Liberia: Names in Deal to Bankrupt Country


Source: allAfrica.com

When the news first leaked, it said top-level Liberian officials had joined a deal that, if carried out, would have economically bled this country to bankruptcy. The deal was with a British firm in the business of carbon harvesting. London got involved in the investigation and now those said to have been behind the big money deal have been named in a report by a presidential Committee headed by Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner.

The scandal came to light when, in 2007, the environmental rights organization Global Witness, discovered that a UK-based company, Harvesting Corporation (CHC) approached the Government of Liberia to negotiate the allocation of a 400,000 hectare forest carbon concession – a fifth of Liberia’s rainforest – in order to sell carbon credits to clients who want to offset their own carbon emissions. Global Witness raised serious concerns about the deal with the company, including their relative inexperience and the lack of consultation, effective safeguards or monitoring mechanisms.

The organisation said it was concerned by a potential financial loss of over US$2 billion to the Liberian government and highlighted the lack of fundamental information regarding the viability of the project.

But now, the Liberian officials discovered to be behind the deal, many close confidantes of the President, have been listed.

Those the investigation claims were involved in the deal and must be fired immediately are: Mr. Augustin Johnson, Manager of CIS at the Forestry Development Authority, Mr. Joseph Neufville, Technical Advisor, and Mrs. Peggy Varflay Meres, Executive Director of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission, and forward them to the Ministry of Justice for further investigation and possible prosecution as recommended by the report. Mrs. Meres told this paper Wednesday that she has done nothing wrong.

Those listed for further investigation and possible prosecution, and sent to the Ministry of Justice, are: Rivercess Senator Jonathan Barney and former Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Ambulai Johnson.

Those sent to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission for further investigation are: FDA Managing Director John Woods, FDA Legal Officer, Counselor Benedict Sorgbeh, and Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs, Edward Eesiah.

This follows the recommendation of the report.

Those to be reprimanded are: the Minister of Planning & Economic Affairs for what the President said his failure to exercise due diligence by issuance of a blanket Concession Certificate covering Forest Management Contracts. This is consistent with the recommendation of the report.

But Minister Konneh, one of the President’s confidantes and one of the names behind Liberia Rising Vision 2030, a visionary think-tank group for the future, has rejected the report. In a press release sent from the US, he claimed the report is intended to tarnish his image now that the presidential election, in which President Sirleaf is a candidate, is nearing.

Mr. Michael Foster of Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC) of the United Kingdom and Mr. George Antwi, Agent for CHC in Liberia, are slated for prosecution under the bribery laws of Liberia and for extradition.

October 12, 2010

President Sirleaf, releasing the report Tuesday, said the deal “brought to the world’s attention by Global Witness of the United Kingdom regarding the arrest of a UK citizen who through fraud and misrepresentation had been granted allocation of 400,000 hectares of forest by our Forestry Development Authority for harvesting carbon credits be investigated by Global Witness.

The President said she was taking “an additional step not covered by the report to direct the Ministry of State to deepen, expand and strictly enforce the existing restriction on visits to the President by investors and business people as may be requested by Legislators, Government Officials, relatives, and political and personal associates. This goes beyond the recommendation of the report.”

Report of the deal that would have led the country to bankruptcy if implemented, according to British experts, led officers from the City of London Police’s Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit (OACU) to arrest the CEO of UK-based Carbon Harvesting Corporation, Mike Foster. This followed Global Witness investigation into a deal involving the trade of carbon credits from a proposed carbon concession in Liberia.

Global Witness said for the last 2 years, it has been examining the financial, social and environmental risks involved in the proposed deal. In meetings with Global Witness Foster made references to irregular payments made to a Liberian government official and a politician via a middleman. Global Witness then felt obliged to notify the police as reported in the Financial Times on Friday 4th June.

“As a post-conflict country where natural resources played a significant role in fuelling the war, Liberia now faces the challenge of managing its forests and other resources in a way that benefits the country’s citizens and prolongs peace. Successfully overcoming decades of corruption and breaking entrenched patterns of resource mismanagement will require sustained political will, civil society engagement, and support from donors and other stakeholders,” a Global Witness spokesperson said.

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