THE CASE OF NGAFUAN AND SAVING PRESIDENT SIRLEAF'S HEAD FROM IMMINENT DECAPITATION
BY JOHN H.T. STEWART
May 23, 2011
That she, in the face of expressed public concerns about pervasive corruption in her government, would go to such lengths , laying her head on the chopping block in defense of a character who, in the eyes of public opinion, was/is corrupt and who had already been indicted in General Auditing Commission (GAC) audit reports, suggested that such was not simply a knee jerk reaction intended to stave off accusations of corruption in her government. In her belief, the honesty and integrity of Finance Minister Ngafuan was unimpeachable and as such she stood prepared to risk her reputation and if need be, to “die” so to speak, (lay my head on the chopping block) in defense of this young man.
But that was then and she probably may have genuinely felt that this young man’s character was indeed unassailable, never mind the indicting audit reports from the GAC and public perceptions of his character. But in the face of ongoing developments at that Ministry of Finance, there are hard questions which the Finance Minister will have to answer concerning the management of the country’s finances. With the blessings of the Iron Lady perhaps, he could emerge unscathed but, which could come at an exacting price-decapitation.
It is no secret that corruption is and has been the bane of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure and, on a number of occasions, the President has appeared to convey the impression that she is virtually overwhelmed by this corruption menace and is unable to do anything to stop it, stamp it out, minimize it or whatever! In some cases, people considered close to her have been named in scandals and in reaction to which she has either set up Commissions or panels to investigate.
An example is the scandal involving a friend of the President, Finda Kromah, and the President’s brother-in-law, Estrada Bernard which became subject of an investigation by an independent panel, headed by Dr. Elwood Dunn; this panel was known simply as the Dunn Commission. That body concluded its work and submitted its report but, the contents of that report remains a closely guarded secret today; and like other similar investigative panels set up before and in its wake, the story in the end is usually the same-nothing is done. Commissions or panel reports are simply shelved; and the band plays on!
It must never be forgotten that those ex government officials executed after a bogus trial in 1980, following the murder of President William Richard Tolbert, were executed on charges of rampant corruption and abuse of authority/power and the rights of the Liberian people. This was following the April 12 military coup d’état, now known to have been planned by actors from within the Tolbert administration and with the suspected involvement or backing of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Amongst those executed were James T. Phillips, a budding agro-industrialist and former Minister of Agriculture and of Finance but, who at the time of the coup, was out of government service, having been fired earlier by President Tolbert for his alleged involvement in financial impropriety centered around the lease/rent purchase of a floating hotel (ship) to house guests during the 1979 organization of African Unity (OAU) conference held here in Monrovia.
Deputy Minister of Finance, at the time, now President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was appointed to succeed dismissed Finance Minister James T. Phillips. Madame Sirleaf continued in that capacity as Finance Minister until the military coup d’état of April 12, 1980. While Phillips and others were being bundled up and sent off to prison to await their fate, Madame Sirleaf and three of her cabinet colleagues under President Tolbert, namely, Health Minister, Dr. Kate Bryant, Public Works Minister, Gabriel Tucker, now deceased, and Rural Development Minister, Lusinee Donzo were being welcomed into the fold by coup leader Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe.
In June 1980, she even formed part, of a Liberian government official “goodwill” delegation to the United States of America to patch up relations with the U.S. government which had soured as a result of the execution of 13 of her former colleagues. The point being made here is that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has a burden of history. In 1979 following the “Rice Riots”, she was appointed by President Tolbert to serve on a Commission of Inquiry to probe into underlying causes of the riots and make appropriate recommendations.
That body known simply as the Brownell Commission completed its work and submitted its report to the President and cabinet. The hostility from high places that its findings generated was shocking but not unexpected. Some officials went as far as to question the patriotism of great stateswoman, the late Corina Hilton Van E, only because she, like her colleagues on the Commission, possessed the courage to speak truth to power by telling President Tolbert and the world that blame and responsibility for the riots laid squarely at the feet of government..
It is important to recall that while top ranking government officials were opposed to the Brownell Commission’s findings yet, President Tolbert, displaying no sign of vindictiveness, accepted the report, congratulated members of the Commission and was even to appoint later, Commission member Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Minister proper, following the dismissal of Finance Minister James T. Phillips, much to the chagrin of True Whig Party treasurer, industrialist and banker, Clarence Parker who, according to sources, had a long running feud with Madame Sirleaf.
In the end, the report was simply shelved and its recommendations sent to an early grave with grave implications for the country, just as the TRC report has been sent to its early grave by a very member of that Brownell Commission now presiding over the affairs of state. Perhaps the only difference in attitudes then and now is the highly vindictive attitude that President Sirleaf and her officials have adopted and displayed towards members of the Commission who signed on to the TRC report, highly unlike that of the late President Tolbert who, even in the wake of the bloody events of April 14, 1979, would refuse to listen to cries of bloody revenge coming from very close circles.
I vividly recall, that about a week later, following the events of 14 April 1979, President Tolbert, surrounded in his office by members of his cabinet and other top ranking government officials including Vice President Bennie D. Warner, House Speaker Richard Henries et al, President Tolbert spoke some fateful words to me and to Mr. Conmany Wesseh that morning of April 22, 1979, following our turning ourselves in at the Executive Mansion. I do not clearly remember now whether President Sirleaf was present in that room on that day.
Both of us and others including the late Bacchus Matthews, Oscar Quiah, James Yarsiah etc., had our photos placed on a “wanted poster” for a reward of US$5,000 in the wake of the “Rice Riots” of April 14, 1979. We had at the time been at the Cuttington University campus where the reorganizational congress of the Liberia National Student Union was being held. We returned to Monrovia on Sunday, 15 April but decided to lie low in order to assess the situation.
After several days in hiding at the home of my cousin, Ms. Muriel Best, in Paynesville, we decided to turn ourselves in. But fearing retribution from the hands of unscrupulous fortune seeking bounty hunters, we wrote President Tolbert a letter requesting assurances of safety for our persons. The letter was delivered by Old man Albert Porte and to which President Tolbert replied positively. And so we turned ourselves in at the Executive Mansion on the morning of April 22, 1979, accompanied by Baptist prelate the Reverend E. Toimu Reeves, Episcopal Bishop George Browne (now deceased) and the venerable Albert Porte(also deceased), amongst others.
Addressing us that morning before an assembly of what was virtually his entire cabinet, legislators and other high ranking government officials, President Tolbert said….”there has been a cry for blood, but as a Christian nation we have decided it is not the way to go. But you will have your day in court and you will be given a fair trial”. We were then dismissed and sent off to prison, but nor first without a “royal tour” of Monrovia at the orders of the Assistant Director of the S.S.S, Thomas Leo Yates, now deceased.
“Drive them thru Monrovia” he barked out as we drove away from the Executive Mansion, “ so they can see the destruction they have caused.” Later, after hours of seemingly endless interrogation at the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA), we were finally driven to the Monrovia Central prison late that night. On arrival we were met by the Superintendent of the Monrovia Central Prison, Mr. James Tarpeh who turned us over to his staff for confinement. We were led to the cell block by prison wardens Mr.Francis Korkpor, now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. Augustine Toe, now head of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Mr. Nagbe, now legal counsel at the National Elections Commission (NEC) and others. We were placed in the “murder cell”, housing detainees on death row. In the cell we met other comrades including Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh Jr., James Fromayan, currently NEC chairman, James Logan, now Deputy Agriculture Minister, Dusty Wolokolie, now member of parliament. Incarcerated also was the then newly appointed Ministry of Finance Deputy Controller Samuel P. Jackson, now business consultant, who was said to have owed his appointment as Deputy Controller to the then Finance Minister, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who it was alleged was a member of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia(PAL) and who had attended several of its meetings in Brooklyn, New York City in the early 1970’s.
In the next few days to come, hundreds of PAL and Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) militants would be arrested and thrown into prison. While in prison our fears were raised when, during a regular consultation visit with us detainees, the late Liberian patriot Albert Porte disclosed that having learned that President Tolbert had decided to appoint hardliner Cllr. Joseph J.F. Chesson as Minister of Justice but, which he (Albert Porte) had advised against although the President did not appear inclined to accept his advice. In his view, the situation had become grave. And as if to emphasize the gravity of our situation, rehab works on the gallows commenced sending fear through us all that executions were imminent.
However, on 26 June 1979, President Tolbert, acting on the recommendations of the Brownell Commission, declared general amnesty and ordered ours immediate release from prison. And the nation breathed a sigh! barely two weeks later, we, student leaders of the University of Liberia, would be ushered into the office of the President of Liberia , accompanied by University President, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman of very sainted memory. Unlike the morning of 22 April when his looks were haggard, i.e. beard unshaved, weary looks, etc., this time President Tolbert was glowing, ebullient and perhaps in the best mood I had ever seen but would never ever see again.
President Tolbert looked as if like a huge burden had been shifted from his shoulders. Then, no one amongst us had the faintest or slightest idea that only a year later, President Tolbert and his vision of a nation lifted to higher heights by the collective efforts of its people would be no more with his dreams buried along with him in a makeshift mass grave. But why bore you will all of this narrative? The point being made here is that it is out of this past that President Sirleaf comes forth and will do her and the nation well to have the future guided by this past.
The late President Tolbert, no matter his faults, was a compassionate man and completely bereft of vindictive tendencies/inclinations, worthy and desirable leadership and character traits. And for a small country like Liberia with intertwining familial relationships cutting across ethnic boundaries, but which has been torn into shreds by a senseless civil war, the need for a compassionate leadership can be considered critical to the process of national reconciliation and healing. Compassion, it is said, were found lacking in Presidents Doe and Taylor. So far, according to observers, such character traits also appear lacking in “our man” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia.
Several examples have been cited in this regard. There was, for example, the report in the media of the gardener and caretaker who according to media reports at the time had spent nearly a life time tending to such chores, but who had experienced so much difficulty seeing the President let alone receiving any assistance from her. Also is the case of the old man and ex soldier Kwekwe commonly called “all men” who, though her jailer, proved to be a trusted and reliable confidant and who, according to sources, ran secret errands on her behalf during her incarceration at the Monrovia Post Stockade. According to sources the old man has yet to see her, although several promises earlier have all amounted to nothing.
Then also is the case of the Immigration officer from Buchanan, who, it is said by many, including close relatives, facilitated her surreptitious flight from the country during the Doe regime and, whose relatives still insist today that he took his own life because he feared persecution from then President Samuel Kanyon Doe for complicity in her flight from the country . And his relatives including his children still do complain today that they have been treated with benign concern by President Sirleaf.
Consider also how government has treated the case of Chairman of the erstwhile TRC, Cllr. Jerome Verdier. The young man was hired after successfully going thru a competitive process involving the World Bank, for the post of Legal Advisor of the General Auditing Commission, GAC. When it became known that the young man had emerged with flying colors, there were several calls from the Executive Mansion to Auditor-General John Morlu, according to informed sources, urging him not to hire an “enemy of the government”.
These calls, notwithstanding, Auditor-General Morlu proceeded to hire Chairman Verdier based on the result of the competitive process and then, the trouble started. Out of 1 year (12 months) of work, only 1 month (one month) salary has been paid with eleven months outstanding and with the government and the World Bank playing the blame game while the young man’s rights continue to be violated with impunity. To be sure, President Sirleaf is aware of these developments just as she is aware that obligations to the TRC remain not fully settled to date.
And so going back to the subject, lest we lose focus, only a year later the government of President Tolbert was overthrown in a bloody military coup d’état and 13 of its officials executed in full public view. The fact that she (Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) was not only spared the executioner’s pole but, was instead appointed to a top financial post (President of LBDI) and that she formed part of an official “Goodwill” government delegation to the United States, in June 1980, says a lot.
And that her trip to the United States, in June 1980, as part of the official “Goodwill” delegation came not long after her former cabinet and other colleagues had been gruesomely killed in a barbaric act of revenge, imposes upon her a duty to ensure that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of generations long before did not die in vain-that as a survivor of the 1980 bloody military putsch, corruption will not thrive as it does now, and strangely so, under her watch as President of the Republic of Liberia.
And likewise too for those who bore the brunt of official repression, i.e. flogging, harrassment, imprisonment, torture, banishment, extra judicial killings, etc, through the years, survivors of Belle Yella, Barrobo, Boniwen, cell block 4-B of the Monrovia Central Prison, Post Stockade, for daring to challenge a decayed social order, and of whose legacy of struggle for change President Sirleaf also lays claim to, that they also did not suffer in vain-that the future of their children will not be imperiled by another vicious cycle of violence induced by the effects of corruption and bad governance.
It can be recalled that in 1978, the late Clifford Flemister, in a presentation before the Intellectual Discourse Committee of the University of Liberia, declared that Liberia’s debt situation had then reached alarming proportions almost topping the 1 billion mark. But of course the government of President Tolbert was quick to deny and before long Finance Minister at the time, James T. Phillips, was guest of the University of Liberia Student Union’s Intellectual Discourse Committee. and he had in tow with him all his big guns, i.e. Deputy Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Maritime Commissioner Phillip Bowen (killed during civil war in 1990), Internal Revenue Commissioner Edwin Yarngo, Deputy Finance Minister, J. Rudolph Johnson, Personnel Director Elsie Cooper etc.
At the end, Minister Phillips and company received a standing ovation thanks in part to interventions, at various points, by members of his delegation including Deputy Minister, now President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 33 years later. But the debt situation would worsen and 3 decades later, the country’s debt burden would soar to 5 billion dollars, way beyond the 1 billion dollar mark indicated by Flemister in his 1978 address.
Hardly was it realized then, that only a year later, one of those members of Minister Phillips’ delegation at the University of Liberia that night, would be sitting in his stead as Minister of Finance, Republic of Liberia and, in a strange twist of fate, that individual would survive the military coup 2 years later and would then become President of the Republic in just a little over 3 decades later.
Fast forward to 2006 and former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is now President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Among her first acts is a visit to the Ministry of Finance where she orders all employees at that Ministry sacked on grounds of corruption. Later she is forced to rescind the decision when it is realized that the bureaucracy, though perceived as hopelessly corrupt, is yet needed to keep the Ministry functional. And so the matter comes down to rightsizing and downsizing. Not even President Sirleaf’s sister, Mrs. Clara Johnson Attia, appointed by former President Charles Taylor as Director of the Bureau of General Accounting, (BGA), is spared the axe and she is accordingly, without fanfare, downsized as the rest of the others.
Such a move was bound to set tongues wagging and tongues indeed did wag. For how the President could send her own sister packing, they speculated, if she did not mean business about fighting corruption. And as if to underscore the seriousness of her intentions, she had appointed a very young but no nonsense woman, Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, to the post of minister and, to of course, carryout the required downsizing and rightsizing. But there was strong resistance from those affected by the implementation of World Bank-IMF dictates.
Numerous street protests by ex soldiers, security officers and even widows of deceased soldiers became nearly an everyday event. Eventually, “downsizing and rightsizing” and “papa na come” became catchwords and phrases in local expressions of daily life. But there was even more resistance, especially to Sayeh’s anti-corruption stance, surprisingly from those who were self declared marshals, captains and crusaders in the battle for transparency and accountability in government.
In a surprise turnabout, however, the Minister would, after 3 years of service, resign her post and return to the World Bank from whence she came. Pundits say her resignation stemmed from disagreements over policy in the main and over other issues such as, according to Sayeh herself, continuous interference by the executive (the President) in budget matters. Such disagreement came to full public attention when she (Sayeh)refused to append her signature to the fiscal outturn report after she realized that National Budget Director Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan could not account for allotments issued to government agencies, amounting to millions of dollars.
Records of these allotments which were processed under his watch simply vanished into thin air-something virtually unheard of previously; and my good guess is that such lapses never ever did occur when President Sirleaf then served as Assistant Minister, Deputy Minister and Finance Minister proper during President Tolbert’s administration, never mind the charges of rampant corruption levied against his government at the time of its overthrow.
Yes, there was corruption in the Tolbert government, but certainly not on the scale being witnessed today. As for former President Taylor, everyone knew for example that the Finance Ministry was run from his White Flower residence in Congo Town. He made no pretenses about being corrupt. But for someone who campaigned for the presidency with the promise to restore sanity to public sector financial management, to fight corruption tooth and nail, it is puzzling how those lofty promises have since fizzled into the air.
How is it possible for example that the Budget Director,(lacking in experience) armed with a graduate degree in accounting and management and, who teaches accounting at the University of Liberia will at the end of the day find himself lost in the woods, unable to produce fitting records of allotments that he approved and personally appended his signature to. But nothing happens to him and he is instead appointed to oversee and manage the country’s finances.
As Budget Director, he plays a key role in maintaining macroeconomic balance which, among other things, requires/demands efficient mobilization of government revenue and the equally efficient allocation of government expenditure. How is it that government is able to boast of achieving sustained shared economic growth over the years when it is clear that macroeconomic stability has been/is being/ undermined by irresponsible corporate behavior, i.e. failure to maintain records of budgetary allotments, gross misuse of public funds, abuse of authority, etc.. Does it require mastery of rocket science to know that without microeconomic balance, prospects of achieving the much talked about shared growth will continue to remain an illusion?
Such abject failure, whether deliberate or unintentional, to produce records of allotments should have immediately raised a red flag to President Sirleaf, especially with her experience as former Finance Minister and Chair of the Good Governance Commission. But she chose to ignore it and proceeded to appoint him as successor (an unworthy one at that) to fill the giant shoes left behind by predecessor Antoinette Sayeh.
Parting company with a Sayeh, strict and no nonsense about financial propriety in government, and welcoming aboard an Ngafuan, slack and remiss in his duties as Budget Director, as her replacement, indeed spoke volumes not only about the quality of her (President Sirleaf’s) decision making but also of the true intent belying the appointment of an individual with such a questionable record of public service. Why because President Sirleaf of all persons in government today, knows the “ins and outs” of the Finance Ministry by virtue of her experience serving there at the intermediate and highest levels and, therefore, should be the first to sense trouble and choose from her array of policy options to bring the situation under control.
Under the watch of current Finance Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, efficient mobilization and allocation of government revenue, a critical requirement necessary to achieve macroeconomic stability and resultant sustained shared growth, is not just said but is known to be wanting. The payment, for example, of US$3,000 (three thousand United States dollars) to a Mr. Albert Peters and hiring him as head of the Internal Audit Division when the said individual was already a contractor hired and paid by UNDP to assist the Division of Internal Audit was/is illegal, impropriate, and starkly contrary to norms of public policy.
This is, to my mind, intended only for one purpose-to doctor the books or, in other words, to clean Minister Ngafuan’s filthy backyard, even with the unethical hiring of Deputy Minister Arthur Fumbah’s VOSCON outfit to reconcile the Ministry of Finance’s bank statements. consider for example that an audit of the Nimba County revenue division including customs collectorates was conducted by the Ministry’s Division of Internal Audit since March 2010; and although the time frame allotted for such audit was 21 days, the results are yet to be reviewed, for obvious reasons, by the Director of Internal Audit, Albert Peters. are the findings of the audit reflected in the 2010 fiscal outturn report?
Further, while still a UNDP contractor, his (Albert Peters) name appeared on the Ministry of Finance (MOF) general allowance listing receiving full benefits-us$800 monthly. Altogether, Mr. Albert Peters received a total of US$6,400 (United States dollars six thousand four hundred) illegally as allowance from the Government of Liberia while he was still yet a UNDP hired contractor. Is such an example of the efficient use of public resources, adherence to public finance law or an example of good corporate governance?
Besides the illegal nature of the act, ethically, it raises a question of to whom the said individual professes loyalty- to UNDP as per the dictates of his contract or to Minister Ngafuan as per his personal dictates? Can this not be a typical case of serving two masters, “God and Mammon” as described in the Holy Bible? Has all this not happened under Minister Ngafuan’s watch and with his endorsement or acquiescence? and is it not an act of corruption?
And when Mr. Albert Peters’ UNDP contract expired, he was of course rolled over as a Government of Liberia contractor by Minister Ngafuan receiving as monthly compensation, the amount of US$2,453.00 (United States dollars four hundred fifty three) as compared to US$1,500 (United States dollars one thousand five hundred) he was receiving as monthly salary from the UNDP as a contractor assigned to the Ministry of Finance-good incentive indeed for keeping the backyard clean.
But as if that was not enough, Minister Ngafuan, in contravention of administrative procedures has since taken on the signature of vouchers, certification of work done, etc, tasks normally delegated to lower ranking staff. In addition, his interpretation of long standing administrative practice concerning the devolution of authority when the Minister is absent from the country or is incapacitated, is indeed warped and twisted to suit his personal logic.
I need not emphasize that such practice runs completely contrary to the spirit and intent of Public Finance law and the Public Financial Management (PFM) reform exercise that the President alludes to, in such glowing terms, in her budget letter to the Legislature, although her letter says nothing or makes little reference to a budget performance report as required by law. Well! That is another matter altogether and so back to the issue.
For example, recently when Deputy Finance Minister Francis Karpeh, then acting in his stead took a decision to halt the payment of United States dollar allowances to staff in the Administration department until certain misgivings on his (Karpeh’s )part had been addressed, the Finance Minister took exception wrongly arguing that Deputy Minister Karpeh lacked the authority to do so, declaring that though he was absent from the country he was still in charge and had the authority to run the affairs of the Ministry from afar, through the use of the telephone, email or fax.
A portion of his April 12, 2011 email letter to staff reads……. “`the minister or the deputy minister or the assistant minister who is absent from the country or from the office still possesses the full authority of the office and exercise that authority from anywhere in the world using whatever medium (email, fax, phone, video conference,etc) that is deemed appropriate……”. Clearly, the Minister is completely out of step and probably needs to contact the help desks at the GAC and the Civil Service Agency for advice on public administration, as the content and tone of his Email letter reveals a character of one who is obsessed with power, ignorant of standard administrative practices in public sector management, is insecure, prone to corruption and contemptuous of his colleagues.
The point here is comrade Finance Minister, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan has clearly become a liability and it is about time President Sirleaf removes her head from the chopping block and should instead, have the comrade Finance Minister place his head on it. The young man has become a virtual epicenter of disharmony at the Ministry of Finance. He does not get along with his deputies. It was the same at the erstwhile Bureau of the Budget. Ngafuan could not get along with the former Deputy Budget Director, Hon. Julius Ceasar. Unfortunately, Madam President succumbed to Nganfuan manipulations and transferred Mr. Ceasar from the Budget Bureau; leaving Ngafuan and his cronies solely in charge to have a field day. Today, Ngafuan has endured a bruising fight with Tarnue Mawolo, who was recalled from the portfolio of principal deputy.
Currently he is having rough edges with Mawolo’s replacement, Francis Karpeh, a serious and experienced professional who has once before served as Finance Minister. Comrade Ngafuan has also had serious brushes with Deputy for Revenue, Elfreda Tamba (far more experienced than he), who, according to an IMF official is not just anti corruption, but “ she is jittery anti corruption”. To the contrary, the same thing cannot be said of our dear comrade Minister. This is probably because President Sirleaf has her head and not his on the chopping block which, in the eyes of the public is a virtual license to “lick beyond his elbow”. The question remains unanswered why President Sirleaf has her head on the chopping block and not his.
In other instances, there have of late been numerous reports in the media about impropriety at the Ministry of Finance involving Finance Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan. Some of these reports concern the disbursement of July 26 Independence day funds, which according to reports is paid mainly to the Executive Mansion leaving the superintendents with little, while the public is led to believe that the monies are physically given to the various county superintendents to undertake the projects.
In such cases there are usually reports of unfinished projects or other snags in project implementation due to funding or the lack of it. And the public gets the impression that the superintendents are “chopping big time” while, to the contrary, most of the funding, according to these audit reports, is going to the Executive Mansion. And so as responsible citizens, we demand to know whether such transactions are approved by the President or whether it is one of Finance Minister Ngafuan’s “chopping schemes” involving key figures at the Ministry of State.
In addition to all of this, there are reports (unconfirmed) about how funds/monies deposited in government accounts at the various commercial banks are being illegally and surreptitiously given out to Lebanese and other businessmen as short term loans but at high interest rates. Thus, according to insider Finance Ministry sources, for example domestic debt payments are unduly delayed because in some cases, the businessmen do not pay back on time. Does the Finance Minister receive daily bank reports on government balances in the various banks? Or, correspondingly, is there a daily record kept of government expenditures processed thru through the banking system? The answer is no and I challenge the Finance Minister or the Governor of the Central Bank to prove me wrong.
In other instances, it is said the names of legitimate payees are removed from the list and replaced by the names of relatives and other ghost individuals. It is my information that Deputy for Expenditure Arthur Fumbah, a man described by law reform Commission Chairman, Cllr. Phillip Banks as a “fraudster” has been undergoing investigation by the Liberia Anti Corruption Commission (LACC) on charges of suspected fraud in the payment of domestic claims. what has become of the investigation other than the suspension of a junior official?
In another instance, the TRC for example submitted to the Finance Ministry a total figure of US$627,108.66 representing accrued salary arrears and liabilities for the period ending 2009. By the time the Ministry’s analysts got through reviewing the figures, they had adjusted the figures, upping the amount to US$628,848.66 for unexplained reasons. In January 2010, an amount of US$250,000 was paid according to Finance Ministry sources, leaving an unpaid balance of US$377,000.
The National Legislature, in a response to an official written request from Chairman Verdier, provided/allocated an amount of US$380,000 to make final settlement of salary arrears and operating liabilities in the last budget. to date, the matter is still lingering with Deputy Minister Fumbah unable to provide a fitting account of how the funds have been expended, when TRC arrears still remain unpaid, especially arrears to TRC statement takers.
And to cap all of this, the Finance Ministry, according to GAC audit reports is unable to account for US$18 million dollars out of a total of US$29,948.027 allocated to the payment of domestic debt. Against the backdrop of reports that GOL funds are being ferreted to unscrupulous Lebanese and other shady businessmen in return for high interests paid to their private accounts, can this be considered surprising?
How for example, can such huge amounts of money remain accounted for by officials who boast of having advanced degrees in accounting or financial management (but lack experience)and who by implication of their professed academic credentials should know better and perform at very high standards. The Budget Bureau and Ministry of Finance are two key institutions involved in public sector financial management and there should be no excuses why expenditure and other financial records are not maintained.
If such irresponsible and recklessly corrupt corporate behavior by Finance Ministry officials was unacceptable during the reign of President Tolbert over three decades ago, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf then served as Finance Minister, how come such behavior is seemingly tolerated and virtually accepted today when she, the same Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, now sits at the helm as President of the Republic of Liberia, for all what that means in a political culture dominated by an imperial presidency.
Against this backdrop, we are constrained to ask whether President Sirleaf, nearly a year later, still has her head on the chopping board in stubborn defense of Finance Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan’s integrity. In case she does still have her head on the chopping board, then we must warn that the President risks losing her head and as patriotic citizens must demand that she removes her head from the chopping block before it is too late.
We say this because, in the final analysis, the public will ask, as they have now begun to do, whether the President herself is involved in corruption, whether she is the unseen hand behind the stage action. For if indeed corruption is truly a hallmark of this regime as is commonly acknowledged, at least let it not be said, for the good of this country and for the good of the President herself and Liberian women in general, that “The Old Ma hand insah all this corruption business”.
To recall, the “Old Ma” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has a burden of history. Like her cabinet colleagues who suffered an untimely fate, she too was/is a product of that True Whig Party system which spawned inequality and in which she was faithfully serving until its bloody overthrow in 1980 on charges of rampant corruption and abuse of human rights. Although she has, over the years, shrugged off suggestions that she was a True Whig party hierarch, the unassailable fact is that she was a top political appointee, not a civil servant, serving at the will and pleasure of a True Whig Party President, William Richard Tolbert and was, therefore by deduction, a functionary of the True Whig Party.
And so whether we like it or not after 31 years, over 20 of which was spent in fratricidal conflict, an ex-official of the True Whig party and survivor of the 1980 bloody military coup d’état, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is now President of the Republic of Liberia. Now she has the opportunity, now she has the charge to ensure that those who lost their lives in the tumultuous but fateful events of April 12, 1980, did not die in vain. in this regard, it is important to reiterate that this charge is not and should not be all about self and the quest for vainglory.
It should be about rebuilding the country on a solid rock foundation. In the Bible, the story is told of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and as soon as the rains came, the house was swept away unlike that of the wise man who built his house upon the rock. Allowing corruption to thrive as it now does is like building a house upon the sand-a shaky foundation. And when the rains come the house will be swept away.
Liberia cannot and can never make any meaningful progress nor achieve the often talked about shared growth, or even successfully reduce poverty while the hemorrhaging of its resources continue without check in total disregard of the much touted Public Financial Management (PFM) law adopted by this government. In her budget letter to the National Legislature, President Sirleaf speaks, in glowing terms, of accelerating growth placing Liberia amongst the top ten fastest growing economies of the world.
This growth, according to her letter, is to be spurred mainly by growth in the enclave sectors of the economy. But like in the early 1960’s this growth is also coming without development. We often hear of how billions of dollars (16bn) worth of foreign investment has been secured by the country’s leadership, yet the big question that looms is where the jobs are. High unemployment even amongst college graduates, continues to rise with more entrants, (both educated and uneducated) being added each year into the labor force. Yet, we continue to receive reports of massive loss of revenue due to corruption while the President has seemingly turned a virtual blind eye to it.
Thus we are constrained to ask: is President Sirleaf building the country on a foundation of democracy, integrity, honesty, discipline and hard work or is she building it on a foundation of: autocracy, Chop-IChop, Gorbachop, Jay bay gee oooh, Jaa kay deh dee! Soak Bobby, Jacob gone to work,! We insah or Kuku-jumuku you na insah you na know?
Cutting Ngafuan loose or keeping him, whether or not on tenter hooks, will be one sure determinant of whether she (President Sirleaf) is failing or keepings that charge. As former Chairperson of the Good Governance Commission, the President is fully aware that governance issues lie at the heart of the Liberian conflict. Whether we like it or not corruption is a governance issue, it is a development issue and it is a transitional justice issue.
Put another way, corruption was a major contributing factor to outbreak of civil conflict in Liberia and is now again threatening the future. And it is not only corruption in public financial management but corruption of national processes such as those leading to the holding of a national referendum such as this bogus referendum promotive of conflict with an unlevel playing field on which crucial national elections are proposed to be conducted.
We recall that NEC chairman, James Fromayan had earlier declared that given time constraints, it would have been impossible to hold the referendum. But his volte face on the matter, in the face of his earlier declaration suggests that Presidential pressure was to bear on the NEC, and to which they have acquiesced. Against the backdrop of expressed opposition to the referendum and against advice to proceed with the referendum, President Sirleaf continues to proceed, mindless of the implications and the accompanying fall out of what promises to be massive public discontent. She has apparently now forgotten what lessons flawed 1985 elections results taught us as a nation, and also, what an unlevel playing field for elections can do to undermine peace security and stability.
A major public concern is: if President Sirleaf, already advanced in age, though not yet enfeebled, is at this stage helpless and virtually unable to take hard decisions to deal with the corruption sharks swarming around her, will she in 2 or 3 years time, as an octogenarian and even more advanced in age, be able to control the monster predators prowling about her threatening to eat her up? She has not over the last five plus year of her tenure, fished out a single shark, although she seemingly, half heartedly nearly succeeded in fishing an “airplane shark” Lawrence Bropleh out of the deep. Somehow, he succeeded in slipping through the net. Now he is a fiery speaker promoting the cause-calling for President Sirleaf’s reelection.
But in case President Sirleaf does have her wish and the concensus building element (two thirds majority requirement) is removed from the Constitution, will she be around to contain the situation when the country slips back into violent conflict? Will she depend on AFRICOM, whose leadership has already dismissed speculations of Liberia’s request to headquarter its operations? Apparently President Sirleaf has forgotten history in 1990, when:
A flotilla of US navy ships with over 5,000 United States marines watched from ashore with bemused interest while the Liberian nation burned or; even in 2003, when several Liberians lost their lives while jubilating in reaction to false reports that United States troops had landed in Monrovia. But lo, to their consternation, the U.S. President George Bush declared that the presence of “African boots on the ground” was a prerequisite to the deployment of U.S. troops.
And who came to the rescue? it was ECOWAS/Nigerian troops in particular. And so Liberians must never forget the so called Status of Forces Agreement that led to the disgraceful and premature departure of ECOMOG from Liberia and left the country poised at the brink of renewed civil war which eventually reignited, visiting mass suffering and witnessing the gross and egregious abuse of human rights. The public needs to be reminded that it is the same Cllr. Charles Brumskine that led the charge for ECOMOG’s expulsion, is now rallying his partisans to support the holding of a bogus referendum, only because the proposed residency requirements suits him personally.
Yes! it is the same Charles Brumskine who along with others like Cllr. Varney Sherman were strong proponents of the so called Status of Forces Agreement. Both individuals, as expected of course, fled to their comfort zones in the United States of America right before all hell broke loose and they left us here to face the music. He, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, by his declaration of support for a bogus referendum, intended to suit his whims and those of an aged incumbent, is not only indeed aiding and abetting corruption but is endorsing a return to war in Liberia.
The new (post conflict) Liberia can be likened to an infant about to emerge from the womb of its mother. Naturally this new born child will bear scars from the womb. Whether this child survives will to a large extent depend on how it is midwifed from its mother’s womb and nurtured subsequently. It maybe argued that Transitional Government Chairman Gyude Bryant successfully midwifed the painful birth of infant Liberia, entrusting her to a successor to nurse and provide post-natal care.
A running stomach, (corruption) however threatens the child’s survival and its nurse finds herself virtually unable to do anything to stop it. After days of constant diarrhea, it becomes obvious that the child will face imminent death if left in the continuous care of the nurse. What should/would/will happen next?
In closing we are reminded of the old story in Liberian folklore about swearing and placing one’s head on the chopping block: The story goes like this: Once upon a time in a far away village kingdom there lived a woman, named Langaba Nyene-ju-torh who was known throughout the kingdom for her unmatched bravery and bravado. She was known to go on hunting expeditions in the high forest armed only with a small knife and it was not uncommon to see her return from these expeditions with carcasses of wild animals such as elephant, deer and leopard.
One day while one of her usual hunting forays, she came across a human skull lying amid a thick undergrowth of shrubs covered with dense foliage. strangely but almost instinctively she reached out, stooping low, and picked up the weather beaten skull wondering just what could have caused the death of this individual who apparently had lost his/her way and strayed into the depths of the forest where he/she met his/her end, whether by natural causes or by the hand of another individual or even a wild animal. As she mused, lost in thoughts, she suddenly remarked aloud and as if speaking to the skull said “skull what brought you here in this forest?
And to her shocking surprise, the skull replied…”the same reason that brought me here will bring you here. Startled beyond belief, her mind began racing and before long she had recovered her wits, determining that she had to, at all cost, return to the village to inform the king that she had found a speaking skull. And immediately, she set off, thrilled by her unsuspecting discovery and eager to show off her newly found talking skull.
Upon arrival in the village, she raced straightaway to the king’s compound where she proclaimed the news. The king, being worried what such discovery portended for the fortunes of his people who, only recently, had experienced a calamitous lightning storm that took several lives, feared that it (a talking skull) was an evil omen. Immediately he summoned his council of advisors who, after repeatedly being assured by Langaba Nyene-ju-torh that the skull actually did talk, suggested to the king to proceed to the spot on one condition-that if the skull did not talk, Langaba Nyene-ju-torh will lose her head on the same spot in order to appease the great spirits of the ancestors.
And before long, a procession set off on the journey to the forest. Langaba Nyene-ju-torh, proud and confident in her new discovery and of the greatness such discovery was sure to bestow on her led the way. Upon arrival at the location, the king ordered the clearing of the spot. After a few minutes the skull lay on the bare ground totally exposed. then Langaba Nyene-ju-torh stepped forward, picked and the skull, bated her breath for a few seconds and then blurted out, ”skull o skull, just as you told me before, please tell me now before everyone here, what brought you here in this forest? and the skull said nothing. again and again, Langaba Nyene-ju-torh posed the question, yet each time the skull would remain mute.
After nearly the whole day, with evening approaching, the king called out to Langaba Nyene-ju-torh, reminding her that if the skull did not talk, she would indeed lose her head in order to appease the ancestral spirits. and how did Langaba Nyene-ju-torh plead with the skull again and again to talk without success and as twilight began to set in, the king gave an order to his guards to place Langaba Nyene-ju-torh’s head on the chopping block and cut it off immediately. Langaba Nyene-ju-torh pleaded with the king to spare her life but her cries fell on deaf ears as just about everyone in the village seemed agreed that Langaba Nyene-ju-torh had to lose her head for the good of the village kingdom.
And so Langaba nyene-ju-torh ’s head was chopped off from her body. With her torso writhing uncontrollably, her head rolled over finding its nesting place right alongside the old skull. And then, immediately, to everyone’s shocking surprise, the skull declared in a very audible voice..” you see, I told you the same thing that brought me here will bring you here. The king like the rest of the village inhabitants could not believe that such a thing could have happened. In shock and disbelief, they scurried away fearful that something terrible was about to befall them. However it was too late for poor Langaba Nyene-ju- torh as she had lost her head and her quest for greatness brought to naught.
And so dear readers, this is the wisdom of the ages, though as old as the hills, but yet fresh as early morning dew. Take it, use it wisely and it will serve you well! ignore it and it will surely come to haunt you. Do not be like Langaba nyene-ju torh. Remove your head from the chopping block before it is too late. Good bye!