Margibi Officials Secretly Allot US$1 Million in Funds, Violating Budget Law

KAKATA, Margibi – Lawmakers and local officials in Margibi have been revealed to have violated the budget law by holding a secret meeting to decide allotments for US$1 million in the county social development fund.

The money was part of the US$4 million that China Union agreed to pay to the central government for Bong, Margibi, and Montserrado, in fulfilment of the company’s mineral development agreement. The company’s 25-year agreement allows it to extract iron ore from the country by the railroad in Montserrado to the Freeport of Monrovia.

Between 2015 and 2019, the company owed the three counties US$10.6 million in remittances. The counties had, however, agreed to waive US$6.5 million to compensate for the slow down in China Union’s operations, which coincided with a global decrease in the price of commodities.

Recently, the company paid US$4 million to the central government, of which Margibi was entitled US$1 million. The amount was not included in the county’s annual council sitting held late last year. Lawmakers said this happened because the money had not yet been paid to the central government.

A leaked document reveals that Margibi’s superintendent, Jerry Varnie, and members of the county’s legislative caucus met in Monrovia on June 13 in what they referred to as ‘special county sitting,’ presided over by the county’s legislative caucus chair and the fourth district representative, Ben Fofana.

According to a resolution in the possession of The Bush Chicken, the officials agreed that the US$1 million would be spent on project overhead and development priority projects that would be identified by the five electoral districts after district council sittings were held.

Superintendent Varnie signed the resolution on behalf of the local county administration, while Rep. Fofana signed for his district and the leadership of the caucus. Except for Senator Oscar Cooper, the rest of the county’s lawmakers also signed the document. They include Margibi’s first and second district representatives, Tarberosa Tarnponweh and Ivar Jones, respectively. Others were Senator Jim Tornonlah and Representatives Ellen Atoh-Wreh and Clarence Gahr of the third and fifth districts, respectively.

Eight other individuals who attended the controversial sitting and signed on behalf of their respective districts as delegates were either local officials or individuals connected to the lawmakers. They include the county’s assistant superintendent for fiscal affairs, Alloysious Narmue; Aaron Weetor, a resource officer in the office of Rep. Clarence Gahr; the project management committee chairman, Thomson Nanah; and the project management committee controller, Baysah Kollie.

Others were David Momoh, who serves as financial secretary for the District One Development Council; the head of the District Development Council, Joseph Charlie; the District Four Development Committee chair, Whykies Mentee; and the Development Committee Chair of district three, Alphonso Flomoteh. Officials of the District Development Committee are usually those who have supported or have worked on the campaigns of representatives.

The officials agreed on a special allocation of US$50,000 or 5 percent of the total amount to be made to communities most affected by the mining activities, for projects that will enhance the recovery of lives and other damages caused by the mining operations.

They also agreed to allocate US$108,000 to what they termed as ‘project overhead.’ That, according to the resolution, includes a US$57,000 allocation for operations of the Project Management Committee and US$38,000 for operations of the county administration. Other appropriations include a US$8,000 special allocation to Mboo Statutory District and US$5,000 for support to the media. The officials further agreed to allocate US$168,400 of the remaining amount to each of the county’s five electoral districts.

“The said amount will be used on projects and program implementation of which, 15 percent, constituting US$25,260.00, will go to [the] scholarship program, 5 percent constituting 8,420.00 will go to disaster management program and the balance 85 percent constituting US$134,720.00,” the resolution read.

The superintendent, according to the resolution, was also authorized during the sitting to ensure that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning transfers the amount to the county’s account.

The action of the county officials violates the new budget law, which requires that the county superintendent, in consultation with the legislative caucus, convene in the capital city of the county after the passage of the annual budget. The law also requires extensive publicity through all media platforms ahead of the county sitting to ensure transparency. The selection of delegates also violates the law.

Rep. Ellen Attoh-Wreh, defended the lawmakers’ action in a post on Facebook by arguing that lawmakers had to make the decision because they did not have time in their favor.

“It was because we had to make appropriations to present to Finance Ministry to have access to the fund,” she wrote.

“There has not been any disbursement yet, and we still need to meet with our constituents for [a] final decision on the projects to be done in the districts.”

She appealed to citizens of the county to be patient and wait for “final decisions” on the use of the fund.

Featured photo by Emmanuel Degleh

Emmanuel Degleh

Emmanuel has over a decade of experience working as a community radio broadcaster. He is the Margibi correspondent for the Liberia Broadcasting System and the Manager for Classic FM 93.9 MHz, one of Liberia’s leading community radio stations. Emmanuel is also a member of the Press Union of Liberia and a 2016 Internews Health Journalism Fellow.

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