By: James W. Harris
Source: The Liberian Journal
|Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf|
The masses continue to drown in sea of poverty, while heartless officials line pockets
In Bell, California (USA), a working-class suburb just outside Los Angeles, the mayor, Oscar Hernandez, and seven other former and current city officials, were arrested recently. They were charged with allegedly misappropriating more than $5.5 million dollars of public funds paid by taxpayers there.
Also in the U S, long-serving New York Rep., Charles Rangel (D), faces ongoing charges of breaking House ethics rules, while his colleague, Rep. Maxine Waters, a long-time senior California Democrat, also faces similar violations.
Realistically, the fight against corruption is not limited only to the U. S. or is it new. For example, the former head of the Oceanic Bank in Nigeria, Cecilia Ibru, has been jailed on 25 counts of mismanagement and fraud. I strongly believe that other countries in Africa, like many others around the world, are doing their honest best to fight corruption in all its forms, using mainly their various laws on the book.
Now, compare the examples that I just mention above to what is actually happening on the ground in Liberia as far as the fight against corruption there is concerned.
Noticeably, the law in the country is toothless when it comes to dealing with corruption and/or other serious ethical problems facing the society. The enforcement arm of the law is so weak that no one of prominence has been convicted of committing economic crimes against the state as far as I know since Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became President.
In a story posted on the BBC web site on September 27, 2010, the disappointing headline read, “Gyude Bryant: Charges dropped against Liberia ex-leader.” Exactly two days later, on September 29, a story captioned “Former National Transitional Government Chairman Gyude Bryant Pays Courtesy Call on President Sirleaf”, was posted on the Executive Mansion web site bravely.
What this immediately tells me is that in many law-abiding countries around the world, you can be charged, convicted, and then thrown into jail for your crime (s) against society, while in war-destroyed, impoverished, and “dependent” Liberia, you get to pay a courtesy call on the President when charges against you are mysteriously dropped. Oh, what a country indeed!
With this kind of posturing, Hernandez, Rangel, Waters and Ibru, would do well for themselves if they were to start finding their way to Liberia. Well, why not? Because there, they would no doubt each be given their 15-minutes of fame with the internationally popular Liberian President. Not only that, they’d also become instant heroes in the eyes of most Liberians that continue to condone these detestable practices.
What the record show
As the record would show, time and time again, some prominent Liberians have been investigated for misusing public funds or abusing their offices, only to be given a mere slap on the wrist by the government.
In other cases, a few lower ranking public officials have been reprimanded by the Sirleaf administration just to pretend that the Unity Party (UP) government was serious about fighting corruption – the chronic disease emptying the nation’s coffers and deliberately leaving it disproportionally under-developed.
Interestingly, Madam Sirleaf said the following in her inaugural speech on January 17, 2006, just for those of you that have abruptly lost your memories. “[My] fellow Liberians, we know that if we are to achieve our economic and income distribution goals, we must take on forcibly and effectively the debilitating cancer of corruption. Throughout the campaign, I assured our people that, if elected, we would wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists, or by whom it is practiced.” Nice choice of words, right.
And then she added hypocritically, “Today, I renew this pledge. Corruption, under my Administration, will be the major public enemy. We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my Administration who sees this affirmation as mere posturing or yet another attempt by another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.” Oh, really? That’s exactly what it presently looks like Madame President – posturing at its very best.
From what we know today, the President’s words then and now were nothing more than cheap rhetoric, bought only by people who didn’t want to accept the harsh fact that Liberia does have a rotten system that condones corruption in all its forms.
Trickle down corruption
But unlike other countries, corruption in Liberia has always started from the top, trickling downward smoothly to the bottom half of the now seemingly dysfunctional nation.
As you may recall, the James Mintz Group, based in Washington, D. C., and hired by the so-called Dunn Commission to do computer forensic work involving the scandalous e-mail exchange between senior former and current Liberian government officials, did mention the use of at least one computer tied directly to the President’s private residence in Monrovia. It was discovered that this computer was used allegedly to wire more than $600,000 to the Ecobank in Sierra Leone.
It was also learned that the computer in question might have belonged to Mr. Estrada Bernard, the President’s brother-in-law, who doubles as one of her legal advisors. Mr. Barnard was a Cabinet Minister in the late Tolbert’s regime.
The aim of the Dunn Commission (which cost Liberian taxpayers more than $400,000 – money that could’ve been wisely spent improving the lives of ordinary Liberians), appeared to have been mainly to discredit the popular Liberian online web site, FrontPageAfrica.com, particularly, its editor-in-chief, Rodney Sieh. He had exposed some corrupt practices (de-de-ba) taking place right under the President’s eyes.
Where’s the Mintz Group report?
I’ve since tried to get a copy of the Mintz Group report to no avail. I first contacted Rodney (Sieh) via e-mail on January 19, 2009, since it was on his web site that I had first read about the $600,000 alleged transfer. Disappointingly, I’ve not heard back from him up to now – not even on the basis of common professional courtesy. But that’s okay.
I then contacted the Mintz Group directly (again by e-mail) on January 23, 2009 and got back a simple reply three days later from one James H. Rowe lll, Executive Vice President, saying, “You need to get it from the government”.
My next move was to contact the Liberian government. I checked the Executive Mansion web site to see if I could find the e-mail contact for Cyrus Badio, the President’s press secretary. Surprisingly, it just wasn’t there – and perhaps for good reasons. You can’t blame the poor guy for not wanting his Inbox to be flooded with inquiries like mine, wanting to know how to get hold of a particular document involving senior officials in the Sirleaf administration.
However, I was able to find the e-mail address of the then Communications Director, one Robtel N. Pailey, on the site. I must admit that she did try to help me get the particular report requested (the Mintz Group report), which I really wanted to read before doing a piece I was working on at the time.
I e-mailed her on February 1, 2009, and got a reply from her the very next day (February 2, 2009) – something that I didn’t really expect, considering how unresponsive Liberian government officials can be when it comes to such matters.
She first referred me to the Dunn Commission report that was posted on the Executive Mansion web site, to which I replied that I had already read it about a zillion times. I clarified and emphasized to her again that what I was looking for was NOT the Dunn report, but the Mintz Group report.
Ms. Pailey then replied that she would contact the head of the Ad-Hoc (whatever that means in Liberia) Commission and get back to me – which she faithfully did.
In her last e-mail to me on February 4, 2009, she wrote,
This is the information that I received from the head of the Ad-Hoc Commission:
‘Two memos from the Mintz Group to our Commission was appended to the Report which we submitted to the President. They were part of the raw material (along with a number of other items under ‘appendices’ submitted) used to write the Commission’s Report. Hope this clarifies.’
There’s not much more I can do to assist you.
Again, I must highly commend Ms. Pailey for at least making the effort to assist me. Like other officials in government, she really didn’t have to reply as is the norm, but she did. Isn’t the Sirleaf administration supposed to be transparent? If so, then where’s the Mintz Group report or is it the Unity Party (UP) government’s most secret document that just may not see the light of day?
When it comes to fighting corruption, Liberians are as complacent as their leaders.
As the matter of fact, I’d say that they do encourage it in many ways. Let me just give you one good example.
Say, you were lucky enough to be given a high profile government job in Liberia today that is very lucrative. And you’re the kind of person that is highly ethical and want to do things correctly, watching out for the welfare of the whole society.
As the boss, you begin to implement policies and practices that are in the best interests of the country as opposed to taking kickbacks (bribes) and awarding contracts undeservedly to people that can’t do the job right. Simply, you want to live by your conscience, values and be highly ethical for a change.
Then after serving in that position for a while, you’re abruptly fired from the job one day and you’re now unable to meet your financial needs as before. You begin to fall back on your kid’s tuition; you can no longer afford to provide a decent meal for your family as before; you have no other job in your immediate sight, and worst of all, your family and friends begin to turn their backs on you.
Now, try going to one of your relatives or friends to see if they can help you through your greatest hour of need. Do you know what would be the first thing that they’d say?
“My man…you’re a foolish man…you had that good, good job and you didn’t do a damn thing with it. You said you wanted to be perfect…so be perfect now… why you’re running behind people everyday saying, please give me this and please give me that…” This exactly sums up the thinking on the part of most Liberians, therefore, their encouragement of corruption – no matter how blind.
So, it can be said that corruption is an integral part of the Liberian culture as well as psyche. It is exactly what motivates Liberians to run for public office under various disguises.
The sad part about it, though, is that those who engage in it apparently always find their way out of it. All they have to do is to get the right lawyer with the right connection in town (Monrovia) to navigate through the country’s bribery-prone legal system. You want to look for someone like Cllr. Theophilus C. Gould, who is rumored to be Liberia’s Johnny Cochran – well, sort of.
Do the names Edwin Snowe (now a prominent Liberian Legislator), Tugbe Doe (a supposed businessman), Benoni Urey (the Teflon business tycoon), Harry Greaves (the shrewd businessman and bad deal maker) and lately, Albert Bropleh (a self-praising scientist wannabe), ring a bell? Or, shouldn’t they?
Honestly, I won’t be surprised if either of these individuals as well as others in the same category pay their respective courtesy calls on President Sirleaf in the not too distant future. I mean, again, why not? Aren’t they the same as Bryant as far as corruption and ethics are concerned? I’d think so.
“Major public enemy”?
Although the “traveling” Liberian leader had clearly mentioned corruption as being her administration’s “major public enemy” at the outset of her term, she has very disappointingly done little to keep it in check. She may be a part of the problem, as she’s perceived by many to be selective in punishing people caught red-handed.
Liberians apparently don’t really care if their public officials were stealing from right under their noses. As far as they’re concerned, it’s all good and a badge of honor. They also see the would-be culprit as being smart. Yes, smart in the true Liberian sense.
Even after numerous credible investigations, audit reports produced by the General Auditing Commission (GAC), ECOWAS, and the U.N., among others, corruption still thrives in Liberia on a massive scale.
Where there’s NO vision, the people perish
And the sad fact is that it will continue for a long time to come even with a change in the country’s leadership. Seriously, Charles Brumskine, George Weah, Nathaniel Barnes, Winston Tubman, Varney Sherman, and all the other Liberian President want to be couldn’t be any different.
Why is that you may ask? It is the general state of the society – silly! Liberians must be a group of strangely tolerant people on the whole face of the planet to keep condoning the pillaging of their country and be left miserably impoverished.
While their highly corrupt officials build their huge iron-gated mansions around Monrovia and its immediate environs, send their children off to good schools abroad, go to the U. S. and other countries for regular medical checkups (and yes, I do see them at various events, especially, house parties here in the States when they’re visiting), the Liberian masses continue to drown in the sea of abject poverty and crippling ignorance.
Even as depressing as it is, they [the masses] haven’t missed a beat singing praises to their selfish masters. This may certainly be their plight for a long time to come with no visionary leadership in immediate sight. So, as the saying goes, “where there’s no vision, the people will surely perish.” And if I may, so will the already broken nation.