To Close Argument On The Pro-Poor Fund Loan: GAC Accepts Min. Tarpeh’s Audit Request

Dsputing Commerce Min., Wilson Tarpeh, and Dep. Min., Jemima Wolokollie

The Auditor General of the Republic of Liberia, Yusador S. Gaye, has acknowledged receipt of a letter written by the Minister of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh, requesting the GAC to conduct full audit of the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDP) loan scheme as at June 30, 2020.

   Consenting to Minister Tarpeh’s request, the Auditor General has asked the Minister to provide the General Auditing Commission (GAC) with preliminary documents to enable them to plan an immediate audit. The AG has requested for the authorization document for the establishment of the fund; policy document on the loan implementation; memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Government of Liberia (GOL) and the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI); list of applicants as at date; list of beneficiaries, phone numbers, contacts addresses and amounts disbursed per beneficiary as at date; bank account details (bank account number, bank reconciliation reports and names of signatories to the account), etc.; and meeting minutes and resolutions on the loan administration.

In a GAC letter of response to Minister Tarpeh’s request, the Auditor General noted that her Commission would appreciate were the Minister to provide the requested information in both soft and hard copies by Tuesday, July 21, 2020 to the office of the Auditor General and via email.

   Speaking to the Hot Pepper on Sunday, July 19, 2020, Minister Tarpeh noted, with affirmation, that the documents requested for by the Auditor General are all available and ready for submission. He said as the matter involves his hard-earned character and reputation, he personally will ensure that the documents are submitted to the GAC on or before the stipulated date, noting that he anticipates that the audit begins effective immediately in order that the matter be brought to a logical conclusion.

   It can be recalled that, in an effort to lay to rest the misinformation being dispersed by the dismissed Deputy Minister of Commerce for Small Business Administration, Jamima Wolokollie, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Wilson K. Tarpeh, has asked the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to audit the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), which was launched by President George M. Weah to support Liberian-owned small and medium enterprises.

   According to a communication dated July 15, 2020, Prof. Tarpeh noted that the fund was launched officially by President Weah in 2018 to support Liberian-owned small and medium enterprises, with an initial startup amount of US$1 million.

   Minister Tarpeh said the startup amount was matched with an additional US$1 million by the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), noting that the SBPDF program is solely managed and operated by the LBDI.

   Directed to the office of Auditor-General, Yusador S. Gaye, Commerce Minister Tarpeh further wrote in his letter, “In view of the above, I am kindly requesting your good office to conduct a full audit on the above program as of June 30, 2020.

Commerce Minister, Wilson K. Tarpeh

   “I and members of my financial team at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry will be available for any meetings you deem necessary that will assist you with the audit process,” Commerce Minister Tarpeh promised in the letter which was copied to the Chief of Staff and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill.

   The call for audit of the fund comes at a time dismissed Deputy Commerce Minister Wolokollie is accusing Minister Tarpeh on public radio stations of financial improprieties—that Minister Tarpeh failed to hand over to her the list of beneficiaries of the funds.

   Wolokollie said, upon her return from suspension Minister Tarpeh delegated in her charge the operation of the funds, but when she asked the Minister to relinquish to her the list of beneficiaries of the funds while she was under suspension he failed to give the list of those who benefited from the funds.

   As a result, Wolokollie claimed she separated herself from the funds which, she said, amounts to US$3 million. “I am not saying Minister Tarpeh ate the money; all I am saying is that I could not agree to take over the funds unless the list of beneficiaries is presented to me. This Minister Tarpeh did not do so until my dismissal,” Wolokollie informed the media.

   Consequently, Deputy Minister Wolokollie called for an audit of Minister Tarpeh in respect to the use of the funds.

   But Minister Tarpeh denied the allegation, saying the account of Wolokollie is a “barefaced fabrication”.

   A Commerce Ministry press release also quotes Minister Tarpeh as denying the allegation that he unilaterally disbursed the amount from his office, but instead presented financial instruments bearing the signature of Wolokollie.

   In his official reaction on the matter during a major press conference at the Commerce Ministry in Congo Town on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Minister Tarpeh informed journalists that Wolokollie’s comments were maliciously twisted to bury the facts and tarnish his reputation and that of the Commerce Ministry.

   “Madam Wolikollie’s utterances are grossly baseless, false and unfounded, to the effect that the US$2 million allotted to small businesses under the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF) was misused,” Professor Tarpeh said.

   He also noted that the accusation by the former deputy minister is nothing but a product of a “depraved mind of a functional illiterate.”

   “For the record, the loan program is administered, managed and operated by the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI). The Ministry only provides strategic oversight and guidance as a sector Ministry,” Minister Tarpah said during the press conference.

   As evidence that Wolokollie’s comments were far from the truth, the Commerce Ministry displayed financial documents indicating a specific transaction dated July 3, 2020.

   In December 2018, President George Manneh Weah formally launched the Small Business Pro-Poor Development Fund (SBPDF), with the Government of Liberia (GOL) contributing an initial amount of US$1 million, while the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) committed US$2 million to the project, bringing the program to a total of US$3 million, but the bank has only paid or disbursed the first US$1 million.

   “Ms. Wolokollie claims that she knows nothing about the SBPDF Account and the financial activities of the project because it was not handled by her office. This is a blatant lie because Wolokollie is one of the ‘A’ signatories to the account,” Minister Tarpeh added.

   He further told journalists and, by extension, the public that the LBDI’s US$1 million of its commitment is a particular Account created by the bank and is controlled directly by the bank, without any outsider intervention.

   “In other words, the LBDI’s contribution is not in the SBPDB Account opened by the Commerce Ministry, but is available to the loan program. The amount is, however, reflected in the total loan resources available under this program. As of July 3, 2020, the account had a credit balance of US$957,582.34,” Prof. Tarpeh noted.

   He stated further that there are two check payment transactions over this account since its opening, and Ms. Wolikollie authorized the first payment of US$33,216.00 for training she “reportedly conducted.”

   It can be recalled that Madam Wolokollie, appearing on a local radio, alleged that there were no records of loan disbursements, including borrowers, addresses, loan amounts, interest rates, tenure and maturity, something Professor Tarpeh also rejected.

   Commerce Minister Tarpeh described this assertion as “barefaced fabrication, unfounded and untrue.”

   He said Ms. Wolokollie also authorized the payment of US$8,380.80 to cover the cost of advertisements and associated activities that she (Wolokollie) said were needed to support the SBPDF.

   “How can she say she knew nothing about the account when she signed the checks drawn on the account as indicated in documents marked Exhibits A, B, C, and D?” Minister Tarpeh wondered.

   According to Minister Tarpeh, to guide the administration, management and operation of the loan program, MOCI and LBDI entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU), thereby ensuring that all loan applications are addressed and delivered to LBDI.

   “Credit decisions are made solely by the Bank, following appropriate scrutiny, using its own professional standards. The Ministry plays no role in the process. The bank makes semi-annual reports to the Ministry, covering the activities of the program for each reporting period,” Minister Tarpeh further clarified.

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