Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe says the COVID-19 food distribution, as relates to his county, was marked with criminality, “and for the agent of the executive to come here and try to hide under the international NGO wouldn’t work here.”
He continued: “If the international NGO stole our people’s food, they will be called to book; we need to constitute a committee here to investigate the food distribution. This Legislature took time and effort, and public ridicule to pass the COVID-19 bill for relief of our people.”
The Bomi County lawmaker narrated how individuals without the fear of God, stole almost all of the food relief sent to that impoverished county.
“Pro Temp, we need to set up a committee to investigate the COVID-19 food distribution and if people have got to go to jail let them go to jail; no one will hide under the international NGO or international organizations to rig the Liberian people of their hard earned resources,” Snowe angrily said.
Senator Snowe was speaking recently in Senate plenary, when the head of the Steering Committee of the COVID-19 food relief program, Professor Wilson K. Tarpeh, appeared before the Senate for an update of the US$30 million food package.
Prof. Tarpeh, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency, firstly recalled that the COVID-19 food program was supported by the Legislature in the amount of US$30 million, of which US$25 million came from taxes, with a US$5 million grant from the World Bank.
In order to ensure informed execution of the program, Mr. Tarpeh narrated that the government of Liberia contracted the World Food Program as the institution to operate and manage the program.
Apart from the World Food Program, he said, the government established the National Steering Committee which includes her international partners- the IMF, World Bank, USAID and a number of government institutions.
“When the program was triggered after the resolution from the Senate was received, we served as the guardian for the execution of the program, the full amount was transferred to the account of the WFP. Nobody, including government ministers and officials on that committee, has access to that fund, except the corporate entity of the World Food Program,” Tarpeh informed the Senate plenary.
He furthered that the procurement of the food, the distribution of the food and the storage- everything that has to do with that program is done by the WFP.
“What the Steering Committee does is provide strategic guidance and support to the World Food Program. Who distributes the food, hires the trucks, hires the consultants, hires the warehouses, all fall within the exclusive domain of the WFP,” he intimated.
With respect to the composition of the those handling the relief distribution, he told the Senate that the steering committee comprises both local and international partners, some of who he said are covered by diplomatic privileges.
“You do not expect us to call them (international partners) and they will come. When you attempt to do that, the perceptions in those quarters are not good; I therefore suggest that if they must come, please use the proper channel through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He emphasized that his term of reference is restricted to the food support program, “outside of that I don’t have the jurisdiction.”
The former Minister of Commerce informed the Senate that a total of 29,769 metric tons of food has been distributed to the beneficiaries, which represents 92 percent of the 32,365 metric tons planned to be distributed. In total as of April 28, 2021, he said distribution has reached 2.3 million vulnerable people, while five of the 15 counties have been successfully completed. Bomi, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru and River Gee are the counties completed, according to Prof. Tarpeh. Meanwhile, Professor Tarpeh, who is still under Senate oath, is expected to once more appear before the Senate on May 11, 2021 to present a full report on the relief program.