Consolidating Trust-Building Initiatives in Government: The Liberian Case  

By Emmanuel Dolo, Ph.D

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 16, 2016



The gruesome remains of Harry Greaves
- Courtesy of the Informer

This article attempts to advance how government can consolidate trust-building initiatives. It aims to look into Liberian history for some explanations of widespread mistrust and suspicions. To avoid falling prey to emotions that fuel diatribes, innuendoes and allegations, this article deliberately and purposefully takes the “high road.” The intention here is to be solution-focused as opposed to being problem-focused.  

An examination of the current waves of mistrust must begin with an acknowledgment of the tragic costs of past events, most prominently, the civil war. The psychological cost borne by the society in the aftermath of the civil war has been too long repressed or intentionally avoided. Preventative, rehabilitative, and/or curative psychosocial interventions have sparsely been developed to address them. We have failed to build into our systems, structures, and culture - interventions and mechanisms that address the effects of our violent past on the society. This inattention to our psychological or mental health needs could be attributed to a self-deception that we are an overly resilient people or be a by-product of mere cultural naïveté.  

During the totalitarian and warring eras, the “executive branch” showed a disturbing willingness to sideline its co-equal branches by unilaterally and secretly carrying out violations of citizens’ rights. There were glaring lacks of independent oversight from the legislature. The legislature quietly acquiesced to usurpation of its powers and became the executive branch’s biggest cheerleader. Then the rice riots and 1980 coup occurred, coupled with subsequent brutal reprisals. And these same actions and associated traumas multiplied manifold. The combat, torture, siege, aerial bombardments, internal and external displacement, refugee life, separation, and loss, during the civil war, furthered the distress. Ritualistic killings before and during the Transition Period, horror killings that came after, and the Ebola outbreak (associated unprecedented mass peacetime casualties) also added to the collective trauma.

Reflecting further on Liberia’s past, it is noteworthy that during the totalitarian and warring periods, human security, self-respect, and dignity were generally undermined. During these periods, most people found solidarity with each other. It was those in the status quo versus all others. The totalitarian rulers and members of the elite were the common focal point for directing public mistrust, anger, anguish, and communal resistance since they were the known sources of victimization.

Citizens lacked transparent access to public information. People therefore did not rely on government for information when natural or man-made disasters struck. Due to the absence of credible public information, people formed conjectures and theories to fill the gap. Notions formed were hard to erase, even if government belatedly came up with a formal explanation for what transpired and what was being done in response. Because no rapid response access was provided to public information, people assumed that government was either intentionally slowly providing the public needed information or withholding it for sinister purposes.

Drawing lessons from the past is essential today especially when democracy has begun to take hold in unprecedented ways. It is the nature of democratic governance to dish out public doubt since the public expectation is that government should provide more information rather than less. In democracies, there is certainly a rigorous measurement of government’s performance by the citizenry using standards of efficiency and integrity as underlying values. Every time public doubt occurs, it should invite a full accounting of government’s actions because the ultimate result is positive perception of the government.

Indeed, it is the responsibility of government officials who provide the public information to align the messenger and the message. For public information to be credible, and for citizens to feel as if they own a stake in government’s quest for evidence of any kind, they must see that decisions are made free of political sentiments. Therefore, when political appointees or functionaries speak on subjects they do not know, they detract from the essence of the message being communicated and harden public mistrust. Government leaders must be seen as constantly striving to preserve a positive, democratic, and ethical image of the state to the public. The citizens’ perception of the government is influenced by several variables. There can be no doubt that every day, thousands of public officials and public servants throughout the country perform honorable and conscientious public service, but irreparable damage may be done to the entire government’s reputation from even one remote story of misconduct, corruption, and/or perceived neglect of duty that is treated with impunity. How the society perceives the government depends on how the government guards its own reputation with accountability and transparency. It is for these reasons that building and maintaining societal trust both at the national and community levels is a necessity across government. Every day, the government must be seen as translating public needs and conditions into coherent set of strategies, which mitigate these needs and concerns.

Government officials everywhere have accepted positions of “visible authority” in the society. They are held to tremendously high standard of honesty, integrity, equity, and professionalism. Public trust in government may be short-lived, if government officials do not continually reinforce democratic, ethical, and professional conduct to the public. Public officials across all sectors of government, therefore, bear the responsibility for informing the public about situations proactively and maintaining honor and integrity within their institutions, while building and sustaining trusting working relationships between state and society. Establishing a trusting culture between state and society is just not important, but essential especially in an emerging democracy like Liberia, which is seeking to surmount its tyrannical past and associated shortcomings.  

If situations occur that will possibly dampen the hard earned reputation of government, the responsible professionals must already have the appropriate public affairs measures in place to show transparency, accountability, and integrity. There must always be a systemic approach to ethical conduct. Essentially, never take on a task that you do not have the credentials to present or manage. Because each time a government spokesperson speaks on any issue, they brand the government either positively or negatively. It detracts from your credibility as a professional and by extension, the government, if you speak on a subject you do not understand expertly. The intervention system of any government is as good as the trust that officials emit within the society. The cornerstones of public trust are “honesty, integrity, legitimacy and competence.” When government officials adhere to integrity and professionalism in the exercise of their duty, they enjoy public trust. At issue is how does government build and maintain societal trust because without it, the predators take leaps and bounds with innuendos. In turn, government should not give in to those societal actors who seek limelight or false prominence by speaking irresponsibly. Such actors must be ignored and allowed to be the casualties of their own frivolous actions. Government should never use meager public resources on those who operate on the fringe of society wanting to attract phony attention, except they become a danger to themselves and other people.   

Relative to the insecurity that the many feel as a result of UNMIL’s departure, government should unveil its post-UNMIL departure security plan to the public to increase confidence and allay fears. Insecurity and mistrust require mutual engagement between state and civil society, particularly using community engagement and related security methods to convert ordinary citizens into allies. The integrity of the government will always dictate societal trust levels and vice versa. Hence, reforms to address mistrust and insecurity should not be standalone actions. They should involve comprehensive strategies dealing with the whole societal trust continuum: hiring, training, rewarding excellent performance and punishing egregious actions, and building an effective community engagement and community security culture?

Public trust building initiatives should be informed by citizens’ viewpoints. For example, when a national tragedy occurs, it should invite the formation of national and local Citizens Review Boards. Such boards should be activated in mishaps and misfortunes in which the society demonstrates grave interest in the outcome. Such boards should comprise of a mixture of ordinary and notable citizens or statesmen and stateswomen to assure the public that government’s actions are transparent and that it is accountable for its actions. Such actions maintain or restore public confidence in government.

Clearly, decades of ethnic and class conflicts as well as divisive domestic politics have left Liberian society polarized and fractured. Anything can ignite and/or exacerbate the factionalized politics or provide false rationale for further entrenchment of ethnic, class, and political divisions within the society. As UNMIL prepares for the upcoming transition, decision makers in UNMIL’s hierarchy should keep these factors in mind. In the near term, efforts should focus on combating mechanisms for anti-government “radicalization” and supporting Liberian groups most vulnerable to radicalization. Government leaders and UN agencies must support a frank discussion that acknowledges past and present traumas and the inability of government to address them immediately. This could possibly release some tension within Liberian civil society and make those who feel aggrieved for reasons unknown less susceptible to anti-government “radicalization.”

The Author: Emmanuel Dolo is the President and CEO of the Center for Liberia’s Future, an independent think tank in Duazon, Liberia.

Mae Moore
Mr. Dolo, in your capacity as one man think tank masked as an NGO, but in reality a PR for the authoritarian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, you make a clown out of yourself to write such LIES THAT THE MISTRUST AND SUSPICIONS ABOUT THIS GOVERNMENT IS THE RFSULT OF THE CIVIL WAR.

Is it the war which caused Ellen Johnson Sirleaf´s son Robert Sirleaf to embezzle 2.5 billion US Dollars from NOCAL? Is the result of the war which caused Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to order government officials to BRIBE and when taken to court, she orders the court to drop the case? The EU millions of dollars embezzled by government officials. Is it the war? The killings and government´s criminal conduct! Is it the result of the war?

Mr. Dolo, here is the reason for the mistrust and suspicion SOUNDED OUT by A REAL MAN!:

"Speaking at the ceremony in Roberstport, the National Security Advisor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says Liberian Government officials are arrogant, adding that because they are deceptive, liars and dishonest citizens have no responsibility to be honest with them.

In a parable, Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh said "the via man says if you have one shirt, keep it clean, he is talking about your character, if your character is decent and clean your people will be honest with you." He says if Government officials play games, cheat and lie to their citizens they shouldn't expect protection" FPA.
Mae Moore at 05:30AM, 2016/02/17.
Mae Moore
Mr. Dolo, is this mistrust and suspicion the result of the war?

Smoking Gun? Hospital Report Contradicts Greaves Autopsy

Written by Rodney D. Sieh, Published: 17 February 2016

“The right side of his mouth was not intact. His lips were swollen, and tongue protruding. There were blisters-like lesions from his neck down to his chest. There was noticeable peeling of the skin. Both arms were very swollen, large, contracted and stiff. The abdomen was blotted, and the rectum was widely dilated and oozing blood. The lower extremities were swollen. There were no other noticeable lacerations or injuries” - Excerpts from an Observation obtained by FrontPageAfrica of Mr. Greaves Body by the JFK Medical Center

Monrovia – Did the late Harry A. Greaves bleed after his death? According to an autopsy performed by Dr. Thomas Bennett and Dr. Matthias Okoye, all the injuries found on the near-mutilated body of Mr. Greaves took place at sea after his death as his body floated in the sea. But an observation report obtained by FrontPageAfrica suggest that the former managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) actually bled from the rectum when his body was received at the morgue shortly after it was taken to the hospital.

Thus, inquiring minds are now pondering the following: Why did Liberian authorities wash the corpse prior to the arrival of two controversial Pathologists from the United States of America? Did the washing of the corpse have any impact on the now controversial conclusions of the autopsy? Most importantly, was it necessary for Pathologists - to state in their findings that no traces of acid water was found on the face of Mr. Greaves as many have concluded due to the bad state of the fallen former Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company? These are questions being thrown around as Liberian government officials embark on an appeal for forensic authorities from the United States of America to assist with ongoing investigation into yet another killing of a high-profile critic of the country’s failing oil program.

The questions come as FrontPageAfrica has obtained what one government source says is a summary report by the medical staff at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, who received the body of Mr. Greaves, shortly after it was removed from the beach in the “God Bless You” community behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the current seat of the Liberian presidency. The report appears to contradict the findings of a government of Liberia-sanctioned and sponsored autopsy of the cheap electricity advocate. The report obtained by FrontPageAfrica and compared against the autopsy’s finding spotted a number of glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the findings of Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye.

For example, Pathologists Bennett and Okoye reported: “There is no gross evidence of antemortem traumatic injuries. Findings include multiple postmortem blunt traumatic musculoskeletal injuries and skin change consistent with prolonged immersion in sea water and impact on ocean rocks. There is no gross evidence of any anorectal trauma or penetration. Skin slippage was all over his body, from the prolonged immersion in the water, and there is no evidence to suggest that acid or other caustic substance was poured on this man.”

One forensic expert who viewed both the autopsy report and the JFK observation noted that it appeared the Pathologists were trying to be defensive or coerced by mentioning acid in their findings. The Pathologists also went to great length to state in their conclusions that there was no gross evidence of any anorectal trauma or penetration, in an attempt to dismiss suggestions that Mr. Greaves may have been sodomized prior to his death.

Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye also reported that Mr. Greaves died from Asphyxia by drowning, salt water, associated with: Immersion in sea water prolonged. The Pathologists noted that Mr. Greaves had Postmortem bloodless blunt traumatic injuries, consistent with impacts on ocean rocks, including laceration at the vertex of the scalp, C7-T1 spine intervertebral disc separation, and multiple posterior and left lateral rib fractures. In contrast, the JFK observation report obtained by FrontPageAfrica observed that when the body was received shortly after it was discovered on the beach, Mr. Greaves was in fact bleeding from the rectum.

Rectum ‘Widely Dilated & Oozing Blood’

The report notes:

“We were called to examine the above named patient on January 31, 2016 at about 11: 57 a.m. According to the history given by the Directive who brought him to the Medical Center, he was missing for two(2) days and was last seen at the RLJ Hotel and later found behind the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the morning of January 31, 2016. On examination, the patient was lying at the back of a gray truck. He was very unidentifiable. There were no vital signs and was pronounced dead on arrival. Pupils were widely dilated and fixed. His entire body was blotted, apparently due to immersion in water. The head appeared swollen with about 3 to 4 centimeter deep-vertical laceration.

The right side of his mouth was not intact. His lips were swollen, and tongue protruding. There were blisters-like lesions from his neck down to his chest. There was noticeable peeling of the skin. Both arms were very swollen, large, contracted and stiff. The abdomen was blotted, and the rectum was widely dilated and oozing blood. The lower extremities were swollen. There were no other noticeable lacerations or injuries. Based on these external findings, the diagnosis was dead on arrival. The plan was to take the body to the morgue for pathological evaluations. FrontPageAfrica reported Monday that the government had reached out to the United States of America for assistance in the investigation of the mysterious death of Mr. Greaves.

2nd Autopsy Possible

At the same time, the government has also reportedly turned the body over to Mr. Greaves’ widow for burial but multiple sources have suggested that funeral proceedings are still being sorted out amid reports that a second autopsy may be needed to erase doubts in the minds of many still asking questions about Mr. Greaves’ death.

Information Minister Mr. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, the government’s chief communications spokesperson, acknowledged in a VOA Daybreak Africa interview Tuesday that the Liberian government had asked the U.S. for assistance in the investigation because it too wants to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding the death. “We are doing this because we ourselves as a government want to know the actual circumstances leading to the death of Mr. Greaves, and we want to bring finality to this situation,” he said. Nagbe however noted that the U.S. has not yet given assurances that it will assist in the investigation despite a series of meetings.

Toxicology Report Hold Key

The fallout from the controversial findings of Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye has raised more questions than answers with many yet to be convinced that Mr. Greaves died as a result of “asphyxiation by salt water drowning” as determined by the autopsy report. The government’s acknowledgement that it is continuing its own investigation because it considers the Greaves death suspicious is likely to fuel more debate amid the unusual circumstances leading to Mr. Greaves’ death. The initial Pathologists’ finding, that “there is no gross evidence of ante mortem traumatic injuries” or injuries prior to death appears to have been rebuffed by the observation from the JFK that the corpse was bleeding from the rectum when it was received by the JFK Hospital.

But more importantly questions are being asked regarding why the body was washed prior to the arrival of the Pathologists from the U.S. But Nagbe told the VOA Tuesday that a lot of those concerns would be answered when the toxicology results expected from the St. Louis University Toxicology Department are finalized.

For now, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Greaves’ death and the controversy that continues to dog the autopsy findings of Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye appear to be on a collision course toward a state of uncertainty. With no witnesses, no trace of the clothing, the jeans and T-Shirt Mr. Greaves was last seen wearing at the RLJ Resort, the political whodunit that has all the makings of an unsolved mystery is being compounded by what forensic experts say is a difficult case to crack because drowning as has been determined by a first autopsy, can be difficult to prove.

What skeptics and many Liberians agree on is that Mr. Greaves’ death remains a mystery, now compounded by an observation report from the government’s own hospital which appears to have contradicted the findings of Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye. U.S. forensic experts, if their government agree to jump in and help, will have their work cut out as an antsy nation await a conclusion to not just Mr. Greaves’ death but the sudden appearance of high-profile figures turning up dead in the same vicinity behind the seat of the Liberian presidency. It is a strange development for a nation prepping for life after United Nations Mission exits; but eclipsed by an aura of lingering security concerns on the verge of a critical democratic transition.

Mae Moore at 05:44AM, 2016/02/17.
sylvester moses
The dual problems of this article are point of view, and believability. Needless to say, persuasive writing presupposes that those who fall into such perils waste readers’ time. If we may ask, is Dr. Emmanuel Dolo - in this piece - an editorial omniscient narrator, a nonparticipant narrator, a participant narrator, or an unreliable observer? Because for an insider during caustic crisis of confidence over rampart corruption, pervasive poverty, and unsolved homicides to write “This article … aims to look into Liberian history for some explanations of widespread mistrust and suspicions” informs ingrained fictive illusions. Anyway, since the regime confuses rhetoric for reality, we can surmise that he merely manufactures these mothballs to purify the foul air and justify plentiful pay packages.
sylvester moses at 10:54AM, 2016/02/17.
Kou Gontee
You are right, Mr. Moses! This rubbish written by Emmanuel Dolo is simply "to purify the foul air and justify plentiful pay packages." We thought there were some convictions (beliefs or stance) within people which money could not conjure; but Emmanuel Dolo has proved us wrong! The 60 year old is as confused as one who is reluctant to leave prison!
Kou Gontee at 06:06AM, 2016/02/18.
Sylvester Moses
Kou, the simile "as confused as one who is reluctant to leave prison" blows the mind; what a comparison!
Sylvester Moses at 12:11PM, 2016/02/18.
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