Sirleaf Administration Has Failed To Police Itself, LIPI Asks Legislature for An Independent Prosecutor


A Press Release from The Liberia Institute of Public Integrity (LIPI)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 5, 2013



Hon. Alex J. Tyler
Speaker, House of Representatives
National Legislature, Monrovia, Liberia
Hon. Edwin M. Snowe, Chairman, Rules and Order, House of Representatives
Hon. Emmanuel Naquay, Chairman, Ways and Means, House of Representatives
Hon. James P. Biney, Chairman, Public Accounts, House of Representatives
Hon. Garyah Karmoh, Chairman, Judiciary, House of Representatives
      2  December  2013
RE: Sirleaf Administration Has Failed To Police Itself, LIPI Asks Legislature for An Independent Prosecutor
Dear Hon. Speaker:

The Liberia Institute of Public Integrity (LIPI) has followed governance issues in Liberia. Bad governance, mainly uncontrolled corruption and impunity, has been the fundamental problem that faces Liberia for 166 years, and which has retarded progress in Liberia and undermined the collective well being of Liberians. In her inaugural speech on January 16, 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assured Liberians and international partners of her unrelenting commitment to fight corruption, when she declared corruption as the “major public enemy”, and promised to ensure zero tolerance for corruption. In that speech, the President said:

“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. Corruption erodes faith in government because of the mismanagement and misapplication of public resources. It weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption shortchanges and undermines key decision and policymaking processes. It stifles private investments which create jobs, and assures support from our partners. Corruption is a national cancer that creates hostility, distrust, and anger.”
 “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. 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 yet another Liberian leader to play to the gallery on this grave issue should think twice.
"In this respect, I will lead by example. I will expect and demand that everyone serving in my Administration leads by example"

Nearly 8 years into her administration as President of Liberia, the Presidency has been named in nearly all public financial scandals unearthed by the media. In some instances, such as the Dunn Commission, the President's family and inner circle members have been at the center of the financial scandals. The President's usual response to these scandals has been to name an independent commission to probe the scandal but has failed to act on these reports produced by the commissions. As if the presidency is exempt from being accountable to the Liberians people, culprits of these scandals have often been recycled within the inner circle, and often rewarded with new appointments.    

Reports of these Presidential Commissions have consumed national financial resources only to be thrashed in the dustbin. This is an established practice and pattern of conduct that the Presidency continues to protect family members and members of the inner circle named in these scandals at the detriment of the general population.

Clearly, the Executive Branch has failed to police itself.  LIPI has no reason to believe that after 8 years of failure to fight corruption, the Presidency has the moral courage, personal commitment and political will to do so now or in the future. The Ministry of Justice, which is the law enforcement arm of the Government, is so politicized, compromised and timid that it lacks rigor and fortitude to be effective. The General Auditing Commission is now wobbling in confusion due to the single fact that the institution is now politicized and compromised. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission is also politicized and compromised by the Presidency, making its mandate difficult to implement. The Public Procurement Commission seems to try its best to continue fighting fraud and waste but it lacks the power to prosecute.  At the same time, the Public Procurement Commission, according to Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, lacks professional integrity and is a nominal toothless entity that can be easily manipulated owing to the social vulnerability of its leadership. Minister Samukai revealed this in the Ellen Cockrum’s recordings. These weaknesses are of critical concerns to LIPI, as they collectively point to a failure in leadership and good governance.
In an "Unclassified but Official Use Only" cable from the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, dated Friday, 11 Sep 2009 13:02 UTC, written by Deputy Mission Chief Brooks Robison, entitled 'Liberia: President Dismisses Oil Company Head Amid Corruption Scandal,'  the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia wrote:

“President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dismissed the head of the state-owned Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC) on September 5, following a Ministry of Justice probe into the alleged acceptance of bribes in exchange for a USD 24.8 million concession. Sirleaf's sacking of a long-time advisor and confidant illustrates the pressure she feels to demonstrate zero-tolerance toward corruption."

"The Zakhem affair was the second time Greaves unilaterally concluded contracts of an ambiguous or un-transparent nature.  In 2007, he announced a deal for Nigeria to supply 10,000 barrels of oil to Liberia.  The Legislature questioned the contract, and the media cried foul when Greaves refused to disclose the price of the oil or the terms of the contract. While the GOL ultimately cancelled the deal, the President did not sanction Greaves."

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Liberia, Christina Tarr, was appointed by the President to head this special investigation. The Minister of Justice concluded in her findings that she found corruption (bribery), but informed the Liberian people that she was awaiting instruction from the President and the Board of Directors before she could prosecute.  The mere fact that Minister Tarr said she was waiting for “instructions” from the President and the Board of Directors before doing her job speaks of the vulnerability and lack of independence of the Ministry of Justice to execute its duties uninfluenced. This is the clearest evidence of a compromised, timid and politicized Ministry of Justice, which acts not on the basis of the law but on presidential prerogatives and instructions. Information provided by former RIA Managing Director, Ellen Cockrum and Judge Melvin Johnson further casts doubts on the seriousness of the Ministry of Justice or Executive Branch institutions to uphold the rule of law in Liberia. There is no evidence that the Minister of Justice has filed any extradition petition as promised the Liberian people nearly five months ago.

The Dunn Commission recommended an Independent Prosecutor. President Sirleaf agreed and informed the Liberian people that she would appoint an Independent Prosecutor. It has been five years and she has failed to appoint the Independent Prosecutor, arguably because an email linked her sister, Jenny Bernard, to US$500,000 alleged bribery found on her laptop.

The President's sister explained that the $500,000 trail on her laptop came from the sister of the President of Sierra Leone, Finda Koroma, who allegedly borrowed and used her laptop during the President's birthday celebration. In an interview with the late Tom Kamara of the New Democrat Newspaper, Ms. Koroma denied ever being at the birthday party, much less using President Sirleaf sister's computer. Ms. Koroma clarified that she was in Minnesota, USA on the date of the birthday party of President Sirleaf. The New Democrat’s story infuriated President Sirleaf, who hired Cllr. Cyranius Cephus to sue the New Democrat but later dropped the case.

In that same email scandal that led to the formation of the Dunn Commission, Senior Presidential Advisor and Director of the Cabinet, Medina Wesseh, and the Special Assistant to the President, Mrs. Elva Mitchell Richardson, were linked to the email scandal. In the Western Cluster Iron Ore Mining Negotiation scandal, Presidential confidante and former Minister of State, Willis Knuckles was named. The highlight of the Nagbalee Warner's Report on Carbon Harvesting was Finance Minister Amara Konneh, a man who President Sirleaf credits for her victory in 2005. The most recent RIA scandal has linked the President, her sister, Minister of State McClain, Minister of Finance Amara Konneh, and others in the Executive Mansion – office of the President.

It is therefore time for a radical shift in dealing with issues of corruption and impunity, especially when the Presidency and high-ranking officials of the Executive Branch are involved.  While LIPI commends the House of Representatives for indicating that body’s intention to institute an investigation into the RIA scandal, LIPI believes that the Speaker should consider alternatives that will create value for money and send the loudest signal that corruption and impunity would have no more place in Liberia.

LIPI requests the House of Representatives to establish The Office of Special Independent Prosecutor to handle all reports of Presidential Commissions and Special Investigations carried out by the Executive Branch. The National Legislature has a recognized inherent authority for oversight of the executive agencies to ensure their efficient and proper functioning according to the laws that the Legislature has passed, to assure the proper expenditure of funds that the Legislature appropriates, and to explore and consider the need for possible remedial legislation to curtail corrupt practices .
The case for a Special Independent Prosecutor is even more needed since the Presidency is accused in these financial scandals. Clearly, the current Liberian Presidency has political connections to those implicated in these Presidential Commissions. This has created a conflict of interest and the best alternative solution is to have a professional outside of Government, backed and supported by the Legislature and the international community, to lead the investigation.

The Legislature should authorize the appointment of three Special Independent Prosecutors, each representing the following Presidential Commission groupings and Special Reports:

Presidential Commissions on Corruption and Financial Scandals

Presidential Commissions  on Abuse of Power and Authority

Special Investigative Reports

By authorizing the appointment of these Independent Special Prosecutors for only these presidential commissioned reports, the legislature will achieve the following: (1) limit them to these issues and avoid a fishing expedition; (2) function of government and its integrity institutions will continue without interruption;  (3) it will serve as a good example of effective Legislative oversight and good governance; and (4) the issues in these reports will be finally addressed and not push forward to the next government.

In addition, we request that the National Legislature establish a permanent Office of an Independent Prosecutor to avoid or curtail corrupt practices of the executive branch and flagrant violations of the laws of Liberia and impunity. An Independent Prosecutor is a permanent office to prosecute in cases involving government officials since the Executive Branch has failed to “police itself". LIPI believes that accountability and prosecution are anti-corruption tools that should not be ignored on account of special interest or willful neglect of the public good.

                J. Aloysius Toe, Acting Executive Director
                J. Aloysius Toe, Acting Executive Director

Contact #: +17048582573, +17038947144, +19787282112, +1215817-8318
 Members: J. Aloysius Toe is former Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD); Dan Saryee is former Executive Director of Liberia Democratic Institute (LDI); Cllr. Jerome Verdier is Chairman of the former Truth and Reconciliation Commission  (TRC) of Liberia; John S. Morlu II is former Auditor General of Liberia; Massa Washington is Commissioner of the former TRC of Liberia; Ernest S. Maximore is a Liberian Journalist and Lawyer; Julius Suku is a political activist; Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr., Esq is an American-trained Lawyer, J. Kerkula Foeday is former Student Leader of the University of Liberia and founder of the National Center Against Crime & Violence, JKK Peah, Journalist and Activist, and James Marshall, Political Activist. 

© 2013 by The Perspective
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