President Garmai Sianee Tokpah's Annual Report
Hon. Garmai Sianee Tokpah
National President, FLAA
PRESIDENT’S ANNUAL REPORT
FLAA 24TH NATIONAL CONVENTION
23RD-25TH MAY 2014
STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
THE CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF FLAA;
MEMBERS OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF FLAA;
CHAPTER PRESIDENTS OF FLAA PRESENT;
OUR INVITED GUESTS;
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN;
ALL PROTOCOLS OBSERVED
I bring greetings to all of my sisters and brothers all the way from the Music City of the South, Nashville, Tennessee.
Allow me first to thank the Almighty God for sustaining us as a Federation over the years. Through His grace, we have come this far. And I am confident that through His abiding grace, we shall continue to sojourn gallantly despite our collective challenges. Let us take a moment to remember our fallen giants of Lofa County and all the other departed.
A year ago, we gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for our 23rd National Convention. By most estimates and measure, the Iowa Convention appears to have been one of the Federation’s best and finest moments. It is our understanding that most of the delegates left the Convention somewhat motivated because of the outcomes that was produced. The Resolutions from that Convention spoke volume and is an attestation of the sentiments that we felt.
I like to thank each members of my team, for believing in me and for allowing me to be their humble servant over the years.
At the time, my administration reported that despite the many challenges we faced when we initially assumed the helm of this office, we were hopeful that our efforts would put us on the right trajectory to ensure progress. It was our sincere belief then that the state of our Federation was resilient and still offered prospects for accelerated development. Ladies and gentlemen, after another year into our administration, it is with heavy heart and disappointment to inform you today that the state of our Federation remains precarious at best. Undoubtedly, this year’s Convention theme:
(“WAKE UP FLAA: REVIEW YOUR MISSION, ACHIEVEMENTS AND CHALLENGES, AND DETERMINE A HOPEFUL FUTURE”) is a reflection of the mood of our Federation.
My administration has certainly erected structures and design systems for transparency and accountability. Financial statements are being produced periodically in conformity with our financial policies and procedures. An unprecedented and robust record keeping system is now in place. We sincerely commend the Treasurer and the Secretary General for their dedication and professional disposition. However, these efforts are just a modicum and minute part of the progress required to propel the Federation to a stage that will guarantee the full realization of the goals and objectives for which it was established.
My administration has been subjected to an unprecedented scrutiny to the point where the line between the legislative and oversight responsibilities of the Board vis-à-vis the implementation of the functions of administration has become very blur. Let me be very clear about this; we are not against scrutiny, but when it rises to the level and tactics of delaying progress for our people, then we have an obligation to speak out and to express our objections. This unwarranted delay tactics has stalled progress and made it very difficult to move the agenda of the Federation and achieve the goals and objectives for which it was founded. While we truly believe that everyone has Lofa County’s interest at heart, our individual approaches to and perspectives on serving this common interest has vary considerably. These divergent views and approaches are very profound and do not produce the common ground and understanding that give rise to progress.
The state of our finances remains strong and resilient. The net assets of the Federation continue to grow exponentially. I am aware that the Treasurer will provide a more detailed analysis of the financial position of the Federation, but let me hasten to disclose that as of year-end December 31, 2013, the recorded net assets of the Federation was more than $22, 000.00. The checking and savings deposits at the Bank constituted a significant portion of the Federation’s assets.
The renewal of the Federation’s 501(c)3 status remains a concern to us. Although we have met all requirements to support our request for renewal, the process has taken unusually longer than expected. The Treasurer has made follow-up calls with the IRS, but was only told that the Federation’s case has been assigned to a case manager for review. We will continue to do periodic follow ups.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The administration continues to cooperate and collaborate with the Board in an attempt to move the agenda of the Federation. However, the response of the Board has been less than timely and leaves much to be desired. Last year, we warned of the danger of the Board not responding timely to take decisions on proposals submitted to it by the administration. Our experience with the Board over the year suggests that not much has changed. The stone-walling tactics has continued mainly as a result of the difficulty in having the Board’s oversight committees meet in a timely manner to make decisions. During the year under review, the administration submitted the following proposals to the Board for action: 1) $2,000 for disaster relief for flood victims in Voinjama and Quardi Gbondi districts; 2) $750 in support of the Lofa County Youth Secretariat Homecoming and Reconciliation Program in Voinjama; 3) $ 1,000.00 Ebola victims in Lofa and, 4) a $1,500 per annum scholarship proposal for fourteen individuals from each of the seven districts in the County to attend the University of Liberia and after graduation return to the County to teach. Except for the support to the Lofa county Youth Secretariat which was approved, no decision has been made regarding the other proposals, under the pretext of needing additional information from the administration. An example of the stone-walling tactics is the Board’s request to the administration to identify the source of funds for the scholarship program; yet, we continue to appropriate and allocate funds in the budget for a “Welcome Center” project in Lofa County. Our effort to secure and allocate funding for the Lofa County Community College was totally rejected by the Board without an opportunity for the administration to defend its budget. My administration also included the following line items in the annual budget for board review and approval.
1) $5,000.00 annual Scholarship for the Lofa Community College in Voinjama; 2) $ 500.00 for the Lofa county league; 3) $500.00 for Lofa Youth; 4) 500.00 for Lofa Women; 5) and$1600.00 to collaborate with other Liberian Organizations in the diaspora was all included in the budget, but was completely taken out by the Board when the annual budget was submitted for review and approval. The amount in question was a symbolic gesture and was intended to demonstrate the Federation’s willingness to make its meager contribution to the development of Lofa County and to collaborate with our fellow Liberians in the diaspora. Frankly, I am wondering if these are not the things that matter, then what is it that matters the most to the people of Lofa County, Such has been the acrimony that has defined our relationship with the Board during our tenure.
RELATIONSHIP WITH AND STATE OF AFFAIRS OF VARIOUS CHAPTERS
Ladies and gentlemen, my administration continues to receive maximum cooperation from the few chapters that have remained functional. Of the ten chapters that existed at the time we took over the Federation, only five chapters appear to be functioning, some of them marginally.
As we reported last year, the strength of most of the chapters is declining either because of lack of leadership structure from the local FLAA leadership or non-participation of members in the activities of their chapters mainly precipitated by a general decline in their membership. During the course of the year, we initiated discussions with some of the chapters through the office of FLAA National Vice President with the intent to understand their resuscitation plan, but we did not receive much cooperation. We brought the matter to the attention of the Board via email communication and teleconference, the board promised administration to visit each of these chapters no later than January 2014 prior to convention; however, no resolution has been found yet.
FLAA’S WEB SITE
The FLAA web site is up and running. However, our challenge remains getting information, especially from the various chapters, to load and populate the site. We want to thank our National Vice President for working alone with Mr. Arving Jallah of Minnesota who continues to assist us with the task of managing the web site until his permanent replacement is found. You may log on the site by using the address www.lofaconnections.org.
Our outreach program has usually consisted of the projects that the Federation has either contributed to or implemented to impact the lives of the people of Lofa County. Based on a request from the Lofa County Youth Secretariat, the administration sought approval from the Board to make a contribution of $750 towards a “Homecoming and Reconciliation” program organized by the Youth group. The request was approved and Mr. Jusu Hena represented the Federation at that program held from 19th-21st December 2013. A full report of that program along with the receipt for the amount of our contribution has been submitted to us and copies share with FLAA Board of directors. We want to thank Mr. Hena for his representation and support.
The “Welcoming Center” project is still work-in-progress. A reconstituted External Committee headed by Mr. Zebelee Zayzay undertook and collaborated with Mr. Alvin Johnson, Board member from Minnesota, to retrieve a copy of the architectural drawings for the project. Because the first set of drawings was never made available to us when we were elected, the Board approved another funding to retrieve a copy. My administration has yet to receive the drawings from Mr. Zayzay.
As part of our effort to encourage youth participation in the work of the Federation, our dynamic Queen from the Minnesota Chapter has for the first time organized the Youth Wing of FLAA. We commend her effort and that of the Minnesota Chapter and look forward to the spill-over effect to the rest of the chapters.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LOFA LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS
Our regular consultation with the Lofa Legislative Caucus mainly through the office of the Chairperson, Hon Sumo Kupee, continued. Last year, our effort was directed at trying to obtain a copy of the Peace and Reconciliation resolution that was held in the County. Although verbal and written communications were sent to that effect, our attempts were unsuccessful.
OUTLOOK ON PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
The administration initiated plans to organize a peace and reconciliation program to foster unity among Lofa County residents in the Americas. The Ohio Chapter President volunteered to host the program, but after much debate among its membership the offer was retracted. We did not get any volunteer thereafter and with the onset of winter, the administration was left with two options; either to convene a teleconference with the participation of all Lofians or scale back until the onslaught of winter was over. It is our sincere hope that this program will be organized and executed this year.
As mandated by the 23rd National Convention, my administration moved quickly to set up the Wologizi Mountain Committee to implement the resolution pertaining to this matter. An eminent group of persons to include Dr. Sakui Malakpai, Mr. J. Galakpai Howard, Mr. Jusu Hena, Mr. Arthur K. Zakamai, Mr. Carmah Mulabah and Mr. Jallah Kennedy constituted the Committee members. This Committee immediately began its work in June 2013 with the participation of some Board members and the Executive Committee. Basically, the meeting was a strategy session to determine how to proceed with the work of the Committee. Clearly, it became apparent to me that the first order of business for the Committee was to inquire and verify from the members of the Lofa Legislative Caucus about the authenticity of the news that the Liberian Government had either began or entered into a concession agreement for the exploration of the Wologizi Mountain. A letter was then written and sent to the members of the Lofa Legislative Caucus under the signatures of the Committee members and the National President requesting members of the Caucus to update the Federation on developments regarding the Wologizi Mountain. Subsequent meetings were also held to invite the presence of some of the members of the Lofa Legislative Caucus to clarify the issues surrounding the uncorroborated reports about the Wologizi Mountain. Realizing that there was no official response coming from the Lofa Legislative Caucus, the Committee decided that its next course of action was to issue a press release. The proposal for a press release was forwarded to the administration for funding.
In keeping with our practice of consultation, we forwarded a copy of the draft communication of the Committee to the members of the Board of Directors for their advice. The Board wrote to point out that base on constitutional provision; all communications by the Federation intended for external consumption were to be under the signatures of the National President with approval by the Chairman of the Board. Further, the Board advised against rushing into issuing a press release and suggested amendments to the communication that should be sent to the Lofa Legislative Caucus. The Board recommendations were forwarded to members of the Wologizi Mountain Committee through Dr. Malakpai. This, unfortunately, set off a firestorm of accusations with the members of the Committee feeling insulted and insinuating that the Board was questioning their integrity.
My administration proposed a meeting with the members of the Wologizi Mountain Committee to resolve the stalemate and move forward. After several request to us to postponed the meeting over a period of nearly two months, the Committee members expressed their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the affairs of the Wologizi Mountain has been handled. The members of the Committee wrote to inform the administration that they would not participate in any further meetings. Members also gave the administration an ultimatum to publish the press release within a specified time or they would unilaterally take the initiative to publish the release. To make way for the continuation of the work of the Wologizie Mountain Committee, my administration was left with no alternative but to painstakingly dissolve the erstwhile Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was not our pleasure to take such a decision. And after much thought and consideration, we constituted an Inquiry and Mediation Committee with appropriate terms of reference to probe the circumstances that provoke the crisis and recommend ways to reconcile with members of the erstwhile Committee. We want to thank Rev. John Jallah and his Committee members for their inquest and findings. The Committee met with members of the erstwhile Wologizi Mountain Committee and the Executive Committee. All exchanges were made available to the Mediation Committee. In a nut shell, the Inquiry and Mediation Committee recommended a reinstatement of the erstwhile Wologizi Mountain Committee as there were mistakes made on the part of both the Executive Committee and the erstwhile Committee members. The Mediation Committee further recommended that a clear term of reference be communicated so that there are no ambiguities on what is expected of the Wologizi Mountain Committee. My administration has responded to the results and findings of the Inquiry and Mediation Committee. In our response we indicated that in principle, we have accepted the recommendations of the Committee, but added that the findings and recommendations would be forwarded to the Board for its advice and concurrence. Indeed, we have forwarded to the Board the findings and recommendations of the Inquiry and Mediation Committee. To date, it is not clear about what the Board wants the Executive Committee to do, but it would appear like we are currently deadlock on procedural adherence.
THE WAY FORWARD/RECOMMENDATIONS
The Division is at crossroads and must choose to either move forward or risk perishing under the weight of rancor, disunity and gridlock. For us, the options are crystal clear; FLAA must survive and truly live up to its responsibilities as the pioneering forebears had envisaged. We are therefore proposing the following recommendations for consideration by this Convention:
Ladies and Gentlemen, may God bless all of us and save our Federation. I thank you.
Garmai S. Tokpah
National President, FLAA