and accountability, particularly in the management and direction of the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF).

Mrs. Wolokolie rejected Prof. Tarpeh’s claims that she participated in the disbursement of the loan and challenged him to stop displaying documents that are far unrelated to her specific allegations that he (Tarpeh) did not allow her to perform her statutory and administrative role as head of the department responsible for small business activities and/or programs at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

She maintained that it was shameful for Prof. Tarpeh’s failure to produce any documentary evidence to back his claims that she (Jamima) ever participated in the actual disbursement of the loan.

She emphasized that her allegations against Prof. Tarpeh were specifically about the disbursement of the loan to beneficiaries and not the preceding formalities ranging from the receipt of the symbolic check from LBDI, opening of account, training of potential beneficiaries and the mobilization of resources to pay the firm that was hired to train targeted beneficiaries.

Mrs. Wolokolie noted that all of these were done long before the questionable disbursement of the loan by Prof. Tarpeh and his cohorts, and as such, it was disingenuous for the then Minister to mislead and confuse the public by displaying documents that do not address or undo her allegations that he (Tarpeh) had taken over the disbursement of the loan to the exclusion of the Deputy Minister for Small Business Administration whose direct responsibility it was to oversee such exercise.

She clarified that after enduring several months without a vehicle, it was Prof. Tarpeh who directed and approved the request for US$3,040.00 to be used for the repair of her assigned vehicle and the repair work was done by Africa Motors Service Center, as evidenced by available documentations.

Mrs. Wolokolie exhibited documents showing that Prof. Tarpeh instructed that US$3,040.00 be taken from the US$8,000.00 allotted for radio jingles to publicize the loan program.

She also challenged Prof. Tarpeh to show proof that he ever spent the remaining US$5,000.00 for the radio Jingles and other means of publicity before the disbursement of the loan. She added that the US$5,000.00 was expended without evidence that it was used for the intended purpose.

Madam Wolokollie insisted that instead of displaying flying sheets to the media, Prof. Tarpeh should have submitted himself to an audit by the GAC and or any credible auditing or investigative institution so that the Liberian people and the world would know who’s telling the truth.

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