Corruption, Charles Taylor and Elections

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 3, 2005


A few months ago, the transitional legislative assembly that huge and costly white elephant of the CPA - suspended its leaders for “corruption,” with Speaker George Dweh and his deputy accused of mismanagement. Later, the heads of the social security were “suspended” for tempering with bank accounts of the institution. This was followed by the dismissal of the Board of directors of the NPA (National Port Authority) headed by Dr. Togba-nah Tipoteh for giving its acquiescence to a bad contract. Finally, just few weeks ago, J.D. Slanger, the Commissioner of the Maritime Bureau and his representative in London, Mohamed Dukuly were suspended and asked to refund $800,000 they allegedly embezzled from the corporation. Earlier, much earlier, the former spokesman of LURD, Charles Bennies was fired for improprieties at the Ministry of Finance.

None of the “suspended” people went quietly. Speaker Dweh took his case to the Supreme Court and may never regain his post. J.D. Slanger, whose case is now headed for the courts, accused Chairman Bryant and others for “making away” with $1.8 million from the same funds where he took the $800,000. He and Dukuly said that they had gotten tired of waiting “for their share” and decided to help themselves to the national elephant meat. Their case epitomizes the state of mind of many who have come to power since creative Monrovians nicknamed CIC (commander-in-chief) Samuel Doe “Chop I Chop.” Stealing from government became an art. “Our time has come meant” that new leaders would steal as much as they could.

Government properties, including aircrafts and embassy buildings were sold by people who walked away with no questions asked. The Maritime and others state enterprises became places where leaders sent their most trusted friends to steal for them. With warring factions taking over government in the 1990s, jobs were auctioned publicly at the various peace talks that brought new “councils of stealing,” at every turn.

Once upon a time in Liberia, those who stole money were transferred to other, sometimes more “lucrative” but less visible jobs. The only instances where state functionaries were punished for corruption were when they fell out of favor with the “chief.’ The current Liberian crisis sparked from such a “fall out”, when the “Chief In Chopping” Samuel Doe decided to brand Charles Taylor for stealing $900, 000 in the 1980s and had him put under arrest in the US. Now Bryant is planning to put Slanger on trial for stealing $800,000. How far will the drama go?

Others who have been dismissed have yet to be charged with any specific crime that led to the “suspension”. The head of the social security is running campaign and could find himself minister of state if his candidate were to win the elections, something quite plausible. George Dweh has not been charged and many others are enjoying their freedom. If they are guilty, they must be charged and if charges cannot be proven against them, they must be reinstated and presented with apologies. Dismissal is not punishment enough for embezzling public funds.

Taylor and Stability in Liberia and in the sub-region
For months, the former prosecutor of the United Nations Special tribunal in Sierra Leone, Mr. David Crane, called for the transfer of Charles Taylor to Freetown to have his day in court. Mr. Crane was joined in this campaign by the European Union and numerous human rights organizations throughout the world. President Olesugun Obasanjo has resisted the call so far, arguing that Mr. Taylor was in Nigeria under an agreement brokered by the international community. While in Washington, Obasanjo hinted however at the possibility of surrendering Charles Taylor to the tribunal if it is proven that he had broken the terms of his asylum. At the recent ECOWAS meeting and prior to it in Niamey, Niger, the Special Negotiator of ECOWAS former Nigerian Head of State Abdulsalami said that there was no proof that Taylor was meddling in Liberian affairs. Chairman Bryant said the same thing, just two weeks ago.

Then last week, in Freetown, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea said at a Mano River Meeting in Freetown that they now possess irrefutable proofs that Mr. Taylor was still carrying out destabilizing actions in the sub regions and was still involved in Liberia politics, including making pay-offs to some of the leading candidates in the upcoming elections. He was also linked to the assassination attempts on President Conteh in Guinea in February 2005. Much of the proofs were gathered and presented by a new Liberian watchdog group called Liberians For Transparent Elections. The group provided to the Mano River leaders as well as to other international security agencies telephone numbers, faxes, pictures, recordings and emails of Taylor to make their case. They even provided precise description of the aircraft used by Taylor to travel to Burkina Faso and Libya in December 2004 and again in Burkina Faso in February 2005. With these new revelations, President Obasanjo could find it hard to resist international pressure to hand Mr. Taylor over to the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal.

The meddling Mr. Taylor in Liberian politics comes as no surprise. His political party is very functional and could be the richest and most structured political body. If elections hinged on rice as was the case in 1997, Taylor’s NPP could easily win. His followers are present at all levels of the government, including the current speaker of the house. His business partners control most of the Liberian private sector. With President Obasanjo repeating constantly that he would hand over the former dictator at the request of the next elected Liberian president, it is natural that Mr. Taylor, if he has any survival instinct left in him, would ensure that the next leader of Liberia is a friend, not a foe.

Mr. Taylor’s former partners have no interests in him facing a tribunal where he would have a microphone and a world audience. Beyond Liberia, these partners are in Burkina Faso and Libya where he received logistics and training for his wars in the sub-region, in Cote d’Ivoire where he was given sanctuary, training grounds, troops and economic facilities, in France where he made his best timber deals, in the Middle East where he transacted arms for diamond, and the list goes on. Even in Nigeria, from where his NPFL, while under ECOWAS and UN sanctions, received cheap Nigerian oil to run “Greater Liberia.” If Mr. Taylor is at all as rich as he is purported to be, the story is far from being over…

Chairman Gyude Bryant
Chairman Bryant
By firing some high officials of government and by adding his voice to that of Guinea and Sierra Leone to demand that Mr. Taylor be brought to justice, Chairman Bryant has taken steps unprecedented in Liberia’s transitional history. Is it too little or too late? Better late than never,” as they say on Clay Street. For many months, into his administration, Mr. Bryant refused to listen the noise from the streets in Monrovia, until crowds booed him on Waterside. He used to ask that if anyone had proof of corrupt practices by any government official, to bring it out and he would act in accordance with the law. He took unprecedented steps by firing top leaders of the three warring factions, two of which voted to get him into the chair. If he continues, he may go down in history as the “anti-corruption” leader in Liberian history. That is if he dares to put away every corrupt government official, and there are plenty of them, everywhere. All he has to do is read and listen. But again, as they say in Bassa, rat trap is not for rats alone.”

Barring a major disaster, elections will take place as scheduled. Political fewer has taken over Liberian life, both at home and in the Diaspora. The great number of candidates has greatly diminished with some dropping out and others joining with “big parties.” Many more candidates simply will not make it to the campaign trail, because they have neither money nor partisans. They had put their names out, with the hope that someone would call them to join their parties and in many cases, they were not called. They will simply wait and pass out résumés after the dust settles on the ballot box.

As Liberians head for elections in less than three months, there are thorny constitutional issues that many would have wanted to discuss before choosing the next set of leaders. It is rare that a country goes from a 10-year military dictatorship to a 15-year civil war without constitutional review. Liberia did not just have bad leaders it had a bad governance system. Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire all made revisions to their constitutions prior to elections. In Liberia, there is the illusion that putting new wine in old bottle would make it taste better…

The Governance Reform Commission (GRC) is planning to call a national forum between elections and the inauguration to address some of those problems before a new government takes over and conducts business as usual. The Commission will have to find a way to commit the new elected officials to commit to such an agenda. To ensure this, the GRC must run a campaign of its own in the coming months.