-Citizens say county leaders mismanaged CSDF money
By Contributing Writer Alex Musa
Citizens in Grand Bassa County are threatening to sue county officials for failing to account for US$758, 482.00 allocated in the last six years under the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF) for four major projects that were abandoned because of alleged mismanagement and the lack of accountability.
The funds were earmarked for the construction of the Doris Williams Sports Stadium and three road projects-the Open Bible Community Road and the New York and Garden streets projects. The road projects were approved during the 2016/2017 county sitting. The county agreed to spend US$20,000 to rehabilitate the three roads.
The county hired Becsen Group of Companies to do the work from October 2017 to April 2018. The company cleared the Open Bible Community Road and had planned to begin work on the other two roads during the 2017 dry season, but the work was never done. As a result, motorists are driving on muddy streets and citizens are walking through puddles of muddy water.
Rancy Gbadyu, a resident of the Open Bible Community, said motorcyclists started using his yard to bypass the muddy water. Gbadyu said he has stopped the motorists from driving through his yard.
“This is unacceptable,’’ he said. “We are hoping that this new county administration will not follow the footsteps of past administration that failed us massively in using the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF).’’
Othello Contour, president of the Grand Bassa Youth Caucus (BYC), said the county should listen to citizens before spending public funds. The CSDF, he said, would be more efficient if citizens had a greater say.
Contour called on county officials to be more transparent and hold contractors responsible for the funds given to them for the development of the county. He said local government officials should not be interfering in the selection of delegates for the county sitting that identifies CSDF projects.
Lawmakers, he alleged manipulated the process to the detriment of the community.
Theophilus Y. Bedell, Chair of the Grand Bassa County Project Management Committee (PMC), said Becsen abandoned the work because of the election activities.
Ben T. Becsen, the company’s manager, confirmed that election activities stalled the work, but more than seven months after the election activities, the work has not been done.
Becsen claimed that the company did not receive the full amount to complete the work, but records from the Ministry of Finance Development and Planning show that Becsen received U$20,000 to recondition the three roads.
Abandoned stadium hinders sporting events:
In July 2012, the county approved U$538, 482.00 to build a 6,000-seated stadium that promised to include an administrative building, ticket and security booths, reinforced concrete bleachers, two VIP seated areas, parking, landscaping and other amenities. The county hired CJ Construction to build the stadium from August 1, 2012 to August 1, 2013.
Under the agreement, the county agreed to pay the company U$538,482,000 as full payment for the work. The company received nearly 75 percent of the money. So far, the company has rehabilitated the existing block fence, built two entry and exit gates and four toilets.
Records from the Project Management Committee (PMC) showed that CJ Construction received an initial payment of $161,544.60 when the company signed the agreement in 2012. A year later, the company received another installment of $215,392.80. The company was expected to receive the remaining $161,544.60 upon completion of the stadium. In total, the company received $376, 937.40.
Despite receiving 75 percent of the money, the contractor has not completed the project. CJ Construction has failed to pave the parking lot, landscape the field, install razor wire around the pitching area, install chain link around the track, install a water system, build a generator house, paint and plant grass as required in the project agreement.
‘’This is hindering sporting activities in Grand Bassa County,’’ especially in the rainy season when the playing pitch is flooded,’’ said Du Ben Cleon, lead advocate for the Grassroots Advocacy for Social Justice.
The group, he said, is researching the project and looking for money to sue the county for not holding CJ Construction and other contractors accountable for the CSDF money.
James Johnson, head of CJ Construction, said the company abandoned the work in 2013 because the balance payment of $161.544.60 was not enough to complete the remaining work.
Abraham Garkpah, a member of Cooper FC, one of the local sporting teams, wondered why the county has not held the contractor responsible for completing the stadium. The stadium in its current state is hazardous for players.
In July 2016, Garkpah recalled how the field flooded during a heavy downpour as the team was playing. Garkpah said he slipped and injured his right knee when one of his teammates passed the ball to him.
‘I was injured for about six months,’’ he said. ‘’It is necessary that the county’s new administration prevail on CJ Construction to complete the stadium.’’
Martha Tresh, regional coordinator of civil society organizations in Grand Bassa, Margibi and Rivercess counties, said she has been engaging county officials on the stadium, encouraging them to take legal action against the contractor.
‘’As it stands now, no game can be played on the pitch because it is flooded during the rainy season,’’ she said.
Alex C.D. Desoe and G. Gerald Nickerson, of the Concern Citizens of Grand Bassa, said the abandoned road and stadium projects are an indication of past county officials failure to hold contractors working on CSDF projects accountable for the funds they received.
Superintendent Janjay Baikpeh who took office April 5, 2018, said he is reviewing the documentation on the stadium project and other projects before taking any action.
He promised to meet with citizens after his review of the project documents. Funds from the stadium’s construction came from fees paid to the CSDF by BHP Billiton and the National Oil Company. Grand Bassa also receives $1 million from Arcellor Mittal. The $538,482.00 for the stadium came from BHP Billiton and NOCAL.
Baikpeh: “We should account for citizens’ money’’
At a press conference last month, Baikpeh announced plans to request and review all contract agreements, invoices, receipts and project updates related to funds awarded by past administrations under CSDF.
“As leaders, we should be able to account for citizens’ money because the intent of the CSDF is to positively impact the lives of citizens,’’ Baikpeh said.