There has been much ado about the dispensation of the stimulus package intended to relieve citizens facing the impact of COVID-19, coupled with lockdown and other tough measures instituted by Government. The Government, perhaps fearing public and political backlash for any eventuality in the distribution process, hired the World Food Programme (WFP) to manage the stimulus programme. What the Government had feared still has come out of the fore, as the citizens complain that food intended for them has been improperly delivered. Much of the venom generated has befallen the government, and many opposition figures are using the situation to settle political scores. Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe has particularly been bitter, but all his anger has had one particular target—former Commerce Minister Professor Wilson Tarpeh, who is chair of the sterling committee of the stimulus package. Prof. Tarpeh is now talking back, debunking his critics, mainly Senator Snowe, whom he believes is ill-informed about how the stimulus package is being handled. The Analyst reports.
The Chairman of the COVID-19 Stimulus Package Committee, Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh, has been providing clarifications and education on the programme works, saying that his critics, mainly Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe, were either ill-informed or trying to be deliberately fussy about nothing.
Addressing the allegation against his committee on Monday, July 12, 2021, via his mobile phone on the Prime FM Radio, Prof. Tarpeh rhetorically asked a question to drive home his point.
He asked: “If the senator claims that the steering committee has not submitted a report which is wrong and false, how did he come to the conclusion that the food distribution exercise was mismanaged?”
Prof. Tarpeh, who was the Minister of Commerce when he was appointed to head the steering committee, said Senator Snowe’s assertion is wrong and he knows that it is wrong.
He added: “It is not everything you politicize; the steering committee is not Wilson Tarpeh alone; the committee was put together by the government.”
He explained that after President George Manneh Weah led government decided to provide some assistance to people who were home during the lockdown in 2020, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank provided US$25 and US$5 million respectively in support of the project.
Mr. Tarpeh, who is now the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told his audience that the food distribution was initially meant for four counties that were affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic for which the lockdown was declared but when the proposal got to the national legislature it was changed to include the rest of the other counties, targeting vulnerable people.
“The government of which the senator is part of decided to give the money to WFP which is a world class when it comes to food distribution; world class means they are the best in the world when it comes to food distribution,” he stated.
Providing more insight in the exercise, Mr. Tarpeh explained that WFP was responsible to buy the food, assemble logistics and distribute the food.
He added that in order for the government to maintain overall direction, the steering committee comprising of Ministries of Finance, Commerce, Presidential Affairs, gender, information, civil society organizations, international partners including IMF, World Bank WFP and USAID was put in place and that its role was to guide the process, providing strategic direction to WFP.
He added: “In order to do that, we subdivided the steering committee; and we did that; so, how can you say we cannot account? I have appeared at the Senate at least three times and on each occasion, we carried documented briefings. I do recall sometime in May, we sent a report to the Liberian Senate, so how can he say that we mismanaged.”
Professor Tarpeh continued: “It is wrong; it is not correct; and he knows that it is not correct. That’s not good because what he’s trying to do is trying to vilify individuals who have worked for this country and trying to personalize it, you’re not going to do that. It is wrong, you can’t do that. I didn’t walk up to the Steering Committee to say I want to be…nobody, absolutely nobody, not the IMF, not the World Bank, not the USAID.”
The astute Liberian official said excluding WFP, no other individuals on the steering committee received any money, emphasizing that Senator knows the money was given to WFP.
“Senator Snowe and the legislators they know that. So, how can he now come and say we mismanaged, people should be punished, no!”, he said emphatically, apparently being unhappy how his name and reputation is being portrayed to the public by the allegations.
Speaking on the alleged stealing of some of the food in Bomi Country as was raised by Senator Snowe, Prof. Tarpeh said it was not the lawmaker that unearthed the act, but the security committee of the steering committee, adding that Snowe should not therefore make it to appear that he was the one who unearthed it; thereby taking credit for it.
According to Prof Tarpeh, those arrested were officials of Bomi County and they are being prosecuted.
He said further: “So, the fact that something went wrong doesn’t mean that the whole program was mismanaged; I can tell you and can speak for the steering committee that we did a good job in an extremely difficult environment; and if the Honorable Senator as a lawmaker who has responsibility for oversight is actually interested, he will go and speak the fact; he will be able to solve some of the problems in order to ensure that the next time around, the situation can improve. I can assure you that the committee did a good job in the face of difficult situation and WFP is continuing to do a good job in the face of difficult situation.”
Giving further education and information about the stimulus package, he stated that the food was not intended for everyone as was insinuated in the public space.
“The food distribution was not meant for everybody; the legislature passed a resolution that detailed those people who are supposed to have it; they said the vulnerable, the disabled the frontline people and those people that are in community that are found to be vulnerable, using LISGIS standard for vulnerability; so the food was not meant for everybody in Liberia to receive; so when the food came out, some people thought because the food is out and they are sitting home, they should receive it; no, that was not the case,” he maintained.