The Liberia Institute for Public Integrity (LIPI) takes note of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s recent statement on the state of the Liberian economy. The President has interestingly admitted that constraints on the economy have caused Liberians to fall behind! In defining the causes of the tragic state of the Liberian economy, she provided explanations that do not explain anything, but rather dribble into superficialities and misrepresentation of material facts.
For example, the President failed the fundamental test of fair, full, and honest disclosure on the actual causes of the impending economic disaster in Liberia. Her most recent statement patently contradicts her earlier claim that the economy and the living standards of all Liberians were improving under her leadership. The President had earlier claimed that the Liberian economy has become “fundamentally strong” since her tenure. She’s on record as saying, “we may not suddenly stop poverty for everyone, but the evidence is clear that thousands of lives have been changed for the better and for the tenure of this Presidency and the life of this administration.” In rationalizing her administration’s dismal failure in fostering and ensuring an opportunity society, social equity, and fairness for all Liberians, she further claims, “I do not have all of the answers and I came to this High Office fully aware that for many families, the harsh pains of poverty have been recycled over several generations.
LIPI considers the President’s most recent statement as part of her repackaged excuses of giving “false optimism” to Liberians in the face of excruciating poverty in Liberia, and a demonstration of her lack of political leadership. The President provides more rationalizations and excuses than solutions. For instance, she unashamedly admits, without proposing concrete and practical ways of addressing corruption and bad governance practices in Liberia that the “decline in the level of anticipated revenues [is] on account of procurement fraud and corruption.” Undoubtedly, corruption pervades at “all levels of Government” in Liberia (U.S. Department of States Human Rights Report, 2014). While it is true that the President may not have the ability to stop poverty for everyone, her administration has proven that she has the capability of, and of course is, creating more wealth for a few people through officially budgeted, acknowledged, and sanctioned public-sector corruption.
It is laughable for the President to state that the Liberian “economic is fundamentally strong.” Like President Barack Obama who mocked fellow presidential aspirant, John McCain, during the 2008 presidential campaign when McCain said similar thing about the US economy, we pause to ask you, Madam President: “which economy are you talking about”? A “fundamentally strong economy” in a “budget shortfall”, massive unemployment, excruciating poverty and visible hardship, mass hunger, high inflation, and pathetic living standards of people, massive capital flight and high-class corruption that drain the national coffers like some demonic suction tube?
Another contradiction to highlight involves the President’s bragging about Liberia’s annual growth rates since her presidency. In the President’s own words, she claims,
“Our economy has performed well over the past 6 years, averaging annual growth rates of 7 percent. Our annual growth rate exceeds the average growth rates of the West African region. Estimates from the IMF indicate the growth rate in 2013 to be 8.7 percent… Notwithstanding these serious efforts, the rate of growth projected for 2014 is at 5.8 percent which falls short of the growth rate projected in the Agenda for Transformation that calls for at least 8 percent annual growth rate, if we are to stay on track in becoming a middle-income country by 2030.”
The President says the GDP is falling and that the current GDP is way below the targeted growth rate of 8% to make Liberia a middle-income country by 2030! Despite this sad admission by the President, she is arguing that the Liberian economy under her leadership is “fundamentally strong”. Perhaps, the economy is stronger in the pockets of the few that have taken the liberty to steal public funds!
Reading the President’s statement, LIPI thinks she attended and graduated, with “high honors,” from U.S. President Herbert Hoover’s School of Economics. President Hoover was inarguably one of America’s smartest President but he wrecked the US economy and he lived in academic denial until he was defeated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. So when people are hungry, cost of living is increasing while living standards are declining, and the President says the economy is “fundamentally strong” it is like President Hoover is ‘speaking from his grave.
LIPI notes with deep concern President Johnson-Sirleaf’s insincerity about Liberians’ expectation of her and her administration as regards the post-conflict recovery process in Liberia. In her statement, the President asserted that Liberians expect her “to do everything at the same time”. LIPI thinks such assertion by the President is a willful misrepresentation of facts. Liberians do not expect the President to do everything at the same time. What Liberians expect is for the President to keep her promises to the Liberian people. In January 2006, the President promised that corruption would be public enemy number one. Today, under her watch and in some instances, with her direct knowledge, almost all government financial transactions are marred by corruption, waste and abuse. Because her inner circle members are often involved and/or connected to corruption in Liberia, the President has ignored and failed to act on any of the GAC audit reports that unearthed and discovered stolen money of about US$1.5 Billion.
Since her ascendency to the presidency in 2006, Madam Johnson-Sirleaf has been named in nearly all public-sector financial scandals unearthed by the media. In some instances, as reported by the Dunn Commission, the President family and inner circle members have been at the center of the financial scandals. Her response to these scandals has always been about political grandstanding, as evidenced by her naming “independent commissions” to give the impression that she’s serious about genuine reforms; but she has always failed to act on these reports, especially on the recommendations put forth by the various commissions. Examples include the Dunn Commission Report regarding the Email Scandal, the RIA Financial Scandal and the Tape Recordings, the Justice Minister's Investigative Committee on Zakhem Contract, the Western Cluster Scandal, the Nagbalee Warner's Commission on Carbon Harvesting, and the Dorbor Jallah's Commission on Private Use Permit Report. Others include the Tiawon Gongloe' Commission Report, the H. Boima Fahnbulleh's Commission Report, the November 7 Elections Violence Committee Report, the Moore Stephenson Audit Report on Contracts and Concessions, the Liberian Honorary Consul Scandal, and the Togba Nah Tipoteh’s Rice Commission Report.
LIPI urges the President not “to do everything at the same time” but to demonstrate her genuine commitment to fighting corruption in Liberia by publicly addressing the following scandals:
1. The $500,000 scandal involving her sister, Jenny Bernard, as reported in the Dunn Commission Report, in which wire transfer information was found on Jenny’s laptop. Jenny blamed it on Finda Koroma, the sister of Sierra Leone President and Mrs. Koroma denied ever being at the President’s birthday party in question and stated to the New Democrat that she was in fact in Minnesota on the day of the President’s birth day.
2. The $10.5 million of the Liberian people money from Chevron that the President ordered to be given to her son, Robert A. Sirleaf’s NGO, and not to the national treasury. The President maintained that the Ministry of Finance could not be trusted to manage the $10.5 million. Unfortunately, other social contribution funds have gone through the Ministry of Finance to the tune of more than $78 million to date.
3. The President’s son, Robert A. Sirleaf, collected and spent $120 million during the two years served as head of the oil Company – NOCAL – when she appointed him.
4. The former Public Works Minister, Lusinee Donzo signed $7 million worth of contracts in small lots to bypass the Public Procurement Laws of Liberia (PPCC) on April 18, 2007, and on April 20, 2007 he issued certificates of completion. That was just 2 days in between signing and finishing work. The President responded by removing Donzo as Minister of Public Works, but reappointed him as Presidential Advisor on “Infrastructure.” The President did not even yell at Donzo, much less make him see Prison. In the United States Jesse Jackson, Jr. and the former Governor of Illinois are spending decades of years in jail for corruption.
5. The email scandal that led to the formation of the Dunn Commission. The President’s Senior Presidential Advisor and Director of the Cabinet and Private Business Conduit, Medina Wesseh, and the Special Assistant to the President, Mrs. Elva Mitchell Richardson, were linked to the email scandal. Mrs. Wesseh abused and used her office and position to influence and execute business deals in which she personally derived and acquired monetary benefits. Mrs. Wesseh is also implicated in the Private Use Permit (PUP), where she abused her official position within Government to form a company to obtain a concession, as reported by the UN Panel of Experts and Global Witness. Mrs. Medina Wesseh is also linked to a company, which she and her husband founded to take contract from the County Development Fund in River Gee County. The company defrauded the people of Liberia in River Gee.
6. The Western Cluster Iron Ore Mining Negotiation scandal. Presidential confidante and former Minister of State, Willis Knuckles was named. Mr. Knuckles and other close presidential aides solicited bribes from the Delta Mining from South Africa, which was awarded the Western Cluster contract. FrontPage Africa’s investigation linked former Minister of State Willis Knuckles in a chain of E-mail exchanges with investors, which forced the government to cancel the agreement and opened the concession for rebidding. Elenilto was awarded the contract in the midst of massive controversy, with Liberians providing cogent and irrefutable documents to show that Elenilto was not qualified and capable to win the contract. In about six months after Elenilto obtained the award, it resold its contract netting, before tax revenue on the sale, an amount of US$123.5 million without doing anything in Liberia. Similarly, Oranto and Broadway sold their contracts they obtained after bribing officials, each company walk away with nearly US$200 million without doing anything or investing a dime in the oil blocks for which they obtained the concessions. These are some of examples of the level of asset stripping that has happened since the President took office in 2006.
7. 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 Carbon Harvesting scandal took international headlines, after the British Government arrested the businessmen that bribed his way in Liberia.
8. 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.
At the same time, LIPI calls on the President to stop playing political showboating with the Liberian people by making more promises when she’s yet to fulfill her old promise of making corruption “public enemy number one” in Liberia. In her latest statement, the President declared, “today, my fellow Liberians, I renew to you this solemn pledge: Our economy will be restored to its full potentials. This effort is already underway with my direct leadership. This effort will require changes in officials, prosecutions of offenders, challenges to partners, as well as reforms in policies and actions.”
LIPI sees this new promise as being no different from old promises made in the past, especially since this new promise is coming at a time when there are reports of over US$100 million donor-provided infrastructure funding that has been mismanaged from 2009 to 2013 and tens of millions of US dollars irregularly spent by LACE, an institution used by the Executive Mansion as the key implementer of projects for funding provided by UNDP and the African Development Bank. In order to test the President’s sincerity on her new promise, let her begin the prosecution with those indicted in reports commissioned by her. The President can demonstrate her commitment by first and foremost starting with her own sister Jenny Bernard for being named in the Dunn Commission Report for illegal money transfers to consummate the renewal of the LISCR contract.
It should be noted that Liberia’s current economic disaster is the making of President Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration and the President is aware of it. Forty percent of Liberia’s revenue is not accounted for in the national budget. According to international reports, more than 70% of Liberia’s forest has been sold with little or no benefit to the people of Liberia. Only two of the over seventy concession agreements that the President signed are free from corruption. Unlike Ghana that keeps about 40% of its oil for the benefit of Ghanaians, President Sirleaf has auctioned 95% of Liberia’s oil. Even though Liberia is rich in natural resources far more than Botswana, which commits 95% of its natural resource revenue to its national budget, Liberia only commit 8.7% of its natural resource revenue to the national budget.
Finally, the President said, “many of our people were left stranded and abandoned on the sides of the road [in the past]”. Like her predecessors who left the Liberian people stranded and abandoned on the sides of the road, today President Johnson-Sirleaf is equally not just leaving Liberians on the roadside with little chance of surviving by eking out a living here and there, but is dumping Liberians in a turbulent river of desperation and frustration.
The President likened her government’s challenges to “driving a bus while at the same time repairing its many deficient and dysfunctional parts.” She claims “for past years, our bus has been parked, some of the parts have gotten rusty, some are unusable, and many of our people were left stranded and abandoned on the sides of the road.” The fact is, parts of the bus were not rusty, the bus was only muddy and the seats were only dusty and needed washing, wiping, cleaning and polishing by her government but the government failed to do so. The government has not been repairing many deficient and dysfunctional parts of the bus. Rather, government officials and inner circle members have been looting parts of the public buss to build private financial limousines.
How can the economy be deficient and dysfunctional, when, according to the World Bank, the “Liberian economy is among the fastest growing economies in the world”? Also, according to President Sirleaf, “the economy and Liberia would need no more foreign aid” in ten years (by 2020). The President has attracted more than $16 billion in direct foreign investment. Liberia’s national budget has grown from $89 million in 2005 to $540 million in 2013 in eight years. These could not be said of a rusty, deficient and dysfunctional economy.
Signed by Authority of the Executive Committee:
J. Aloysius Toe