US$5M District Development Money on Ice

first_imgThe Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hans Barchue, has sounded an alarm that US$5 million for the purpose of direct District Development remains “on ice as the 2013/2014 Budget elapses.” Said amount was allotted in the National Budget for direct district development projects in the 73 electoral districts across the country.In a Daily Observer interview at the weekend, Deputy Speaker Barchue expressed concern over the delay in implementing projects associated with said amount, adding, “Liberia strongly depends on district projects in order to develop its broken infrastructure.”He disclosed that 26 projects in various counties had been identified by community dwellers, local authorities and lawmakers as projects that are ripe for implementation in their respective regions.“The Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) under instruction of a committee of the Legislature, conducted feasibility studies in the areas of concern and identified projects to be implemented,” Rep. Barchue indicated.Since LACE completed the assessment process, Deputy Speaker Barchue declared, “Finance Ministry is yet to release the money for those projects and we are closing on this year’s budget with nothing being done to address said critical matter,” he stressed.The Grand Bassa County lawmaker expressed frustration over the slow pace of development in rural communities, noting that rural dwellers feel completely disconnected from urban areas.“The US$5 million was a pilot project introduced to make a way for other bigger interventions in the near future. The Finance Minister had assured us that the money was in a special account that has not been touched. LACE has been across the country inspecting the sites for these projects and as we speak, Finance Ministry is yet to release a single dollar for them. This act on the part of the Ministry is frustrating people like us, who are development-oriented and want rural areas to be lighted as Monrovia,” he said.“These projects range from schools, clinics and bridges to markets and farm-to-market roads that are urgently needed in the rural communities. We’re not going to take this lightly because the development of the districts is paramount to the Legislature,” Deputy Speaker Barchue indicated.As the close of this Fiscal period, June 30, approaches, Rep. Barchue pointed out, the plenary of the House is expected to invite Finance Minister Amara Konneh again to explain the status of the money.He wants serious attention placed on the development of rural communities in order to develop the entire country.He used the medium to announce several development initiatives instituted by his office in District #1, Grand Bassa County. According to him, 13 Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) set including generators and other accessories valued over US$9,000 were provided to district residents recently.“The DSTV sets were provided to the district in order to give our people the opportunity to watch the Football World Cup from their respective communities. Our people have difficulties in getting to Firestone and other places for amusement, so we have brought it to their doorsteps,” he said.However, reacting to Deputy Speaker Barchue’s claims, the Deputy Finance Minister for Budget, Mr. Sebastian Muah, confirmed that the money was on “ice” because of the present budget shortfall that the nation is experiencing.Speaking with the Daily Observer late last night, Mr. Muah  further stated that because of the shortfall, the money had to be diverted to other meaningful undertakings of the government. He said the money had nothing to do with the lawmakers because the Constitution does not give them expending power.  That power is the constitutional preserve of the Executive, which contains the Ministry of Finance and other expending entities of the government.Commenting on LACE’s intervention, Dep. Min Muah stated that for the last two years, that agency has not shown a single project that it has completely done with thousands of dollars that it had received from the Ministry of Finance.“Should we just be spending money when we can’t see any meaningful thing that has been done with the money? You people [journalists] need to go on a fact finding in order to verify for yourselves what I am talking about.“Another thing, for the last seven years, we have been spending money in the name of county development.  Go into the counties and see the developments that are there,” Min. Muah said.He told the Observer that as Deputy Minister for the Budget, he was yet to receive any new plan from the LACE concerning any development projects to be carried out in the counties. His comments are in reference to Deputy Speaker Barchue’s, that LACE had since gone around the country and identified projects but the Ministry of Finance was yet to release money for those projects.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more

Wasaya Airways VP accused of racking up thousands in personal charges on

first_imgBy Kenneth Jackson and Cullen CrozierAPTN InvestigatesAround the same time Transport Canada inspectors were finding major safety violations at Wasaya Airways last March, the board of directors was informed that one of company’s vice-presidents may have stolen thousands of dollars using his corporate credit card.The board was told immediate action would be taken to strip Jonathon Mamakwa’s credit card and they’d also get Mamakwa to repay the money they allege he had taken.The internal emails describing the allegations suggest some of the money was spent at casinos.While the board was first learning of this, Transport Canada was inspecting Wasaya’s safety management system and found it to be in non-compliance with regulations as APTN Investigates reported Feb. 27.See also: Debt-ridden Wasaya Airways in ‘danger of collapsing’ forced to sell assetsVisa records obtained by APTN, and interviews with confidential sources, suggest Mamakwa misused more than $160,000.But after the March board meeting the card wasn’t immediately cut off.In fact, documents allege Mamakwa kept misusing it, and the first meeting to try to resolve the issue didn’t take place until late June.According to sources, this created apparent friction between Wasaya Airways president Tom Morris and Wasaya Group’s former president Tom Kam who wanted the card taken away. Kam inquired about the situation on July 5.“Did Tom M do anything with Jonathan’s visa?” Kam wrote in an email to Maureen Sitch, the vice-president of finance for Wasaya Airways.“(Morris) talked to him about it but Jonathon used it again this past week for a cash advance at the casino. So Tom said he would talk to him again. He didn’t take it away that I know of,” Sitch responded in an email.A few days later Kam met with Sitch and discussed the matter further, according to emails.Kam then approached Morris directly July 12 in an email.“What’s happening with his credit card? You need to fix this,” said Kam.Morris wrote Kam saying “it will be fixed.”The card was apparently taken away and a repayment plan was scheduled the board was told July 17, according to documents and sources.But that didn’t sit well with Kam.It also wasn’t enough for Gordon Beardy, chief of Muskrat Dam First Nation which is one of 12 First Nations that own Wasaya Airways.Beardy, and the board of directors, directed Kam to file a police complaint because they didn’t believe simply paying the money back was acceptable.“Chief Beardy believes this is wrong, it is wrong to steal from us, the owners. and (sic) he would like to see an investigation into this,” wrote Kam July 26 to the chief of Thunder Bay police.It’s believed this was one of the last actions by Kam as president of the Wasaya Group as he had already planned to resign months prior.However, jurisdiction to investigate the matter wasn’t with Thunder Bay police but rather with Anishinbek police, Wasaya was told.So Kam’s replacement as acting president of Wasaya Group, MaryEllen Thomas, was directed by the board to contact Anishinbek police with the same fraud complaint against Mamakwa.APTN was told Thomas did just that and provided the Anishinabek police with documents to show the alleged misuse of money.According to Anishinabek Police Sgt. Rob Pelletier, a fraud complaint was officially made by the Wasaya board on Aug. 8.But a day later, the board of directors was fired by a majority vote of the ownership chiefs, according to sources. This was confirmed by two of the fired board members. The chiefs then took the place of the fired directors and became the new board of directors.A week later, Thomas was suspended and her work email disabled. A couple of days later she was fired, APTN was told.But the investigation by Anishnabek police had already started.Police told Wasaya they would be coming to their headquarters in Thunder Bay later that month as part of the investigation.On Aug. 15, investigators “instructed” Wasaya on a few points prior to their arrival. That was also a day before Thomas was fired.Police wanted Wasaya to secure all files related to Mamakwa’s credit card and take “all the necessary measures to prevent access and secure all company property from” him.Investigators also instructed Wasaya to immediately terminate the lease payments to Mamakwa’s company vehicle, according to an internal company email.According to a document, Wasaya had agreed to pay for a company vehicle for Mamakwa but the ownership of the vehicle was found to be in Mamakwa’s name and not Wasaya’s. This was apparently against company policy.Then on Aug. 28 police arrived at Wasaya in Thunder Bay.Sgt. Pelletier told APTN that upon their arrival a “representative” of Wasaya handed them a letter, telling them they weren’t needed and that the matter of the alleged fraud was being handled internally.Police immediately dropped the investigation.When questioned, Pelletier said any questions about why the investigation was dropped should be directed to Wasaya. He said in his mind Wasaya made the complaint and Wasaya was taking it back.According to sources, the letter informing police that the matter would be handled internally was written by Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Bart Meekis, also now chair of the board made up of chiefs, and Kingfisher Lake Chief James Mamakwa, who is the cousin of Jonathan Mamakwa.It’s believed the letter was handed to police by Morris.In another twist, when the board was suddenly fired by the chiefs, the majority of ownership chiefs ripped up the resignation letters of Tom Morris and Jonathan Mamakwa. They both had planned on resigning months earlier for unconfirmed reasons.APTN has copies of their resignation letters.But even before the board was fired, not everyone wanted them to quit.In May, Morris’ cousin and chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Donny Morris wrote the former board saying they wouldn’t accept either of the men’s resignations.Donny Morris said he wasn’t part of the vote to fire the board because Morris is his cousin.APTN has learned Jonathan Mamakwa was earning approximately $142,000 with an option for bonuses at the time. He’s currently listed as the vice-president of customer relations and business development. His bio says he used to work for the Kingfisher First Nation.Tom Morris has refused to comment on “internal” Wasaya matters after first offering to meet with APTN in person by flying a reporter to Thunder Bay and paying for their hotel accommodations.The allegations that Jonathan Mamakwa misused a company credit card were put before him in an email to his boss Tom Morris so he could have the opportunity to respond to them.Morris responded “no comment.”[email protected]@aptn.calast_img read more