A Keynote Speech Delivered
By: John S. Morlu, II
Press Union of Liberia Congress
On November 27,2015
| John S. Morlu, II
Former Auditor General of Liberia
Mr. Kamara A. Kamara, President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Members of the leadership of PUL
Ladies and Gentlemen
Mr. President, before I delve into the main discussion of the Congress, I bring you, your distinguished guests and able journalists three Special Messages from the President of Liberia. First the President wants me to inform you that, “as we approach the impending 2017 electoral cycle, there are many who are set to put everything in political context and begin the process of assigning blame and scoring political points at the expense of moving our country in the right direction…The time for us to make our case for election is still ahead and we have more than enough time to score political points but we are still two years away.”
I thought her Vice President has already declared that he was running for President? Usually sitting Vice Presidents are the last to enter the race because of the benefit of incumbency. Election politics started on the day the Vice President entered the race for President. I wonder if the President is aware that her Vice President has announced that he is running for President?
Furthermore, Mr. President, is there anything in Liberia that this President has not made political? She is running one of the biggest patronage systems in Liberian history, surpassing President Tubman, the man she blasted for making everything in Liberia a political business. Can anyone get job, contracts and newspaper advertisement in this country if you are not political? Can anyone get anything done in Liberia if you are not part of the political class that sings praises to this President?
The President of Liberia will also like me to inform you that for “the first time in the history of our country, we established County Development Funds to support priorities decided by the people themselves across villages and towns. We also encouraged and maintained a policy of corporate social responsibility by which corporate entities are encouraged to extend support to community projects and developmental efforts through the establishment of Social Development Funds. Better accountability and management of these funds will bring development to the communities.”
The President says “better accountability and management of these funds will bring development to the communities.” At the time I left as Auditor General, $31 million has been spent on County Development. As of today, more than $100 million has been spent on county development. And the President is saying better accountability and management will bring development to the communities. Has there been better management or not?
After 10 years of being President, the President ought to be in the position to tell the Liberian people whether there has been better management. She is not a new President. She has been in office for more than 10 years but the fact of the matter is that the funds have been mismanaged, including the unaccounted for $10 million that she told Chevron not to give to the Ministry of Finance, because according to her, the Ministry of Finance is unable to account for money. But, at the same, she can put her neck on the line for them [officials of the ministry].
Finally, the President will further like me to inform you that, “ we have attracted more than fifteen (15) companies in Forestry, four (4) in Mining, five (5) in oil palm, and several other sectors amounting to agreements for more than $16 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Often, this is construed to mean we actually did receive this volume of investment, whereas most of these investments were projected over a 25-year period… As a result, only US$4.2 billion of the US$16 billion that we talked about was operationalized to produce the jobs, infrastructure and revenues.”
I wonder who in the President’s mind misconstrued that the $16 billion was not paper money. I think the Liberian people have long concluded that the so-called $16 billion was all cheap political talk, designed to swindle their resources and sell them on the world market for cheap to the lowest bidder willing to give a few kickbacks. Instead of their famous slogan “Liberia is open for business,” it was more of that “Liberia is on sale for a cheap price.” But the President says $4.2 billion has been spent to create jobs.
As we say in Liberia, where are the jobs? Perhaps, her beloved son took three of those jobs: Senior Advisor to the President, Board Member/then Chairman and Special Envoy to Kuwait. By the way what happen to the Kuwaiti oil?
This is my second keynote address to the PUL. I want to thank you, Mr. President and members of the PUL for giving me another opportunity to speak at this important 2015 Annual Congress of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). This is a going to be an easy speech, because the President basically has thrown in the towel and accepted that she has failed to work in the interest of the Liberian people when she delivered one of her many Special Messages to the Nation.
People called and told me that the President was going to resign during her special message. Instead, she surprised the Nation by talking about all the small things she has done for Liberia. The main point of the speech, as I saw, was that the President wanted to tell the Liberian people that they are going to suffer economically over the last two years of her failed administration, as though Liberians have not already being suffering for the past 10 years.
In your invitation letter the theme of the Congress is: Journalism and Self Regulations: Towards a Better Media Contribution to Liberia’s Democracy. This is an important theme, especially as Liberia is now in the final innings leading to the 2017 General and Presidential Elections, an election that is regarded as the watershed event for Liberia. The stakes are very high in 2017, and the role of the media in helping to shape a different Liberia’s democracy cannot be underrated.
Mr. President, when I read the theme, I said this is simple. I will just tell the PUL and its members not take kato. I also wanted to just provide a few quotation from notable people like Thomas Jefferson: “Information is the currency of democracy,” and “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
And U.S. President Woodrow Wilson statement that: “Government ought to be all outside and no inside. . . . Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.” And John F. Kennedy’s position that, “a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.” I believe President Kennedy was talking to the Liberian Government, as it is a government that is afraid of its people and has continued the age old practice of doing business under the table, selling off Liberia natural resources with a blink of an eye.
But that would be doing injustice to the good work of the Liberian media and to this all important occasion. So I pondered the theme and asked myself what is truly Liberia’s democracy, and good understanding of this question will enable me to stick within the theme of the topic and offer a broader perspective. For 168 years, Liberia’s democracy is, in all practical terms, a democracy that is run by a Presidency who lacks moral clarity, a bribe taking Legislature and a judiciary that is for the highest bidder. I cannot in good conscience tell the professionals in the PUL to contribute to such a democracy. Rather, the Liberian media should take a broad national interest to help dismantle this Liberian democracy.
Mr. President, no media can function properly in this current form of Liberian democracy. Not even Media Regulatory Commission can survive and make any meaningful impact on the media landscape and the wellbeing of journalists. It will end up like the National Human Right Commission and practically all independent commissions that currently exist.
Liberia’s democracy is in a sharp contrast to the American democracy which Liberians constantly say we inherited. Liberians are very proud to say that their democracy is just like America. But is it really just like America? If it is just like America, how come Liberia is still ranked the number three poorest nations in the world and one of the miserable places to live on planet earth? So the first thing the Press Union needs to do is to truly examine whether we have an American like democracy and I have said it is not even close.
In Liberia, we have a kleptocracy and Sirleaf Incorporated, masquerading as a democracy. This Government has replaced political tyranny with economic tyranny, surprising and marginalizing the economic interest of the vast majority of Liberians only for the benefit of the few selected people around the Presidency.
Mr. President, American democracy is about the Pursuit of Happiness. Our Pursuit of Happiness is ONLY possible when we have a democratic government that promotes FREEDOM and OPPORTUNITY for All Liberians. The main intellectual argument for the Constitutional, Republican Form of Government in America we claimed to have inherited is contained in 85 Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. These American founding founders laid down the three fundamental criteria in order to achieve freedom and opportunity as: (1) An Energetic Executive (2) A Deliberative Legislature and (3) a Just and Fair Judiciary. Mr. President, Liberia democracy does not meet any of these criteria.
Instead of being energetic executive that promotes the wellbeing of the Liberian people, our current executive has recruited and placed in position of power and authority the most corrupt and incompetent people amongst us. Instead of the Legislature deliberating every piece of law, contract and concession, they have connived with the Presidency to pass concessions and contracts. As Moore Stephens pointed out, 66 of the 68 concessions reviewed were done irregularly and in contravention of the very laws that the legislature and the presidency drafted and passed into law.
Mr. President, the one single issue that has undermined Liberia’s ability to build a genuine democracy is corruption. US. President Barrack Obama had it correct when he spoke in Ghana that the “forces of tyranny and corruption must yield if Africa is to achieve its promise.”
The current Liberian President correctly declared corruption public enemy number one and provided this sober assessment of the negative impact of corruption: “Corruption erodes faith in government because of the mismanagement and misapplication of public resources. It weakens accountability, transparency and justice. Corruption short changes and undermines key decision and policy making 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.”
After nearly 10 years in office, corruption has rendered this government incapable of handling the affairs of the state. Today, people say Liberia is stable and at peace, but just beneath that superficial stability and peace, there is glaring hostility, distrust and anger in Liberia, all because of the massive levels of corruption that exist at all levels in Liberia today.
Mr. President, corruption kills thousands of Liberians each day. The 4,800 Liberians who died from Ebola is a case in point where millions of dollars in healthcare funding was squandered by the current administration. The Foreign Policy Magazine said it best that the widespread of Ebola was a mere symptom of failure in economic governance.
It is unarguable that there is a wide gulf between the people of Liberia and the Liberian Government. The Liberian people have lost complete confidence in the ability of this Government to make a fundamental difference in their lives. There is no connection, especially between the Presidency and the people.
As far as many Liberians are concerned, anything that comes out of the mouth of this President is “mouth talk” and bunch of bologna. This was evidence in the President’s last address to the Nation, where she occupied the public airways and space to recount all the meaningless things she said she has done since she became President and many Liberians, including editorial pages basically told her we are tired hearing old news that have no evidence in the lives of real people in Liberia.
The President has lost the confidence of the Liberian people, because she has put the interest of the corrupt over the suffering of the Liberian people. Unfortunately, she was supposed to be a blessing to the Liberian people, but she has turned out to be the biggest disappointment and impediment to the progress of this nation.
No other Liberian President will receive the billions of dollars that have poured into Liberia to support the First Elected Woman President of Africa. She wasted the opportunity to do the right thing that would have benefit all Liberians and it is difficult to see how at her age, the level of corruption in the Government and the limited time she has left to do anything meaningful in Liberia to change the tide. She is a lost cause, a glorious opportunity wasted.
And she informed the Liberian people that the economy has collapsed, and as the usual pattern of blame [game], they are now blaming it on Ebola and international prices for iron ore. The 14 Year Civil War can now take a break, replaced by blame it on Ebola. But ladies and gentlemen, before Ebola, this country went through several consecutive budget deficits, with the President giving another Address to the National calling the Liberian economy an “Old Bus.” But today, they want Liberians to accept that it is Ebola that has caused all the problems, including the “messy education system” and the over $700 million spent on roads which is yet to be accounted for, as Liberians are still waiting to get a full accounting of how much roads did that kind of money built.
The President boasts that it is because of her that the international community waived $4.9 billion, a significant portion of which was unpaid interest arrears. But the President intentionally did not include in her Special Message that by the time she leaves office she would have accumulated about $1.2 billion in new debt since 2010. With the escalation of corruption as we are in “injury time,” the mounting debt stock of $1.2 billion and no concessions left for the new Government. I agreed with Dr. Toga McIntosh that this President will leave this country in near bankruptcy and inflexible fiscal space for the next Government. I can safely predict that President Sirleaf will leave this country in the worst economic situation that she inherited.
In her Book “This Child Would Be Great,” the President blasted President Tolbert for creating a family economic hegemony in Liberia, blaming the Tolberts for trying to own everything in Liberia. But by all account, she has far outpaced Tolbert in this regard. Today, the Liberian Government is a government by the Sirleafs, for the Sirleafs, and of the Sirleafs. The first family has business interests in all major sectors of the economic, from banking to football club, to oil importation, to mobile phone business, to auto imports, etc. They are even competing with local NGOs with all their never ending list of Foundations, [like] the sons of former Presidents Gadaffi and Adoulaye Wade of Senegal. It is likely veteran and respected journalist Albert Porte will not only call this Gobbling Business but a cabal.
Mr. President, when I spoke to you in Gbarnga in 2010, the nation was struggling to find a direction; the people of Liberia were experiencing backbreaking and excruciating poverty. Corruption and various forms of financial mismanagement were the way of life in Government.
Nearly six years later, I have been invited to speak to you again in this all important city of Buchanan, a city that can serve as a center of commerce and tourism for this nation. When I arrived in Liberia, after visiting Africa’s cleanest country of Botswana and the economic powerhouse of Kenya, I expected to see a shining city on the hill. Instead I noticed this nation was stuck in hell. The carousel where Liberians pick up their bags was the same as it was when I spoke to you in Gbarnga.
In Gbarnga I said we should measure the real impact of GDP in respect to the number of public toilet, even the airport still does not have a befitting toilet much less for the crowded city of Monrovia. On Wednesday, I went to visit the grave of the fallen journalist, Uncle Tom Kamara in Brewerville, a man who was truly a champion of press freedom and “Good Governance” in Liberia.
While driving I noticed the President’s second and final attempt to Beautify Monrovia, with yet another presidential task force. In 2006, another attempt was made to beautify Monrovia, with funding from the Liberian government and donation of cash materials including vehicles donated by LPRC. I wondered whether this is a sincere attempt to distract Liberians from focusing on the failures of Government or another attempt to channel funds to a project headed by the friend of the President, with no accountability of the funds in the end. Our Government seems to be stuck in the NGO mentality, where piecemeal projects become the standard instead of taking a global view to address the fundamental problems facing this nation.
Whipping impoverished young girls and calling them prostitutes, throwing away the “wailer market” of struggling Liberians and destroying their own makeshift homes will not beautify Monrovia. I wish the President and her Task Force can muster the same courage to “beat up” corrupt and unaccountable officials in Government, who have collected and mismanaged over $3.1 billion in Liberian taxes collected to date, with no real economic impact on the lives of the people of Liberia. In her most recent Special Message, the President boasted that her Government has “increased domestic revenue from US$80 million to a peak of US$470 million in 2014.”
But she did not tell the Liberian people what she actually did with the large increase in Revenue. But even more troubling is the President boasting of increasing domestic revenue only to $470 million. Is this really the true economic potential of Liberia? A meager $470 million? I believe if even 60% of the economic potential of Liberia is fully accounted for, this Government should be boasting of an annual budget of well over a billion dollars.
A full accounting of the massive public relation undertaking by this Government to promote the President all over the world to get all of the international awards, will exceed the $470 million. So the issue is not how much revenue this Government has generated but how it has spent. The Minister of Finance says the Government has spent 60% of the budget on good time, principally on high allowances, first and business air tickets and hotels and gas coupons, etc.
Mr. President, this whole Task Force business is a Christmas time chopping and when an audit is conducted, the President is going to take full responsibility for the mismanagement of the funds and reward the very people that have stolen and mismanaged the funds with a partying bonus and benefits, just as she has done for the folks who mismanaged millions of dollars at NOCAL. We have gone from the President putting her neck on the chopping board to blaming corruption on the “system” to procedure errors; to taking responsibility for mismanagement without any punishment.
Liberia is in crisis and at the tipping point. The current administration is not going to be able to solve the problem of the messy education, poor healthcare system, and poor infrastructure. This Government has not brought you pipe borne water and electricity in six months in Monrovia as it promised. It is not going to happen in the next two years! This government has not created the 20,000 jobs per year it promised to all the young people of Liberia. It is not going to happen!
This Government promised you fiber optic line but after World Bank made available $27 million to complete the fiber optic line, the Government tried to steal the money through a bogus procurement scheme. I reported the matter to the World Bank’s Vice Presidency for Integrity, their equivalent of the anti-corruption commission and the Liberian Government was shamefully forced to cancel the procurement. So Liberians will not get fiber optic that this government promised in 2009.
The real reason that Journalist Rodney Sieh went to jail was because he unearthed and reported the $50 million deal between the Presidencies of Liberia and Equatorial Guinea. That was free money coming to Liberia from one of Africa’s corrupt regimes. There was a scramble amongst the Board of Directors, Managing Director Ellen Cockrum and the Executive Mansion. Each was trying to position themselves to steal the $50 million and Mr. Sieh leaked it. This amount was later confirmed in a clandestine audio radio of Sirleaf’s businessman Musa Bility and also of the Defense Minister Brownie Samukai.
Now there is a current scramble again of various groups wanting to [embezzle] the $60 million earmarked for the airport. FrongpageAfrica reported again that the European Bank has ordered that the procurement is cancelled. If a Liberian journalists had not focused on that $60 million, it would be all gone. It is unlikely that the European Bank might even deliver the $27 million it has promised because it is afraid the current fraudulent procurement schemes could lead to theft and mismanagement of the funding to renovate the RIA.
The $257 million that America said recently it will provide under the Compact is not going to come immediately. It will be spread over the next 5 years when this President is out of office. This is American tax payer’s money and so they will not just hand over willy-nilly to a noted corrupt government. That $257 million is just to boost Liberia’s morale after Ebola. At least the President was truthful on this one when she said, “the Compact is significant because it is a new partnership that would transcend the administrations of President Barack Obama and me.”
Every generation has to take up an issue. Dr. Amos Sawyer, Dr. Boima Fahnbulleh, Dr. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh, Senator Commany Wesseh, Prof. Dew Mayson and the late Baccus Matthew, etc. put up a good fight for political inclusion and multi-party democracy, expanding the political space for our generation to today participate in Government. No matter our political positions and feelings, these progressives made it possible for us to be at the table and we must acknowledge that and be grateful. There is much talk about generational change but unfortunately, many in our generation are not fighting on any principle. In fact many of the people who are defending the corrupt system are from our generation because they believe Government is a get rich quick scheme. In order to move forward, our generation needs to build on the struggle of the progressives. For our generation is no longer about fighting for multi-party and political inclusion. It is about financial governance.
Mr. President, the elections in 2017 is going to be the biggest challenge for Liberia. It is going to make or break this country forever. Journalists continue to fight corruption in this government but a greater focus should be placed on whether we can in 2017 truly elect a caliber of people who can usher the real democracy that we need, a democracy where the legislature will not substitute deliberation for cash, where the judiciary is just and fair, and where the Executive is not the biggest bribe maker in the land.
Liberia will not achieve any of the big things that will truly impact the lives of the people unless we can confiscate the assets of those who have stolen from the Liberian people. Liberia is not short on laws, policies, and institutions.
Corruption is the only binding constraint that has limited all aspects of country including the media to grow and prosper. Just as you cannot build a democracy on a corrupt foundation, you will never have press freedom in the midst of this level of corruption in this country. Corruption creates poverty for all Liberians including journalists. It is difficult to see how professional journalism can thrive in the presence of the massive level poverty.
Mr. President, what will the Liberian Government do when the United States Government gives Liberia $20 billion cash to rebuild this country? Will this Government invest the money on education, healthcare, infrastructure, social services, and job creating activities to benefit ordinary Liberians or will they steal and mismanage the money?
So, do not let Government people confuse you with fancy languages that they got from google such as “Binding Constraints. The only binding constraint in Liberia is CORRUPTION. The lack of quality healthcare, quality education, quality infrastructure and good paying jobs is because of Corruption.
Mr. President, essentially the best way for the media to contribute meaningfully to a true Liberian democracy is to fight corruption. No number of talk and institutions can solve that problem.
Thank You and God bless the PUL and the people of Liberia.