Unleashing Their Attack Dogs

By Ezekiel Pajibo


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 3, 2006


When I called a press conference in my capacity as Director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment, (CEDE) to update the Liberian public on the probable misuse of public funds at the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), I anticipated that some Liberians would welcome this act of public duty and others would disagree and a third, perhaps those targeted and thereby the wounded ones, would disagree violently. Thus far my critics have employed such tactics as mudslinging, character assassination, mis-information and out right lies. I expected these. After all, we have just won the right to free speech and most of my compatriots have not yet appreciated the fact that free speech is actually about speaking truth to power and demanding your rights under the law. It is not for hire and it is not to defend the indefensible including the probable misapplication of resources at LPRC. So I have heeded the age old axiom that: “if you can not stand the heat, don’t come into the kitchen.” I am in the kitchen now and I invite my critics to “bring it on”.

I welcome criticisms, of the constructive variety, because I know that it can only make me better. I have therefore donned the armor necessary to absorb all of the blows – praises, criticisms and threats. Now that these blows have been coming fast and furiously, I am compelled to respond now and then later as well. The criticisms, threats and commendations have come via a number of media including paid advertorial in various newspapers, radio programs such as phone-in/talk shows, and telephone calls and text messages. The newspapers which have carried the stories critical of efforts to discuss allegations of misuse of public funds at the LPRC include The Chronicle, The Analyst, The Inquirer and a seasonal paper, The Parrot, etc. Essentially and more generally, all of these papers and my critics have made the following representations:

The Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE) and/or I should “prove” that the Managing Director of LPRC is “guilty of corruption”. That is the prerogative of the courts and honestly, the Center can not do that. What the Center can and will do is to exhaust the administrative machinery to ensure that the laws of Liberia are respected and those who may be breaking the law are held accountable. The Ministry of Justice, I believe is clothed with the constitutional wherewithal to accomplish this important public duty. I would like to offer some ideas in this regard. First, the Ministry of Justice should conduct a forensic audit of LPRC covering the period October 2003 – October 2005. The Ministry should investigate the spending of the various individuals who are in the employ of the LPRC and participated in the just ended Legislative Elections. Already, the NEC has some of records – candidates declared their assets before they were allowed to participate in the elections. These records should be subjected to independent verification. For example, candidate X declared that the value of his home is US$168,000. A number of inquiries into this should be undertaken to establish the facts. Newspapers reports have put the price of this very house at more than US$1 million. An assessor can be brought in to establish the cost of the property in question and establish its actual cost and value. This figure can be compared to that provided by the candidate in his application to NEC. In addition, one could obtain the various campaign paraphernalia that were handed out during the campaign period, find the manufacturing firms of these materials, establish cost as reflected by receipts and compared them to figures provided to the NEC. There is a limit on campaign expenditure by contestants and political parties.

The Center would undertake research efforts, including newspapers review of all of the public activities including sport tournaments, campaign rallies, and political appearances. The findings would include a documentation of specific events, such as a basketball games at which time and in several cases when the majority of the spectators had their ticket purchased by one candidate in the legislative race for Montserrado County, a feat unmatched by any other candidate.

The distribution of money in constituency – in this case we at CEDE would like to invite Liberians in various communities to write sworn affidavits testifying to the fact that they may have received cash donations and or other forms of inducements from a candidate or candidates, particularly those in the employ of LPRC. As well, all the assets of the Management Team of LPRC should be established and valued. A whistleblower mechanism should be established in order to protect employees of LPRC who would like to come forward to offer testimonies but are fearful of the security of their employment. In addition, witness protection program should be considered to protect the identity of individuals including concubines (who may want to testify about how they came by owning a house, a car and an expensive cell phone when their jobs, that is if they have one, could not possibly account for their life styles) and the like who have information and would want to come forward but are fearful for their personal safety or other considerations.

Another important contribution would be for ECOWAS to publish the report of the Team of Forensic Investigators who visited Liberia in early 2005 and conducted forensic investigations of a number of government agencies. I met a number of the members of the ECOWAS experts of forensic investigators and they clearly indicated and impressed upon me and my colleagues that government functionaries were abusing and misusing public money. I would have said “massive fraud” but I cannot - and - you know why.

The NTGL, ECOWAS and the ICGL should make good on its promise to take “appropriate legal action” in response to the “EC funded audits, the ECOWAS forensic investigation and other cases of corruption.” This commitment is embedded in the Governance Economic Management Plan (GEMAP). However, my faith in ECOWAS and the European Commission (EC) in this regard has being slipping and waning. Here is why. I wrote a letter to the ECOWAS representative in Liberia, His Excellency Ansumana Ceesay, about a month ago requesting the release of the ECOWAS investigation. I have yet to hear back from him. I wrote a letter to the EC Representative to Liberia, Mr. Geoffrey Rudd, and requested an update in the implementation of GEMAP especially in regards to holding entrusted authority accountable. His response has been to send me a copy of GEMAP and wishing me “success” in my efforts at curtailing corruption in Liberia. In order words no action yet. Thanks Mr. Rudd. These are some of the challenges which one has to overcome. It appears that our international partners are in the business of grandstanding but as dutiful Liberians, we cannot afford to play to the gallery. Instead we would hold them to their word.

Another criticism which is clearly a case of shooting the messenger and ignoring the message concerns attributes of this writer. There is a hostile fascination with the fact that I sport an ear ring on my left ear lobe. I am therefore, a homosexual in the warped minds of my critics, something they termed “un-African”. As a result, I have been accosted by unruly elements of the public and scorned by others. For the record, I am not a homosexual, never had and never ever will be. Nonetheless, I respect the right and choice of others who choose to be homosexual. I abhor homophobia and as a rights activist would not countenance public policy measures that discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.

I wear an earring as a piece of jewelry. I will not take it off, no matter what. We all have our proclivities, perhaps mind is to embrace fashion and for that I own no one any apology. I like it, indeed, I love it. I believe that it makes me feel good about my self. More importantly, I have defined myself the way I elect to and this is no body’s business. I am not seeking public office and therefore do not have to pander to anyone’s definition of who I should be and what dress code to follow. It is gratifying for one to feel good about oneself – it is called having self-esteem and confidence. As for me, among the things that make me feel good in addition to my sporting an earring - it is a loop by the way, include speaking truth to power, asserting my democratic liberties, rights and freedom and industriously working with others to build a culture of democracy in which the liberties of all Liberians are protected, opportunities are provided to all and the state embraces concepts and adopt policy measures that find concrete manifestations in the improved material conditions of the Liberian people. I have no apologies for these and never will. I think we need to embrace diversity and tolerance especially when these do not impinge on the democratic liberties of others.

Another criticism is that I am a stooge of Dr. Amos Sawyer, Assemblyman Conmany Wesseh and Representative-Elect Dusty Wolokollie. Ditto here - no apologies. Dr. Amos Sawyer, to my mind, is arguably one of the leading Liberian intellectuals alive today. I am honored to be associated with him and I have benefited immensely in terms of my intellectual growth. I have never ever benefited materially from association with Dr. Sawyer - as my critics would like to believe. In fact I got employed at CEDE in February 2004. Before then, I worked for the Africa Faith and Justice Network in Washington, D.C. for 10 years and for the American Friends Service Committee in Zimbabwe for 2 years. All of my material possessions are results of remuneration from my career thus far. No gifts from anyone. I do not seek alms from any man, woman or child.

Assemblyman Conmany Wesseh is inarguably one of the most respected Liberian politicians today and he has an enviable history of struggle for social justice. Mr. Dusty Wolokolie has proven to be an indomitable Liberian politician whose history is closely aligned with popular struggles for justice, equity and dignity in Liberia. Both men borne the burdens of repression and remained steadfast. As a former student leader, I saw them as my role model and followed their chosen path in student leadership. I served as acting President of the Liberia National Students Union from 1981-85 during the brutal dictatorship of Samuel K. Doe. That history is amply documented. I believe I am a responsible Liberian citizen as a result of my associations with these decent human beings. This does not mean we agree on everything but we have respect for each other, and have agreed to disagree in many instances. I can not be anyone’s stooge and as one of my benefactors, Fr. James Christopher Hickey, once remarked to a closed associate, that “Ezekiel is fiercely independent.” I accepted that as a compliment. I want to be responsible for my failures and take credit for my successes. I do not hitch my cart to anyone’s chariot. I am my own man, pure, simple and proud of it!

My critics say that I am emotional. Here again, I can not be any less emotional. The ever present condition of human suffering in this country does make me angry and ashamed. I know that our country is not poor but impoverished. It is the cruel disregard of the common good by our national leaders that is responsible. They parade themselves as “paragons of virtue” when in actual fact they are the “emperors without clothes” and as the Head of the Government Reform Commission has said they operate government offices as “dens of extortion”. This country cannot afford to squander the new opportunity that we have as a people to build a truly democratic and just order by allowing vain men who, to some extent, are the embodiment of the colossal failures this country have witnessed in its most recent past, would continue to play leadership roles. My abiding commitment and therefore my motivation is to stop these pettifoggers, who dream that they are entitled to misrule our common patrimony, because we, the people are dormant and apathetic.

The most ridiculous criticism is that CEDE received funding from OSIWA (Open Society Initiative for West Africa) and channeled such donation to the Unity Party. This accusation has been revised recently by another “grassrooter” organization and the grasssrooters are now claiming that I have mis-apply funding from OSIWA intended for civil society organizations. That is so easy to find out. All one has to do is called up OSIWA in Dakar, Senegal (Phone number +221 869 1024 or +221 869-1033 or +231-869 1036) and make the necessary inquiries. CEDE lacks adequate funding to function as an effective institution and it will be the height of tomfoolery to raise money for a different group when the organization itself is severely under-funded. Anyone can check this out for themselves. There is no donor agency in Liberia that has provided any meaningful or generous funding to CEDE. We have received funding but very little and to work on extremely limited programs including the drafting of the TRC Act and Human Rights and Advocacy Training. CEDE has undertaken consultancy in the area of small arms control and media. There are several other Liberian groups and many international ones, in this country that are more endowed then CEDE and doing very much less work. Check out all the donors in town beginning with the largest one, USAID and find out from them who they are funding. You will be surprised to find out that CEDE is not one of their beneficiary.

I know that these criticisms and threats are intended to cow me into submission. This is an effort in futility. I do think and believe that it is the fundamental obligation of a dutiful Liberian citizen to undertake measures that seek to ensure “entrusted authority” are held accountable. This is one reason a number of colleagues and I embraced GEMAP. We believe that, even with its severe limitations and deafening silence on a people centered Liberia economic recovery program, it offers an opportunity to introduce elements of accountability and transparency in the collection and spending of public funds at specific government agencies. It is a good beginning we hope it will be fully implemented.

Now, bring out the attack dogs. I have donned my elephant hide. I will absorb the blows and I will fight back with every ounce of energy within me. No, I will not back off and I owe my compatriots no less. I repeat, here for all to understand, we can not and should not allow those who do not embody our national aspirations to become our leaders. Happy Holidays! May 2006 find all those who abuse the rights of our people and stole our money find themselves behind iron bars and not within the corridors of power.

(As this went to press, the New Democrat, Friday, December 30, 2005, carried a story about the United Nations Security Council Panel of Expert Report on Liberia was released on December 7, 2005. It appears that LPRC has come under additional scrutiny. More on this later.)