By Ray Martin Toe
Elizabeth Wright Dempster, the superintendent of Grand Kru County, visited the United States in March 2015. That may have been Mrs. Dempster’s first visit since President Sirleaf appointed her superintendent of the county in 2011. No sooner had the superintendent arrived in the United States than a meeting with US-based Grand Kru citizens was scheduled on March 22 in Bowie, the state of Maryland.
The Grand Kru folks went to the meeting with deep-seated concerns about how their county is being run--holding the incendiary torches ready to grill Mrs. Dempster. Mr. Al Gbi Toe, Chairman of the board of trustees of the Grand Kru County Development Association in the Americas, kicked off the meeting with a 35-minute long on-phone presentation, outlining the issues of their concerns to her: the widely deplored failure of Grand Kru County to co-host the 2014 independence Day celebration ( an event which would have supposedly brought needed infrastructural development to the underdeveloped Kru enclave), the alleged mishandling of the county’s development funds as well as the alleged failure of “six companies” operating in the county to live up to their contractual obligations. Mr. Toe revealed that since 2006 Grand Kru County had received $1.6m development fund which hadn’t been accounted for and that an additional $4m had entered the county with nothing to show for it.
But, according to the prolific writer Patrick Tuon, himself a concerned Liberian hailing from Grand Kru who took notes of the interaction, Mrs. Dempster effectively “prevented what could have been a heated discussion”. She tactfully prefaced her remarks with a welcome announcement—that Grand Kru County would be co-hosting the 2015 Independence Day celebration. She also offered what seemed a reasonable explanation for the cancellation of last year’s plans, thereby disarming and reducing the folks to a group of cheerful listeners. She then went on to address the litany of concerns, not only debunking all the allegations and assumptions but also providing insights into the Grand Kru predicament—much to the marvel of the attendees.
How the County’s Annual Development Fund is handled.
Tuon reports that Superintendent Dempster made countenance of frustration when she touched on the pertinent issue of how the county’s development fund is handled. She told the attendees that when it comes to money in the current state of governance in Liberia “what you see or hear is not always what you get”. Mrs. Dempster said the much-flaunted $200,000.00 annual county development fund does not reach the county in full--the finance ministry takes away $50,000.00 for unexplained reasons; hence, only $150,000.00 actually gets to the county. When the amount reaches the county, it is taken over by a constituted group of county officials dubbed, Project Management Team (PMT) whose sole duty is to disburse the money to another group of individuals named the Project Management Committee (PMC). According to the Grand Kru County superintendent, it is the PMC that determines how much of the development money to spend and therefore the pace of project implementation.
Yet, according to the superintendent, nepotism/cronyism is rife in the Project Management Committee--consequently suffocating the overall development process of Grand Kru County. As a matter of expediency, members of the committee are selected from a 108-member council reflecting the 12 ethnic-based districts in the county. Each district, headed by a traditional leader or chief, is represented by nine persons to the council. The ethnic district heads decide who become members of the PMC, and for the most part they tend to appoint relatives and friends who are answerable to nobody but to the ethnic leaders. The ethnic leaders therefore wield enormous influence over how the county development fund is disbursed. The situation not only slow the pace of development projects, but it ultimately renders the superintendent a lame duck, merely presiding at council meetings and giving pieces of advice.
The Companies Operating in Grand Kru County
Superintendent Dempster debunked the claims that there were six companies operating in Grand Kru County. She said she knew of only four—Atlantic Resources, the Maryland County-based MOPP, Golden Veroleum of Liberia (GVL), and the NOCAL. Except GVL, which currently funds projects in the county, Mrs. Dempster said the other three companies were making no contribution to the development of the county. She said she was however banking on Atlantic Resources which had promised to start funding projects in three years following commencement of its operation. As for NOCAL, it contributes nothing.