MONROVIA, Montserrado – A special committee appointed by House Speaker Bhofal Chambers to probe the 13-year-old ongoing Executive Mansion renovation project has said it cannot identify several contractors associated with the project.
On July 26, 2006, fire erupted on the fourth floor of the Executive Mansion during the country’s 159th Independence Day celebration. The fire prompted the relocation of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, the mansion has been abandoned as a seat for the presidency.
The preliminary report noted that between fiscal years 2008/2009 and 2018/2019 US$33 million was budgeted by the government for the renovation of the mansion. It also noted that between April 2011 and January 2015, US$24.8 million was spent.
The committee added: “To date, 15 years after the fire incident of the Executive Mansion, [it] remains unuseful and the renovation incomplete, while the national treasures and artifacts of historical significance preserved at the Executive Mansion before and after, including civil conflict, are yet to be found and accounted for.”
The committee said it consulted with government institutions and agencies and obtained reports from the special presidential task force established by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe the executive mansion renovation, but findings and recommendations in the report are yet to be addressed.
The special committee said members also met with Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus and Arthur Johnson, the chair of the Assets Investigation, Restitution, and Recovery Team.
The report said a General Auditing Commission investigation of the project from July 1, 2006, through December 31, 2015, revealed that the Executive Mansion renovation contract had been awarded in three phases. Phase one was for the fourth floor only, where the fire took place. Meanwhile, phase two was for the renovation of the seven other floors of the mansion that were unaffected by the fire. Phase three was to undo all the renovation work previously done due to the use of substandard materials by the first contractor, CNQC.
That first contractor, a Chinese state-owned company called CNQC Liberia, was the first major contractor hired to renovate the mansion despite the fact that the company had little experience in Liberia. The CNQC contract was terminated on July 1, 2015, as the materials used were deemed to be grossly substandard materials
Other contractors included the storied Milton & Richards firm, which was involved in the original design and construction of the mansion, Pan-African Engineering group, Cape Resources, and Vaxs.
The special committee noted that it had not yet determined all the roles each company played in the renovation of the executive mansion, but there were many instances of dereliction of duty and apparent collusion between CNQC and individual actors associated with the renovation.
The special committee was chaired by Rep. George Boley of Grand Gedeh’s second district, who noted that the solicitor general had informed the committee of plans to sue Ecobank to recover US$4.4 million.
Boley also said the time allotted to the committee was limited, which restricted what information members were able to gather. He asked the speaker to extend the investigation for an additional three months in order to continue the probe. Additionally, he requested US$30,000 to facilitate the work.
Featured photo courtesy of Lloyd Massah