Following what points to careful reflection on allegation of US$2 million allotted for small businesses under the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) made against Commerce Minister Wilson K. Tarpeh by his dismissed Deputy Commerce Minister for Small Business Administration (MSBA), Madam Jimama Wolokollie, the Commerce Ministry boss has beaten back such allegations.
A Commerce Ministry press release quotes Minister Tarpeh of denying the allegations that he singlehandedly disbursed the amount from his office, but instead presented financial instruments bearing the signature of Madam Wolokollie.
In his official reaction on the matter during a major press conference at the Commerce Ministry in Congo Town on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Minister Tarpeh told the journalists that Ms. Wolokollie’s comments were maliciously twisted as a means of buried the facts of the matter, and for the purpose to tarnish the Minister’s good name and the reputation of the Commerce Ministry.
“Madam Wolikollie’s utterances are grossly baseless, false and unfounded, to the effect that the US$2 million allotted to small businesses under the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) was misused”, he said.
Professor Tarpeh also noted that the accusation by the former deputy minister is nothing but a product of a “depraved mind of a functional illiterate.”
“For the record, the loan program is administered, managed and operated by the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI). The Ministry only provides strategic oversight and guidance as a sector Ministry,” Minister Tarpah said during the press conference.
As a matter of ensuring that Madam Jamima Wolokollie’s comments were far from the truth, the Commerce Ministry displayed financial documents indicating a specific transaction dated July 3, 2020.
In December 2018, President George Manneh Weah formally launched the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), with the Government of Liberia contributing an initial amount of US$1 million, while the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) committed US$2 million to the project, bringing the program to a total of US$3 million; but the bank paid or disbursed the first US$1 million.
“Ms. Wolokollie claims that she knows nothing about the SBPDF Account and the financial activities of the project because it was not handled by her office. This is a blatant lie because Wolokollie is one of the “A” signatories to the account,” Minister Tarpeh added.
He further told journalists and by extension the public that the LBDI’s US$1 million of its commitment is a particular Account created by the Bank and is controlled directly by it without an outsider of the bank.
“In other words, the LBDI’s contribution is not in the SBPDB Account opened by the Commerce Ministry, but is available to the loan program. The amount is, however, reflected in the total loan resources available under this program. As of July 3, 2020, the account had a credit balance of US$957,582.34,” Prof. Tarpeh noted.
He stated further that there are two check payment transactions over this account since its opening, and Ms. Wolikollie authorized the first payment of US$33,216.00 for training she “reportedly conducted.”
It can be recalled that Madam Wolokollie, appearing on a local radio, alleged that there were no records, including borrowers, addresses, loan amounts, interest rates, tenure, and maturity, something Prof. Tarpeh also rejected.
Commerce Minister Tarpeh described this assertion as “barefaced fabrication, unfounded and untrue.”
He said Ms. Wolokollie also authorized the payment of US$8,380.80 to cover the cost of advertisements and associated activities that she (Wolokollie) said were needed to support the SBPDF.
“How can she say she knew nothing about the account when she signed the checks drawn on the account as indicated in documents marked Exhibits A, B, C, and D?” Minister Tarpeh wondered.
According to Minister Tarpeh, to guide the administration, management and operation of the loan program, MOCI and LBDI entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), thereby ensuring that all loan applications are addressed and delivered to LBDI.
“Credit decisions are made solely by the Bank, following appropriate scrutiny, using its own professional standards. The Ministry plays no role in the process. The bank makes semi-annual reports to the Ministry, covering the activities of the program for each reporting period,” Minister Tarpeh explained.
He went on by saying, “The report, among other things, indicates the name and address of each borrower, amount borrowed, interest rate, number of years for which the loan payment is made per period and when the loan must be repaid.”
He noted that one of such reports was made on November 20, 2019, and a copy was sent to then Deputy Minister Wolokollie for her appropriate action which is the document marked “Exhibit E.”
The Commerce Minister said as of March 31, 2020, the total loans extended amounted to US$533,317.66. He said the amount includes loans made in Liberian dollars (L$82,591,290.00) and loans disbursed in United States dollars (US$100,000 and fourteen (14) persons received these loans.
Meanwhile Minister Tarpeh is challenging Liberians, mainly public officials to desist from making unchecked utterances against others in society.
Observers believe that Minister Tarpeh’s reaction, backed by the presentation of notable financial instruments, pointing to Madam Jamima Wolokollie’s participation in the process brings into play the popular adage that says: “Truth, once buried will one day rise.”