Saturday, 21 August 2021 08:06

Corruption in Rivercess: What’s Behind 'The Bridge that Never Is'? Featured

Written by

By: Gabriel B. Sawah

  Sawah1

                                                                                          Current status of the Draw River Bridge Project in Zahnflahn Administrative District

 

This is the Draw River. Located near Zorh Town, River Cess, the river is calm and shallow in the dry. But when the rains come, it deepens and overflows. The community has been bedeviled by this seasonal challenge for many years and has intensely hoped for a lasting solution. The community would take a giant step towards the construction of a bridge but once public officials got involved, politics and corruption surfaced. The Bridge is yet to be.   

Meet Comfort Gardehway, a 27-year-old mother of two residing in Wholozohn Clan, Zarflahn Administrative District, River Cess County. Like many of her peers, she worries about her children’s education as the raining season intensifies. According to her, most kids (hers included) are unable to attend school when the Draw River overflows.   

She says that when the river overflows during the rains, women in labor often have to wait for days to make the crossing or, alternatively, are carried in hammocks to nearby health facilities.  “Some even give birth at the riverside and are attended to by traditional midwives”, she added.

Due to these and many other challenges, the community decided to construct a bridge. Thanks to land rental fees paid by the EJ&J Logging Company for carrying out commercial logging operations in the community forest.

In 2019, the community, through its Community Forestry Development Committee (CFDC), entered an agreement with LIDA (Liberia) Limited for the construction of a bridge valued at One hundred and Six Thousand United States Dollars (US$106,000). Of this amount, Thirty-Five Thousand United States Dollars (US$35,000) was to be provided by the CFDC and the remaining amount was to be sourced from the County Social Development Funds (CSDF) through a County Sitting resolution. The agreement was signed by the CFDC Chairperson Mathew Walley, then Legislative Caucus Chairperson Senator Dallas A.V. Gueh, Project Management Committee Chairperson Romeo Alphonso Kebbeh, Fiscal Affairs Superintendent Cyrus Elijah Kaysaynee and the Chief Executive Officer of LIDA (Liberia) Limited Marshall David Yeanue.

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                                                                                                                                  View of the construction site

But two years later, the bridge project has barely begun. This has created a Pandora box as many wonder who is really telling the truth. Accusing fingers have been pointed from one end to another. County officials have said that the contractor (LIDA) brought in substandard materials, something which prompted them to issue a stay order on the construction. On the other hand, the head of the CFDC, Mathew Walley, has attributed the stalemate to the fact that county officials received money from the contractor, coupled with officials’ refusal to disburse the CSDF share of the project cost.

 “The Development Superintendent Amos Somah halted the construction work because he said the contractors were using low quality materials, but when we went there for verification, the Development Superintendent only identified the steel rod on grounds that the steel should have been 16mm instead of the 14mm that was used”, Walley of the CDFC said. But Walley himself has been accused of selling materials procured for the project. When confronted, Walley claimed that 100 bags of cement were given out to a business as a safeguard and would be replaced. When quizzed, this is how he responded: “so if we took it out for safety, is that not sufficient? I told you that the business that used it is waiting to replace it. What next will you ask? What I want you to do as an investigative journalist is to find out what is holding the bridge now? Why has the project delayed? What is the responsibility of the parties?”, he responded to our inquiry. 

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                                                                                                                             Steel rods brought in by the company lie exposed at the project site

On March 19, 2021 a group under the banner Concerned Citizens Movement of Wholozohn Clan filed a complaint against Mathew Walley, head of the CFDC, to the 14th Judicial Circuit Court for River Cess County demanding answers about why the project has not resumed although materials are available at the project site.

Based on the group’s complaint, the court on April 5, 2021 cited the contractor (LIDA) through its Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Marshall David Yeanue, Mathew Walley of the CFDC and Development Superintendent Amos Somah to appear and show cause why construction works have not resumed. At the hearing, the contractor admitted receiving Thirty-Seven Thousand United States Dollars (37,000.00USD) from the CFDC instead of the initially agreed Thirty-five Thousand United States Dollars (35,000.00USD).  The contractor assured the court of resuming work. Strangely, the contractor has recently argued that the contractual agreement placed the project duration at six business months and that since the duration has expired,  work would not resume until County authorities compensate for damages encountered as the result of the stay order, which  it says lacks technical basis.

A highly placed source who spoke to us on condition of anonymity said the stay order issued by Development Superintendent Amos Somah was motivated by personal interests. According to the source, Somah stopped the construction work because the Bid Evaluation Committee denied a construction firm, which he is linked to, the bridge construction contract. According to the source, Somah was also a member of the Bid Evaluation Committee and had attempted to turn the tide in favor of the company. However,  other committee members resisted.

The source also hinted another reason for the inability of County officials to take actions against the seemingly daring contractor. According to the source, the contractor (LIDA) gave Six Thousand United States Dollars (6,000USD) to Development Superintendent Somah and Assistant Fiscal Affairs Superintendent Cyrus Elijah Kaysaynee as “credit” to facilitate holding of the 2019 county sitting. Our investigation also revealed that the money was delivered to the officials by the contractor after the community had made good its share of the cost for the Draw River Bridge Project. The amount was withdrawn from the Forestry Management Committee Area B(FMC-B) account by CFDC Chairperson Matthew Walley and was presented to Fiscal Affairs Superintendent Elijah Kaysaynee and Development Superintendent Amos Somah.  A source closed to the transaction said the contractor had earlier told the County Officials that the money he was crediting the county   was part of the project fund. 

  Sawah4

                                                                                                                                   Crushed rocks deposited at the project site

When contacted, Fiscal Affairs Superintendent Elijah Kaysaynee denied receiving any money from the contractor for personal affairs but argued that the county credited money from FMC Area K not Area B.

“We took money from the FMC Area-K; we did not take money directly from Marshall Yeanue, but we took money from the CFDC with an agreement, not with Marshall” he reacted. 

Meanwhile, River Cess Project Management Committee (PMC) Chairperson Remeo Alphonso Kebbeh has said that the disbursement of the Thirty-Five Thousand United States Dollars (USD$35,000) was done by the Fiscal Affairs Superintendent Elijah Kaysaynee and the CFDC chairman Mathew Walley without the PMC involvement.  

“The Fiscal Affairs [Superintendent] called me before they give the money to the contractor and he came back to River Cess and told me they had the entire transaction document” he explained.

Development Superintendent Amos Somah says  the county will not give LIDA  a dime to continue the project; adding that neither the county nor the  community is obligated to LIDA (Liberia) Limited.   He said he halted the project because of the substandard materials and that Mathew Walley and Marshall Yeanue must be held accountable for the failure of the project. Sadly, these materials remain exposed at the project site and stand the risk of theft.

There are many questions that remain unanswered as the Draw River remains a nagging concern for locals. Patriotic sons and daughters of the county are wondering why the contractor (LIDA) alone will challenge the entire county and the leadership remains mute and inert. Aren’t county officials complicit and compromised  by their “credit” of funds intended for the project? Is it not the responsibility of government to fund county sittings? Why is the CFDC which manages community forest revenues not taking any action? And why did the CFDC sell over 100 bags of cement intended for the project without the citizens concern? Plus where are the funds from the sale?  Are communities being robbed by county officials of the little they have to benefit from extraction of their forest resources? These questions may remain unanswered now but, with growing citizens’ demand for accountability, the answers might just come sooner than expected. Meanwhile, we continue to hope that the Draw River Bridge project delivers an actual bridge rather than a bridge only on paper. 

 

About the Author

Gabriel B. Sawah is a CENTAL Investigative Journalism Fellow and Manager at the Development Communication Network (DCN) Radio in Cestos, River Cess.

Editor: This article was edited by Gerald D. Yeakula, Esq., Program Manager at the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL).

Editor’s Note: This article is made possible through the National Integrity Building and Anti-Corruption (NIBA) program implemented by CENTAL with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Embassy of Sweden. The donor has no input in the story and it does not necessarily reflect her views.    

  

                                                     

Read 9244 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 12:03

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