Another Biding Process Backfires

-Senator Ballout Speaks Out, Pleebo Citizens Want Bid Reviewed
-As LACC Moves In To Probe Allegation Of Corruption

Public Agenda
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 14, 2009


Liberia’s fiscal transformation strategy has mainstreamed public bid, a process by which multiple service providers (local, international or both) compete to acquire the right and cash to implement and execute public projects and/or contracts. The rationale for this “international best practice” is professedly to obviate fraud, abuse and waste of public trust and money and to infuse greater transparency in the public service. In wake of increased calls for greater transparency, every public institution is required by law to conduct a public bid on major public contracts. But it is becoming clear that ingrained fraudsters who are allergic to transparency or obsessed with insatiable thirst of personal wealth are perverting the emerging paradigm shift. Thus, reports of fraud and perversion of the bidding strategy are commonplace. As Editor-in-Chief J. Lyndon Ponnie reports, the vice has spread to the countryside, specifically Maryland County, where citizens are crying foul against a major bidding process to which their lives are tied.

In the wake of reports of kickbacks in the awarding of the Cavalla Rubber Plantation to the Salala Rubber Investment, the Senior Senator of Maryland County, John A. Ballout, has for the first time spoken out on the issue stating that from a due diligence done on the two companies (Salala Rubber Investment and BSP of Indonesia), he wanted the BSP to take over the plantation because of their financial power and the offer they made to the county.

Senator Ballout told a Public Agenda exclusive interview that he was interested in making sure that Maryland got the best deal by ensuring the right company took over the plantation. But said his dream did not materialize maybe from the stand point of the Inter-ministerial Committee that carried out the bidding process. At the time, he noted that there were two separate 50% biding processes to acquire the two shares and that the initial bid was with SRI and BSP.

He stated that he had a huge quantity of documents from one of the bidders, BSP, revealing very encouraging proposal, while there were nor from the SRI.

With all the advantages in the BSP’s proposal, Senator Ballout indicated that he gave his fullest support to the BSP.

Amongst other things, the Maryland Senior Senator stated that BSP had offered to put up US$3 million for the rehabilitation of the port of Harper, create a rubber wood processing plant to generate electricity that would have benefited the people of Maryland, initiating employment of 2,800 citizens of the county, repair and construction of roads, providing financial support to the citizens by giving each farmer US$1,500 per acre, the creation of rice farms and other plasma farms, etc.

He said BSP was prepared to take both Cavalla and Decoris and improve on the both farms.

Because SRI did not provide any proposal, Senator Ballout said he was against them being awarded the control of the plantation.

He explained that there were some legal technicalities that had to be resolved because a prewar company which failed to develop the plantation had sold their rights to Cavalla.

The Maryland Senator indicated that even President Sirleaf was very reluctant to make a decision on the plantation because of the way it was heading. He added that there was diplomatic pressure on the President to ensure the plantation was awarded to SRI.

He said SRI did not have the capital to run the farm, but despite his opposition to the SRI, the first 50% share was awarded them.

The Senator intimated that the second option which was the last 50% share was put forth again for a bid and again SRI and BSP went for it.

And because SRI did not have the capital and did not do a good work on the first 50% that it won, the lawmaker said he again supported BSP for the second bid.

During the bid for the first 50% share in Cavalla, the Senator indicated that four members of the Maryland Legislative Caucus supported SRI and opposed his choice of BSP.

He said as God may have it, during the bid for the second 50% share, he revealed that three of the caucus members who in the first bid supported SRI, specially Bouffer Chambers, James Biney and Saydee walked into his office and informed him that because SRI did not do a good work during the first bid, they would support BSP in the second bid.

Senator Ballout said the three Caucus members recommended that they write President Sirleaf stating their support for BSP. This he pointed out they did by writing an official communication to the Liberian leader revealing their support to BSP.

However, he said, the contract was again awarded to SRI. How that happened, he noted he would not want to go into that.

Regarding news of alleged bribe of US$250,000 reportedly given to some members of the Maryland Legislative Caucus, he said he told the boss of the New Broom Newspaper, the local news organ that first broke the story, that he heard of such but could not give it credence because it was rumor.

Senator Ballout said he has never received a dime from the SRI nor has he ever sat with them to discuss about the bid.

He said he was concerned about being linked to the bribery scandal and has asked the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) to investigate the allegation.

In a communication written to the Chair of the Commission Frances Johnson-Morris, Senator Ballout said, “I am pleased to present my compliments and to request that you immediately investigate the corruption story contained in the Thursday, September 3, 2009 Volume 3 number 28 edition of the New Broom Newspaper, which accuses me, as part of the Maryland Legislative Caucus of receiving US$50,000 as bribe from the Cavalla Rubber Corporation of Maryland County”.

Senator Ballout letter continued: “I am personally appalled by the story as it tends to taint my hard earned reputation, misrepresent my character, political image and strong advocacy against corruption. Additionally, corruption is deemed public enemy number one by this government, of which I am a Senior Senator and strong advocate and supporter of the Anti-Corruption Policy. Hence, I would personally be pleased and do hereby request that you immediately begin a speedy investigation on this story”.

Meanwhile, the LACC has accepted the Senator’s request and said it has already started an investigation into the report.

In a related development, the citizens of Pleebo/Sodoken District in Maryland residing in Monrovia have written the President of Liberia giving their support to the BSP to take control of the Cavalla Rubber Plantation.

In the letter written on July 2, 2009, the citizens said, “We, the people of Pleebo/Sodoken District, Maryland County, are deeply moved to express our satisfaction and delight to you and the Government of Liberia for the effort the Government, under your leadership, is making to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty from Liberia by putting in place a Poverty Reduction Strategy. We pledge our total support for the implementation of the strategy”.

The letter said, “As a demonstration of our preparedness to be a part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, we, the members of the aforesaid district residing in Monrovia and its environs, on behalf of citizens of the district residing in Maryland county and in our own name, do hereby petition the Government of Liberia through you as head of the Government, to endorse the application of the PT Bakarie Sumatra Plantations Company through its representative, Mr. James Beicher, and grant the company the right to operate the Decoris Oil Palm Plantation and Government’s fifty percent (50%) share in the Cavalla Rubber Plantation in Pleebo/Sodoken District, Maryland County”.

The citizens told President Sirleaf in the letter that, “This appeal is based on the underdevelopment of the district despite the operation of the Firestone Plantations Company since the early 1920’S and the LIBSUCO and Decoris Oil Palm Company since the early 1980’s” .

The Maryland citizens further said in the letter that “We have never seen a detailed proposal like the one the PT Bakrie Sumatra Plantations has proposed for development and empowerment of the citizens to sustain themselves economically”.

They said the company’s proposal to implement the following projects for the development of Maryland County and Pleebo/Sodoken District and the empowerment of the citizens of the district includes the following: Initial employment of some 2800 citizens in 2008 to eventually increase to 16, 000 plus as the project grows, Construct and repair roads and bridges in the surrounding areas, Rehabilitate the Port of Harper City, Rehabilitate the hospital (Cavalla Medical Center) on the rubber plantation, Construct several clinics in strategic locations within the district and its environs, Repair existing primary schools and construct vocational schools. Others they said include: The implementation of a rice plasma program that will benefit 3,000 to 3,600 plasma families and distribute electricity throughout the county, etc.

“Madam President, we believe that with the endorsement of the Government and subsequent permission for the company to pursue the projects listed above, and with our total involvement in providing the labor force for the company, people of the Pleebo/Sodoken district will certainly be empowered to reduce poverty and ignorance now plaguing the people in the district”, the citizens told President Sirleaf in the letter.

An official of the Pleebo/Sodoken group who walked into the offices of this paper yesterday revealed that they met with the President in mid July and told her of their support for the BSP.

However, he said, they are left in the wilderness not having knowledge on how SRI that does not have the finances was awarded bid to run the plantation. The official who requested anonymity said they are requesting meeting with their legislative caucus to find answers to their questions.

© 2009 by The Perspective

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