By Patrick Stephen Tokpah
Bong County- In demand of adequate accountability of funds allotted for the construction of the Bong County Technical College in Gbarnga, Bong County, the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) Executive Director has threatened to file a lawsuit against perpetrators link to Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) indictment in 2019.
Appearing as guest on a local radio station on January 22, 2021 in Gbarnga, Bong County, Aaron G. V. Juahkollie said his organization will not let any stone untouched until the right things are done by duty bearers in the County.
The FIND Executive Director explained that beginning the February term of Court he will commence engaging the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Cyrenius Cephas and the Minister of Justice for speedy investigation into the case from Bong County Technical College.
He vowed to make follow-up on some major case or cases in the County, including the BCTC saga.
Additionally, Juahkollie told Bongese that the LACC is currently investigating an alleged misappropriation of US $50,000 and US$1.1 million from the account of the County.
It can be recalled that on June 5, 2019 several past and current leaders in Bong County were indicted by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) for their alleged involvement in the mismanagement of fund intended for the construction of the Bong County Technical College, (BCTC).
Those who were indicted were: former Representative and chairman of Bong Legislative Caucus, George S. Mulbah, Tokpah Mulbah, current Representatives Edward W. Karfiah, Josiah Marvin Cole, former Bong Superintendent, Rennie B. Jackson, Dr. John S. Flomo, former President of BCTC, Thomas Cisco, Project Specialist at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Yao Awadjie, former Assistant chief Architect at the Ministry of Public Works, Marcus Bearing, Project Engineer for the project implementation Unit of Bong County and Lian Zhi, Chief executive officer of the Liberia China United Investment Group.
They were being charged with the offenses of violating the PPCC Act of 2010, and charged with theft of property, fraud of the internal Revenue of Liberia, Criminal Conspiracy and facilitation.
These charges, according to the LACC’s indictment, grew out of transactions they were involved with relating to the construction of the Bong County Technical College during the period of December 2009 up to January 2016 while serving and acting in various capacities which was in total violation of the laws of Liberia.
According to the LACC’s indictment, the accused criminally converted to their own use and benefit, monies from the Social and County Development Funds for Bong County Technical College in the amount of US$7,604,926.97 through various fraudulent schemes to include deceptively selecting Liberia China United Investment Group as the qualified company to construct the BCTC in Gbarnga in violation of the PPCC Act.
On several occasions, the former Caucus chairman, George Mulbah was accused of taking materials from the BCTC project site to build his house on the Ganta highway. Several audits done in Bong on the use of the County and Social Development funds implicated him.
The Bong County Technical College (BCTC) is an offshoot of the erstwhile Doloken Gboveh Community College, which was established in 2010. The college assumed the name BCTC in 2013, and in 2015, an Act was passed to make the college a legal corporate entity.
BCTC goal is to create access to training in technical skills and undergraduate degree programs for inhabitants of Bong County.
The College, however, lacked the structure to adequately host its students therefore, in 2010 it was decided that a two-storey, two-winged building be erected for both administrative and academic purposes.
According to report, the Liberia China United Investment Group was awarded the project without any competitive bidding process, without compliance with the Public Procurement law or regulation, without being registered in the Ministry of Public Works’ database as a recognized, credible construction firm, and without being a properly registered business in Liberia.
An investigation conducted by this paper revealed that on October 21, 2010, a contract worth US$4,394,776.97 was entered into between the Project Management Committee (PMC) of Bong County as the ‘owner’ and the Liberia China United Investment Group as the contractor to construct a twin–wing two storey building on the BCTC in Gbarnga, to be used for academic and administrative purposes by the College.
The investigation continues that the contract was due to start November 1, 2010 and end October 31, 2011.
Over time and due to issues not clearly articulated by the parties, several addenda were made to the contract, the last of which was signed in 2015, thus increasing the price from US$4,394,776.97 to US$7,604,926.97 and changing the completion date to May 2017.
Liberia China United Investment Group which was awarded the contract to construct the College was incorporated in February 2009, just 20 months to being awarded a US$4.3 million construction contract without evidence of prior experience.
A survey conducted by this paper revealed that the construction company was formed in anticipation of being awarded the construction contract. It was not listed in the Ministry of Public Works’ Registry as a certified construction and consulting firm but was selected to implement a major construction work in Bong County.
The construction company submitted a bid of US$1,200,000 to the Chairman of the PMC, Hon. George S. Mulbah in 2010, as the actual total cost to construct and furnish the building. However, the contract prepared and signed was for US$4,394,776.97. Though no significant change was made to the scope of work or building plan, several changes were made to the cost of the building from 2011 to 2015, which drastically increased the price from US$4,394,776.97 to US$7,604,926.97 million.
In the addendum, the contractor agreed to underwrite 50 percent of the cost of the retaining wall on the right side of Gboveh main building in the amount of US$65,982.32, while Bong County Development Management Committee underwrites the remaining 50 percent of the cost.
Having completely paid the first installment, the second installment of US$500,000 was paid in September 2011. By March of 2012, the contractor claimed to have completed the construction works by 70 percent.
Moreover, it can be recalled in March 28, 2012, Mr. Lian Zhi wrote a letter asking the Bong County Legislative Caucus to pay 30 percent of the balance 50 percent stating that he would complete the construction within seven months with that amount.
In the letter, he however, stated that he had received a total of US$2.197 million.
Having not gotten any response from the owner of the project, on April 24 2012, Mr. Lian Zhi wrote another letter urging the Caucus to make the payment; so that he could continue the work, and threatened legal actions if the delay continued.
Acting promptly, then caucus chair, George Mulbah, Sr. wrote to Blamo Nelson, then Minister of Internal Affairs on May 1, 2012, requesting the balance 50 percent to complete the project.
The contractor was paid US$878,955.38 on July 16, 2012, and US$230,000 on May 25, 2013, constituting second and third installments. The total payment made to the contractor up to May 2013 was US$3,907,858.38.
Liberia’s Vice President Chief Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor in a live recent public appearance in Bong County attributed the action to increase corruption in the county.
Hundreds of students of the Bong County Technical College have since launched an appeal to the government of Liberia to fully complete the college.
According to them, the BCTC doesn’t have a functional laboratory, library, up-to-date facility to operate the computer program, among others.
“We are tired of walking in the dusts and sitting in an unfinished building every time. We have not seen anything changing. We need the government’s intervention,” the angry BCTC students said.
Meanwhile, Citizens of Bong County are also calling on the government through the LACC and the Justice Ministry to update them on the case as they see the indicted individuals around, as poor young people being denied quality education as a result of their actions.