A few weeks ago, some Liberian websites carried the news that the transitional government had spent some US$3 million dollars to purchase cars for members of the 76-person transitional legislature through Lebanese businessman George Haddad. When Harry Greaves came to Washington DC with the Minister of Finance Losenee Kamara to attend the World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings, we reached him to clarify the issue. The first question was about the cars: His response was categorical.
“We did not buy cars for the legislature and the Chairman never authorized the purchase of new cars for the assemblymen and women. The story was completely twisted. While the Chairman was here in the US attending the Donors’ Conference back in February, the Speaker of the House, Mr. George Dweh, wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance asking him to arrange payment for cars for the NTLA through George Haddad’s firm. Upon his return to Monrovia, the Chairman wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance and asked him to cancel the order as well as retrieve from Haddad the US $645,000 he had already paid in advance for the cars. We retrieved the letter Mr. Dweh had written and the story was clarified in Monrovia papers…”
When we called the Minister of Finance at his hotel, he said: “The leadership of legislature came to me and asked me to finalize arrangements they made with George Haddad for the purchase of cars and I advanced portion of the money. There were some other orders for cars from GSA but upon his return from the Donors’ Conference, the Chairman cancelled all these orders. The order to buy the cars for the legislature came from the Capitol, not the Chairman.”
Greaves also said that the demonstration that were held in Monrovia had to do with the US $12,000 resettlement members of the legislature had paid themselves. This was to be an allocation for them to resettle in the interior once disarmament was completed. There are serious questions to be raised here and one of them being: how does the legislature get hold of money from the treasury and negotiate payments without the knowledge of the executive branch? Is this because the Minister and the Speaker are from the same warring faction and/or that the Minister acts under duress? The Minister of Finance has been under threat of dismissal by some LURD leaders who complain that he never honors “their” vouchers.
We raised other issues with Harry Greaves who is Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to the Chairman and Advisor to the Chairman on Economic Affairs. Greaves said that the council “provides second opinion on all economic matters to the Chairman. His first line of advisors is the Minister of Economic Affairs. We mostly do research and bring to his attention matters that we deem critical. The other members of the council are Amelia Ward, Sam Thompson, Paul Zeefy and Pewee Suba, all well known economists.”
Regarding the election timetable, Greaves who is also member of the Liberian Action Party (LAP), says that there is no intention on their part to stay in office one day more than what the Accra agreement says. He sounded confident that who ever emerges, as LAP’s candidate would have a great chance to win the elections. For the time being, all eyes in the party are on Varney Sherman, a lawyer. He added that LAP is also working with other parties.
In the past few weeks, there have been hints in many quarters that some Liberians would like to see the elections postponed for various reasons. In an article published on this site on April 1, 2004, former Minister of Information and TLA Speaker Morris M. Dukuly spoke of the need to postpone the elections for the following reasons; 1. Total and comprehensive disarmament that would go beyond the simple and physical removal of the guns; 2. The need to have re-create legislative constituencies - and this cannot be done in displaced or refugee camps - in order to avoid proportional representation as in 1997; 3. A comprehensive census survey; and 4. The return of and resettlement of refugees. Others political commentators who prefer not to be named spoke of the need for a national sovereign conference that could lead to constitutional amendments.
Greaves says, “a few more months or a year would make no difference in the resettlement process. As far as constitutional revision is concerned,” he adds, “one cannot revise the constitution through unconstitutional means. Any amendment to the constitution has to be endorsed by two-third of both chambers of the legislature and then proposed to the people through a referendum. The current legislature is not elected and therefore cannot propose a constitutional amendment. And because it was not elected and does not represent the people, it cannot mandate a “national conference” to make constitutional revisions.”
On the issue of Liberians in exile being allowed to participate in the electoral process, Greaves thinks that this could only be something for the future. “Not only we don’t have the technical means to do it but there is also the problem of nationality. For example, many Liberians who live in the US have taken up American citizenship and our constitution does not allow dual-citizenship. Are we going to allow American citizens to vote in our elections because they are originally from Liberia or because their parents were Liberians? And in West Africa and elsewhere, it is no secret that thousands of Liberian passports have been sold to foreigners…”
The case of the Central Bank has been a burning issue for the government, because of the close ties between the Governor and both Charles Taylor and Chairman Bryant. The governor receives a scandalous US$13,000 monthly salary and benefits to run an institution, which, according to the International Monetary Fund, does very little or nothing for the Liberian economy. Harry Greaves said that the government was working with the European Union to audit the Central Bank but also LPRC (Petroleum), the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, the National Port Authority, the FDA (Forestry) and RIA (airport). He said an international firm will conduct the audit and that the E.U will sponsor and supervise the entire process.
He said the government also intends to audit the human resources of every public workplace to “know who is where and how many people work in every institution.” Successive factions who controlled the government in past decades have brought on the payroll 1000s of new names. According to Mr. Greaves, there are currently 3, 149 people working at the Executive Mansion. When IGNU left power in 1994, there were about 700 people after it was found that there were hundreds of market women and “dead officials” on the payroll.