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Liberian Government’s Lavish Spending on Vehicles: Over U.S.$50 Million Spent While Education, Health and Other Lay in Ruins

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Courtesy: Informer (Liberia)

Liberia: Over U.S.$50 Million Spent On Cars – Education, Health Sectors in Mess

Ten years after the war ended in Liberia, the country’s educational and health sectors are still lagging far behind from acceptable standards, but the government is spending millions of dollars to purchase vehicles for the comfort of its officials rather than investing in relevant sectors that would benefit the population.

Latest report released by the Liberia Institute of Public Integrity (LIPI) states that between 2006 and now, the Liberian Government has spent US$55.3 millions on buying very expensive vehicle that have no link to improving the lives of the people.

President Sirleaf has dammed the country’s educational standard while public education authorities have hinted that they have not received required budgetary allotments to revamp the sector. Many public health facilities are said to be poorly run with staff there said to be refusing patients and due to lack of medication and equipment to treat them.

Many Liberians hardly find safe drinking water or safe latrines, while insufficient investments have been made in improving sanitation in the capital and other parts of the country. As of last November eight in ten women in Liberia have had no access to a safe toilet, threatening their health and exposing them to shame, fear and even violence. This means that 1.6 million Liberian women are facing serious WASH-related health hazards, according to a report released by Water Aid Liberia the on World Toilet Day 2012.

According to research, 60% of the Liberian people do not have access to safe drinking water supply, 90% of public schools in Monrovia do not have access to safe drinking water facilities, government has failed to decrease open defecation by at least 15%, and that it has yet to increase improved sanitation services by 7% among dozens of others promises it committed itself to.

Over 3,000 Liberians are reportedly dying annually from unsafe drinking water and other water related diseases, though President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s Goodwill Ambassador for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Improving these sectors would cost far less than the over US$50 million spend to purchase vehicles which are not being reportedly sold cheaply to officials in government.

Liberian leaders, the LIPI Policy Report noted, are known for wasting and lavishing the country’s wealth on their personal luxuries and extravagance, rather than the neccessities that address poverty and strengthen the human development needs of all Liberians.

The report: “In this Policy Paper (PP-002), LIPI presents the amounts that have been budgeted and spent on vehicles (cars, Trucks, vans, SUVs, etc), also referenced in the 2012-2013 Budget as “Transportaion Equipment.” LIPI believes that one of the fundamental means to improve accountability and transparency is for Liberians to have a clear understanding of how much is collected in revenues by the Government and how that money is expended.”

LIPI noted that “the Government deprioritizes and condones wasteful spending, shifting development responsibility to donors and charitable organizations. For example, in the last seven fiscal years, the Liberian Government budgeted US$55.3 million dollars to buy vehicles for officials in ministries, the Executive Mansion, and the Legislative and Judicial Branches of Government. This does not include vehicles donated to Government by donors such as UNDP, UNICEF, USAID, FAO, WHO, UNIFEM, World Bank, UNMIL and other development partners to be used for health, sanitation, education, local governance, agriculture, security, rule of law, access to justice, development and humanitarian purposes, etc.”

It said, additionally, the US$55.3 million budgeted and expended for vehicles does not include 46 institutions that are listed in the National Budget. The budget for each of the 46 institutions is presented in aggregate numbers, not in details, making it difficult to determine how much of their annual budgets were spent on purchasing vehicles. Furthermore, the US$55.3 million does not include vehicles purchased by public corporations such as NOCAL, NPA, Maritime, LPRC, RIA, etc.”

The group noted that public money can be better spent on meaningful people-centered initiatives if managed with responsible political leadership and accountability, stating, “The Catholic Church in Liberia has demonstrated that US$26,000 can build and equip a six-bedroom clinic in Tubmanburg, Bomi County. In light of this example, forty (40) percent of the amount spent on vehicles could have been used to build and equip more than 850 six-bedroom health clinics throughout Liberia if adequate transparency and accountability frameworks were in place for public assets (vehicles) management.”

Going further, LIPI said from 2006 – 2013, the Liberian Government spent US$2.7 million on vehicles for six offices including the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President, the Supreme Court, Office of the President Pro Tempore, Office of the Speaker and Office of the Deputy Speaker. “There is something fundamentally wrong with a country whose expenditure pattern suggests that she has money when her citizens languish in poverty, while the international community largely bears the costs of its development needs,” stated LIPI.

On top of this large scale purchase of vehicles is the misuse and abuse associated with ownership and maintenance of public vehicles, something that resembles outright theft of public resources, noted LIPI.

Recently the House of Representatives cited authorities of the General Services Agency (GSA), for investigations into the alleged reckless and dubious sale of vehicles and other properties of the government of Liberia.

The House’s decision followed a complaint from Montserrado County District 11 Representative Gabriel Nyenkan alleging that the GSA was overly exploiting government by selling vehicles bought at tens of thousands of dollars for as low as US$100. Nyenkan contended that “selling vehicles which were purchased by the Liberian Government for prices between US$60,000-US$80,000 for as low as US$100 was unduly exploitative to the state.”

Representatives Henry Fahnbulleh (UP-Montserrado) and Acarous Gray (CDC-Montserrado), in support of the call regretted that there were other government vehicles in perfect working conditions but could not be given to some of the newly appointed officials to use.”

Representative Fahnbulleh cited the case of former Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpaan who he noted was now using for private purpose, the vehicle assigned to her when she served as superintendent despite her resignation from the post.”

It is alleged that government officials are buying vehicles assigned to them, and obtaining titles in their names for as low as US$100 and as high as US$1000. These vehicles were purchased with public money from prices ranging from US$40,000 to US$80,000. Some of the vehilces are reportedly only one year old while some are 2 – 3 years old.

In response to this scandal, President Sirleaf recently announced that Government was introducing a Fleet Management Policy for the maintenance of public vehicles which will involve cost-sharing contract with government officials using them.

The General Services Agency defended this action, claiming that maintaining the vehicles is expensive for government. But President Sirleaf conceded that maintaining the vehicles would also be expensive for most junior officials whose official salary is US$3000 and below.

By D Kaihenneh Sengbeh,

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