By: Theodore T. Hodge
A Man visiting a foreign country once asked a cab driver about news in the country. The cab driver unhesitatingly narrated a litany of scandals reaching the highest echelons of government. According to the cab driver, corruption, nepotism and other vices were commonplace in government; the president and his inner cycle were chief culprits. He didn’t think things would improve unless the administration was brought down and prosecuted for its crimes against the citizens.
The visitor was struck by the grim assessment and asked the cab driver what he would do differently were he to become the new president of the country?
Surprisingly, the cab driver chuckled and said, “If I were to become president of this country, I would appoint my wife as Finance Minister, my brother would become Minister of Defense, my best friend would be named the Chief of Staff… all my relatives and friends would be appointed to positions of power and prominence and we would rule this country and get our share of the wealth…”
The moral of the story: Corruption is seen as a problem and an impediment to national growth until we and our friends and relatives end up controlling the wheels of government; it is only corruption when someone else does it, but when we do it, we see no problem with it. That kind of mentality makes this a vicious circle, or an endless loop, not likely to dissipate any time soon.
Over the last several months, Mr. Jones Nhinson Williams has appointed himself a tireless advocate of Liberia’s poor and wretched. He has catalogued the shortcomings of the administration and criticized the government relentlessly, to the delight of many. Now, somehow mysteriously, he has a change of heart as he writes: “… the good news is President Sirleaf and her administration have gained relative consciousness about the need to fight corruption by setting up a ‘presidential taskforce’ headed by a brilliant lawyer…” By brilliant lawyer, he refers to none other than Jonathan Fonati Koffa.
He goes on to write: “No matter how one may think about Attorney Koffa and his simple past of misjudgment in the West, he has proven to be a serious guy for the job. In addition, he is legally astute in terms of academic credentials…”
Let’s pause and examine the first two points. One has to wonder why Mr. Williams, after being such a caustic critic of Mrs. Sirleaf and her administration, now sees things so dramatically differently. In the very recent past, Mr. Williams has made serious charges against the government, including murder, complicity to murder and cover up. Now, all of a sudden, the same corrupt administration “has gained relative consciousness about the need to fight corruption”? Is the flimsy appointment of one of the president’s stooges enough evidence to come to such a conclusion? As for me, I beg to differ.
Mr. Williams refers to Mr. Koffa as a “brilliant lawyer”. He fails to tell his readers how he came to that conclusion, but he goes on to insult the Liberian people by writing: “No matter how one may think about Attorney Koffa and his simple past of misjudgment…”
Again, I must beg to differ on this count. The record will show that Mr. Koffa embezzled monies entrusted to his fiduciary care. By doing so, he violated the rules and ethics of his profession; he became a common thief and liar. He was tried accordingly, found guilty and sentenced to a prison term. After serving time behind bars he was disbarred; he can no longer practice law in the United States, becoming persona non grata. All this is a matter of public record, and here Mr. Williams has the audacity to refer to this convicted felon, this man dishonorably discharged from his profession as a “brilliant lawyer”. He goes further to refer to his felonious record as a “simple past of misjudgment”.
No Sir, Mr. Williams, when a man has a few beers to drink and jumps behind the wheel of a car to drive, that is a simple misjudgment; when a man drives a few miles over the speed limit and gets a speeding ticket, that is a simple misjudgment; when a man gets into a fistfight over a minor issue that should have been settled, that is a simple misjudgment. But when a professionally trained lawyer commits a felony, spends time in prison, and is disbarred from the practice of law, that is not a simple misjudgment. You do your readers a disservice by dismissing such a serious issue so flippantly. But more importantly, you undermine your own credibility as a critic of the government; it doesn’t matter what your relationship is to Mr. Koffa; don’t be like the cab driver mentioned above. Corruption is corruption no matter who the villains and perpetrators are.
Mr. Williams goes on to correctly point out the flaws, and perhaps illegality, of setting up a so-called presidential task force headed by the “president’s former legal counsel and cabinet minister” to investigate a matter that potentially involves the executive branch itself. That task force should not be headed by someone with such close ties to the president, especially in this case, someone of Mr. Koffa’s dubious and questionable reputation. That alone shows that the president is not serious about fighting corruption and therefore, deserves no praise at all; not a modicum of praise!
|President Sirleaf and VP Boakai|
As for describing the alleged culprits in this case as “rats” instead of “elephants”, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m quite sure if Mr. Williams re-checked with the Grebo people of Southeast Liberia, they would agree that the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a senator who doubles as Chairman of the ruling party are no rats at all. Who else would be the elephants if men of such stature were described as mere rats? After all, does this case not allegedly involve a “Big Boy 1” and “Big Boy 2”? Don’t rumors have it that these unnamed shady characters might even be the president and vice president? The point here is this case reaches the highest echelons of government and the allegations cannot be easily dismissed because they come from a credible source. Liberians must remember that we have relied on the credibility of Global Witness for a long time as it helped to get Charles Taylor where he is today; nothing has changed yet.
In my view, Mr. Williams tries to overcomplicate the issue before us by asking the task force to be commissioned to investigate all the other scandals that this administration has managed to sweep under the rugs. To investigate the many scandals enumerated by Mr. Williams would require years and years of judicial inquiry. Unfortunately, or fortunately, (depending on one’s point of view), the administration has a very limited time in office. If this administration wants to do the right thing by demonstrating that it has indeed “gained relative consciousness about the need to fight corruption”, it should dismiss this mockery of a task force. The president should begin by dismissing Mr. Koffa and let him go back to his regular duty of carrying the president’s powder bag. The responsibility of appointing a Special Prosecutor should fall on the Attorney General. That Special Prosecutor should be someone outside of government, and he should be given the authority to investigate as fully as necessary. Now could the administration go out in style? We await the challenge; although the cynical part of my brain tells me it would be a long time coming.