The evidence for these claims was uncovered by the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) audit report, allegedly obtained and its findings published by the Frontpage Africa Internet news magazine on July 6, 2006. Frontpage Africa reported that corruption and cronyism were rampant in the Bryant-led interim government. The magazine named several former top officials in the Bryant-led interim government, who purportedly violated Liberian laws by engaging in manifold fraudulent acts.
We were not surprised by the allegations made in Frontpage Africa since news has circulated for several months about the extent of corruption perpetrated by some former officials of the Gyude Bryant-led interim government and their unscrupulous collaborators in the Liberian business community. The ECOWAS audit and the previous European Union sponsored audit have now apparently provided evidence describing the scope of Bryant and company. The list includes: Samuel Wlue, Wesley Johnson, Lusene Kamara, Tugbe Doe, J.D. Slanger, Garrison Togba, and others.
In this paper, we begin a series of investigations to trace the tentacles of corruption in Liberia, particularly focusing on the Bryant-led interim government, although not exclusively. We do not assume the guilt or innocence of those under scrutiny, but attempt to uncover the sources of their ill-gotten wealth, if any. We also invite responses from the accused and examine their versions of the story for inconsistency. We urge the Liberian government to apply the highest standards of due process in these cases so that it strengthens the rule of law in the post-conflict era. The first article emanating from our investigation highlights the case of the former Commerce Minister, Samuel A. B. Wlue. We have pursued this course based on the cardinal belief in justice and the strongest commitment to the notion that no one Liberian is above the law, and those Liberians resistance to change warrant the fullest persecution under Liberian laws. The survival of the Liberian state is more important than any one person or personal relationships that we have with individuals. Liberians have suffered enormously, and their collective plight matters the most than each of us.
Samuel Wlue was a high ranking official of MODEL, one of the two rebel groups that battled the deposed Liberian dictator Charles Taylor for control of Liberia. He represented MODEL at the joint ECOWAS and international community brokered peace conference in Accra, Ghana in 2003. As the result of the peace conference, MODEL, LURD and the Taylor regime carved up strategic government bureaucracies as “spoils of war.” MODEL secured the Ministry of Commerce, Bureau of Maritime and Foreign Affairs Ministry, among others. Samuel Wlue was then awarded the Commerce Ministry portfolio.
The Dolo Wlue Connection
For full disclosure, it is important to reveal the ties between Samuel Wlue and Emmanuel Dolo. Both are long-time friends linking from their period as roommates in the early 1980s. Dolo always hoped that the allegations made against Samuel Wlue during and after his service as Commerce Minister were figments of people’s imagination. He wished that Samuel Wlue would not be a party to the alleged ethical lapse and criminal acts because having grown up together as young adults, while Samuel Wlue was a high school student at Monrovia College and Dolo a student at the University of Liberia, the principles that they professed stood in direct contrast to the crimes that people assumed he committed. They eventually attended graduate school together in the US at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina, where both men studied the Christian Ministry. They were roommates throughout before Samuel Wlue’s transferred from Erskine to continue his studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Raleigh, North Carolina. However, Dolo and Samuel Wlue had not spoken for the years that Wlue served as the Commerce Minister.
When Dolo read the Frontpage Africa article, he called Samuel Wlue in Monrovia and introduced the reason for his call as a freelance journalist who had interest in Samuel Wlue’s response to the ECOWAS audit, particularly the accusations made in the Frontpage Africa story. “My intent here is to write an article for the Perspective Magazine. Objectivity therefore demands that I contact you to determine your involvement in the looming scandal.” Having established the purpose of the contact, Samuel Wlue hesitated a bit, and then began to refute the claims made by the Frontpage Africa news story. Samuel Wlue said that he knew about the article, but described it as the magazine’s spin on the ECOWAS report. When Dolo asked, if Samuel Wlue had seen the ECOWAS report, he replied: “No.” Samuel Wlue responded further: “I unequivocally want to state that while at the Commerce Ministry I did not steal any monies from the government.”
Samuel Wlue Blames Gyude Bryant
Samuel Wlue blames the problem on the disagreement that existed between him and Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the Interim Government over a contract that the Ministry of Commerce or GOL had with DIVAC. DIVAC managed a pre-shipment inspection contract for the Liberian government and according to Samuel Wlue, DIVAC was being paid, but the company was not fully fulfilling its contractual responsibilities to the Liberian government. When Samuel Wlue allegedly brought the issue to Chairman Gyude Bryant’s attention, he was instructed to leave the matter alone.
Samuel Wlue alleged that he refused Chairman Bryant’s directives and he insisted that DIVAC change its practice and fulfill its responsibilities to the Liberian people. As Samuel Wlue launched pressure on DIVAC, its executives reportedly file a complaint to the Executive Mansion alleging that Samuel Wlue threatened the life of one of their executives. Samuel Wlue noted that Chairman Bryant instructed him to resign his post, but the Commerce Minister asked the Chairman to provide reasons why he should resign. When the Chairman failed to provide valid reasons to justify this request, Samuel Wlue said that he maintained his position, but thereafter, relations between him and Chairman Bryant became strained.
Following this incident, Wlue said that he pleaded with the ECOWAS to send inspectors to review the management practices at the Executive Mansion, which he claimed was “chronically corrupt.” To his surprise, when the inspections were launched by ECOWAS, the only ministry that was visited was the Commerce Ministry, although this assertion is contrary to the ECOWAS audit report According to Frontpage Africa, several other ministries of the government were also audited in the process.
Our investigation revealed that an article in the July 11th edition of the Liberian NewsWatch (www.Liberinanewswatch.com) written by Tiah J.D. Slangar, the MODEL Commissioner of Maritime who himself the European Union sponsored audit indicated he embezzled millions of dollars from the Liberian government, described the conflict that had ensued between Gyude Bryant and Samuel Wlue. Slangar wrote: “The same is true of Samuel Wlue who was an active member of the MODEL team that helped to hammer out the peace agreement. That was why Bryant’s plans were defeated before he could carry them out. In the end, MODEL Chairman Thomas Yaya Nimely and I testified before the ECOWAS, the UN, and the EU that it was Bryant, not Wlue, who was corrupt. On the strength of the evidence we provided, Samuel Wlue’s job was saved. Of course we all knew that this would be one of several rounds of a bigger fight still ahead.”
Samuel Wlue Claims He Made $200,000 Yearly in the
Dolo pressed further and asked Samuel Wlue how much he earned as salary from the Liberian government during his tenure as Commerce Minister. Samuel Wlue responded: “I made $49.00 (Forty Nine Dollars) monthly.” “If this is the case, how does this monthly salary jive with the fact that you allegedly own several properties in Liberia as well as a home in the US?” Dolo asked further. Samuel Wlue responded: “I just didn’t start work today. I earned $200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) yearly in the US before coming to Liberia….I made $20,000 (Twenty Thousand Dollars) monthly working three jobs.” When Dolo asked Samuel Wlue where he worked, he named two organizations: Children Services of Philadelphia and the Warren E. Smith Health Centers also in Philadelphia.
To verify some of Samuel Wlue’s assertion that he earned $200,000 annually, Dolo then asked Samuel Wlue for the phone numbers for his wife Alfreda Cheaye Wlue in the US and that of the former Foreign Minister within the Interim Government Thomas Yaya Nimely who Samuel Wlue hired at Children Services of Philadelphia. Samuel Wlue asked: “I am not in America, why would you be calling my home?” Dolo answered, “I will be calling your home to speak to your wife in order to verify the claims that you have made.” Samuel Wlue was forthcoming and provided the numbers for Yaya Nimley and his wife. Several attempts were made to contact Yaya Nimley in Liberia, but to no avail. However, Dolo reached Mrs. Wlue at her Delaware residence in the US.
Dolo explained the reason for his call and stated that he is a freelance journalist and had spoken to Wlue about the news story circulating regarding his alleged involvement with corruption during Wlue’s tenure at the Commerce Ministry. “I want to verify some of the claims that Sam made because my writing partner, Winsley Nanka and I are writing a story about Sam’s alleged involvement in this case.” Following a slight hesitation, Mrs. Wlue gave Dolo permission to restate Wlue’s assertions and to ask related questions.
Samuel Wlue Remitted $4, 000 Monthly to Family in
Mrs. Wlue told Dolo that they are separated and a divorce was pending. Family sources close to the Wlue family disputed Samuel Wlue’s claim of making $200,000.00 annually during the period just before he left the US to negotiate on behalf of MODEL in Ghana. When Mrs. Wlue was asked how her husband provided financial support to their family in the US, she said that Samuel Wlue sent her $4,000 (Four Thousand Dollars) every month from the day he started working at Commerce until January 2006, when he stopped. “He has not given us support since January.”
This means that Samuel Wlue sent about $100,000 dollars to the United States to support his family for the duration of the interim government. However, Samuel Wlue’s salary for the same period as Commerce Minister was at least $1, 176 ($49 X 24 months). Another family source asserted that Samuel Wlue started to build a $300,000 (Three Hundred Thousand Dollar) beachfront property in Liberia, which is said to have a swimming pool, against the advice of close relatives. Other people close to Samuel Wlue involved in the construction of his beachfront property estimate that it is valued at a million US dollars. Samuel Wlue also owns several properties in Monrovia, including a Congoe Town residence as well as the Zanzibar Night Club, according to family sources.
To go further, our investigations included contacts with Children’s Services Incorporated (CSI) in Philadelphia to determine how much Samuel Wlue earned during this time since he alleged that much of the money he used in Monrovia came from his employment in the US. According to Mrs. Lisa Yancy, Human Resources Director at CIS, Samuel Wlue worked at CIS from November 1998 to May 2002 and resigned his position there as Training and Resource Coordinator, where he was responsible to hire and train independent contractors for their wraparound programs. “I can state emphatically that we are a social services organization and no employee here, including the Executive Director makes $200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Dollars) a year.” Mrs. Yancy stated.
Our sources say that Samuel Wlue was transferred from the Therapeutic Support Services (TSS) Department to the Training Department because he recruited incompetent personnel who could not perform their duties and responsibilities as therapeutic support staff. Therapeutic support staff is responsible to serve as an aide to developmentally challenged students in the Philadelphia School District. Ultimately, he was asked to resign from the agency because of administrative reasons.” Samuel Wlue’s last place of employment was the Warren E. Smith Health Centers in Philadelphia. The agency provides services to clients who need substance abuse and mental health treatment.
According to our sources, when Samuel Wlue was let go by Children’s Services, he experienced hardship finding a comparable job in Philadelphia. The request to join MODEL and help negotiate their cause in Ghana came at the time that he was disenchanted with lack of commensurate professional opportunities in the US. He latched unto the MODEL opportunity and soon was named Commerce Minister.
When Dolo contacted Samuel Wlue again to ask for response about the information gleaned during our investigations, he refused to answer the inquiry. He responded: “Go ahead and write your story.” He failed to explain the inconsistencies in his assertions: the fact that he allegedly sent $4,000 (Four Thousand Dollars) monthly to the US to support his family and owned several properties in Liberia while earning $49 (Forty Nine Dollars) a month in Liberia.
The Solicitor General of Liberia Response
When Samuel Wlue was asked if the Liberian government has contacted him since the audit report was disclosed, he answered: “No.” Based on this response, we contacted Mr. Tiawon Gongloe, Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia to ask about the seeming delay in addressing this blight on our nation’s character and the implications for reforms that the Sirleaf government promised. Mr. Gongloe noted that he could not comment on the specificity of the case in question. However, he noted sternly that: “No one is an exemption before the law. We plan to persecute all wrongdoers in accordance with the Liberian statutes.”
Solicitor General Tiawon Gongloe and other new generation of social activists currently in the Sirleaf Government advocated for social justice in the past. However, with the slow pace of bringing allegations of corruption to trial they may be squandering a massive opportunity to set examples that would make lasting impact on the epidemic of corruption and other economic and social crimes, which are bedrocks of instability in the country. We believe that it is one thing to be an advocate for social justice, and another to leave a legacy of justice that will forever redeem the blood of Liberians killed by the failure of governance which these predators instigated through inaction or purposeful action.
The Scarcity of Nationalistic Spirits
Clearly, nationalistic spirits were not the impelling force around which many in the insurgent groups, including Samuel Wlue returned to Monrovia to supposedly rescue the Liberian people from the throes of Charles Taylor. Instead, they arrayed themselves around a quest for personal enrichment and social gratification at the expense of the suffering Liberian masses.
Nonetheless, to let this matter survive another day without a court proceeding is a travesty of justice. There is a virtual epidemic of corruption in Liberia that has to be stopped. A strong stance against all Liberians convicted of corruption, including seizure of all ill-gotten wealth and jail sentences will hasten corruption into remission. The agile ability by previous corrupt government officials to manipulate the Liberian people into believing that they can carry out these conducts and evade persecution has to be halted. We cannot let any of these people to play on old fears that bringing corrupt members of insurgent groups to justice would incite a resurgence of outbursts from former warlords.
Is this Impunity Once Again?
For Liberians who have been concerned that years of irresponsible and negligent judicial responses to the corruption crisis, the government’s slow pace of response to the ECOWAS and EU sponsored audit reports should be rude awakenings. To even let these issues go unattended for one day after its revelation is an indication that we are allowing the economic and social predators in Liberian society allegedly (Wlue, Urey, Snowe, Johnson, Slanger and others to turn our social values on its head. These people have demonstrated their disregard for the humanity of other Liberians. As massive amounts of Liberians live under treacherous conditions, these people live in luxury, with some even boasting about their ill-gotten wealth. The government’s failure to move swiftly in the prosecution of alleged corrupt officials will seriously undermine the goodwill the international community has developed toward Liberia.
The Sirleaf Government Must Step-up to the Plate
The Ministry of Justice has to take the lead in investigating and prosecuting credible evidence of corruption as they become available, (Gbe Sneh, The Perspective, June 9, 2006). The Justice Ministry must not wait for President Sirleaf to order the prosecution of individuals involved in corrupt practices. Once there is ample evidence that anyone within the territorial borders of Liberia has engaged in financial or economic impropriety, the investigative and prosecutorial agencies of the Liberian government should move against the person.
The government must move quickly to demonstrate that it is committed to justice in Liberia. There is no excuse for the Sirleaf government’s failure to make public the ECOWAS audit report that implicated former government officials some of whom she has appointed to lucrative positions. It sends a bad message to the Liberian people and the international community for individuals accused of misapplication of public funds by a credible audit report to be rewarded with a new appointments by the President who came to power on the basis of her reform agenda targeting public corruption as one of her key planks.
All those implicated in the ECOWAS and other previous audits conducted by the Liberian government and Liberia’s development partners must be prosecuted. The predatory business practices of Lebanese businessman George Haddad, who the ECOWAS audit report claims collaborated with Samuel Wlue, perhaps others to fleece Liberia, must be investigated and prosecuted. George Haddad has been associated with every corrupt Liberian regime from Samuel K. Doe to Gyude Bryant.
President Sirleaf must also move quickly to reorganize the “three pillars of transparency in Liberia” a functional judicial system, an efficient anti-corruption agency, and an efficient government accountability office (General Auditing Bureau). A clear link exists between corruption and the nature of governance, and this cannot be disputed in the Liberian context. With the entire nation’s public infrastructure in ruins and civil servants earning wages that are unable to sustain them, clearly a fertile environment exists for corruption to flourish. That is, if the government neglects its oversight responsibilities and only pays lip service to the subject matter. The time for rewarding political cronies should be over.
Multitudes of Liberian children do not have enough to eat and many are forced to shut their eyes hungry every night. Illiteracy has gained a vice-like grip on Liberian children that their chances of competing in the global economy range from zero to negative. The HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health malaises have beleaguered the country that that morbidity and mortality rates continue to soar. In such a climate, stalled by helplessness, even hopelessness, one wonders how well corrupt officials sleep. If reversing these trends is not our governance priority, what else should be? If prosecuting selfish men and women who pillage the nation and revel in the pain they cause does not carry the utmost weight, what else should? We urge the Sirleaf government to remember the centrality of its commitment to the Liberian people and international donors who have invested all their stocks into this government. President Sirleaf promised to detach the Liberian society from the hindrances that have kept our standards of living at the lowest rungs. Therefore, Liberians built their hopes on President Sirleaf’s promise and elected her to the presidency.