…”contract signed… modified and resigned twice … contract finally signed … but cancelled by directive Gyude Bryant to Musulen Cooper in December 30,2005… Israeli company stands to lose several thousand dollars already invested in acquiring the equipment and logistics to service the contract … we should not expect them to take that lying down … they are going to put up a stiff fight, probably resorting to international arbitration …”
It is the last note that switches on a strong light of concern. My mind leaps to the severe image damage Liberia is likely to suffer if this matter goes to international arbitration, in Europe or America. Meridien Bank dragged Liberia to international litigation before, in the matter of Liberia Telecommunication Whein Town earth satellite project. We had to offer a percentage of our Maritime earnings for settlement.
Before we know it Liberia would making news around the world, not about killing one another anymore, as has been the case in the last two decades. This time the news would be that although Liberia has turned over a new leaf to democratic rule, with an internally eminent woman as president, it is not time yet for investors to trust Liberians. Commitments to contractual agreements can be casually dissolved in total disregard of the rule of law. We would spend a lot of money and nerves doing damage control. I do not think that the Johnson-Sirleaf government needs this, not in the first 150 days of its operation.
I still carry fresh memories of my personal involvement in cleaning the bad international public relations spill which followed the oil spill off the coast of Nantuckett Island in the U.S. by a tanker flying the Liberian flag under our maritime program. The tanker had never even been to the Liberian coast, and the world did not know it. Just to show how ready people in the so-called developed countries stand to crucify poor countries even when such accidents happen. How much more, if there is some evidence of our being deliberately imprudent.
I did secure relevant communications and other information items in the newspapers about the issue under discussion. The possibility of the NPA cancellation of the contract not having a legal basis may be good reason for avoiding international litigation. We cannot brush aside these questions:
If the original contract was twice submitted to review and modification leading to a final signing, why was it cancelled? Especially so with all the relevant parties representing the interest of the Liberian people, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Contracts & Monopolies Commission involved in the process? And if all the Liberians involved were not sufficiently trusted by their government to be seeking the public interest, why was the contract still cancelled even after the International Contact Group assumed the authority to scrutinize it, and did so, clearing it for re-signing? If fundamental errors had been made in the preliminary stages arriving at the signing of the contract, who should take full responsibility for such irresponsibility? Our Liberian negotiators? Would we really expect any business entities coming to Liberia to allow their sympathy for the ineptitudes of Liberians to exceed their interest? This is wishful thinking and asking for too much. The bottom line here is, as we very aptly often remind ourselves, that "the street cannot buy you, if your house does not sell you."
According to the New Democrat newspaper of January 23, Mr. Alan Doss “revealed” to the newspaper in an exclusive interview that the government had cancelled the container park agreement. And he congratulated the government for that. And he defends this as being “in the best interest of the Liberian people.” Perhaps these are the words of the reporter, not his direct words. But this leaves one wondering about how and why the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General has become so linked to matters in the private sector of Liberia, as to speak for or against in a private sector issue like this one. There may be security implications and ramifications regarding the port operation contract, vis-à-vis those already have in their hands a signed contract. If so, obviously the public is totally in the dark about that. But “in the best interest of the Liberian people” is too open-ended a statement.
There are of course other international personalities in Monrovia whose names are linked to pressure on the NPA to cancel the contract. It is neither correct nor fair to identify them, especially when not having been given the benefit of commenting on the issue officially. Mr. Doss got in the news with his feelings, and mention of him here could not be avoided. Otherwise, whatever is on the grapevine about those personalities and the contract should have no space in any respectable analysis. But there is much on the grapevine that grates in the ears. One day, somehow, perhaps when it becomes a matter of do and be damned in the international arbitration forum those skeletons will come out of the cupboard.
SMALL SHAME IS BETTER THAN BIG SHAME
This is not a happy story at a time when Liberia cannot afford the luxury of a murky image. We may be looking only at the money, which a better contractual arrangement with a different group would give. But it is not a major loss, if any. It would probably be better to think more in terms of turning adversity into opportunity, to borrow from the optimism of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Perhaps we should see GSS,Ltd, as a new bridge between our new Liberia and Israeli entrepreneurial expertise and capital. Liberia has had fruitful business relations with Israel, The Ducor Hotel, Agrimeco, VanPly were among the prominent result of the involvement of Israeli businessmen in Liberia. GSS is putting the props together to take a bold stab at Wologisi iron ore deposit and some other ventures including a communication network, which will be serviced by their own satellite on the equator. It would definitely be better to withdraw the purported cancellation of the port contract, and swallow the small shame, than to go through international litigation with no strong case in our favor, and face the big shame..
(to be continued)