How Bong Leaders Squandered US500K County Dev. Funds -Civil Society Investigation Opens Pandora Box

It is often reported that the lack of development projects in rural areas where concessions exist often causes agitation amongst the citizens against concessionaires. An intensive civil society-led investigation has just proven that maxim, having uncovered that Bong County authorities cannot account for more than US$500K from the County Social Development Funds contributed by ArcelorMittal Liberia and other concessions.

The investigation was conducted by Media and Civic Education Rural Liberia (MACE-Rural Liberia), Foundation for International Dignity (FIND), and Development Education Leadership Training in Action Human Rights Foundation (DELTA-HRF) under the Bong County Social Development Funds Accountability Project.

 Findings from the investigation, titled “Nua, Kwaa Ku Musie” – which translates in local Kpelleh dialect as “Citizens, Let’s Wake Up”, show that contracts were awarded to contractors outside the Public Procurement and Concession Commission Act of 2010.

In many cases, Bong County authorities awarded contracts without bidding as required by law. This gross disregard for the PPCC Act is a contributing factor to the many stalled development projects in Bong County, the investigation discovered.

“Out of a total of thirty construction projects (bridges, clinics, schools, offices for chiefs, road rehabilitation, and renovation of public facilities) agreed upon by delegates at the November 12, 2018, County Council Sitting in Bong, not a single project was fully completed.

“Bulk of the projects are far from completion and most of them are currently being abandoned across the county” the investigation by the independent civil society groups found.

Moses S. Bailey of Media and Civic Education Rural Liberia who was a team leader on the investigation said the objective is to ensure proper management and accountability of the Bong County Social Development Funds and to promote the culture of engagement and evidence-based advocacy wherein civil society and rights-holders in Bong County can hold duty-bearers accountable for the management and use of public resources.

 Bailey said the investigation uncovered that about US$ 500,000 of the total amount disbursed for county social development in November of 2018 cannot be accounted for.

According to him, the report also considers projects undertaken from 2018-2021, but that the money traced in the report was an allotment made during the county sitting in Bong in 2018.

The County Social Development Fund is of two sources in Bong County: The development fund directly allocated in the National Budget by the National Government every year, and the Social Development Fund (Corporate Social Fund) paid by ArcelorMittal as a social contribution for their operations in Bong County.

Across Liberia, there have been verifiable reports of gross mismanagement of county social development funds contributed by concessions that operate in a number of the fifteen counties, leaving affected communities in hopelessness and poverty.

When money paid for social development to affected counties is mismanaged, struggling citizens often gang up against concession, at times resulting in violence and destruction of properties.

ArcelorMittal and several other concessions have regularly fell victims of citizens’ harassment even though they have paid their fair share of the bargain but that government and local authorities too often fail to ensure that people living in these communities benefit.

The Corporate Social Development Fund (CSDF) is an obligation in the Mineral Development Agreement signed between the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal, which obliges the company to pay US$3 million annually, as social development funds to the three affected Counties.

This fund, along with revenue generated from other sources in the county, makes up the county social development fund that is managed by the Project Management Committee and guided by the budget law.

 Bong County gets US$2.26 million yearly as County Social Development Funds from concession companies and the national government because China Union provides US$1.75million, while ArcelorMittal makes available US$500,000, and MNG Gold gives US$12,000 every year.

Bong County also receives US$200,000 from the Government of Liberia yearly as the County Development Fund.

Decisions about the usage of this money are made at the County Council Sitting by delegates from around the county.

According to the investigation, in November of 2018, delegates from across Bong County converged in Gbarnga to decide on the appropriations of the county social development fund as the highest decision-maker in the county. On November 18, 2018, a resolution was signed by the County Council. US$2.2 million was allotted for the implementation of various projects in the county, including support to the major health and education institutions in the county.

Consequently, US$1.7 million of the US$2.2 million approved for development purposes has since been expended with no single development project fully completed in the county.

The Project Management Committee (PMC) and local authority of Bong County made hundred percent payments to contractors for some projects, while some projects received fifty percent payments and above according to the investigative report.

Contracts were awarded to contractors outside of competitive bidding, which is believed to be largely responsible for the poor implementation of projects in the county.

The investigation also saw systematic gross mismanagement of the county development funds on the part of county leaders: The Project Management Committee, the administrative leadership of the county with little or no oversight from the county legislative caucus.

Thirty (30) Construction and/or Renovation Projects were approved by November 12 2018 County Council setting held in Gbarnga and investigation found out that delegates also agreed to direct funding support to eight institutions across the seven electoral districts of Bong County, including health, education, farmers’ group, and the media.

The Project Management Committee (PMC), responsible for managing and monitoring projects and management of CSDF in Bong County, contracted eleven construction companies to implement the county’s projects. Some of the companies were given up to six different projects in a single district, while others were one or two.

The total amount apportioned for the different projects as well as support to institutions, from November 12, 2018 County Sitting Resolution, was found at Two Million Two Hundred Ninety-Seven Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-Nine United States Dollars Eight Cent.

Recently, in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, it was reported that County Development Funds are being used for the construction of the political offices of Representative Matthew Joe.

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