The Managing Director and Human Rights Defenders: The Bungled Case?

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 13, 2006


For weeks now, some of us have heard and read about a mysterious oil deal between the Nigerian government and the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC). No details have been made available, but it seems many, who know anything about the deal, remain suspicious. The press, in its usual sensational way, has published one vague story after another; telling us nothing substantial in the meantime. But what exactly is the deal? I personally have not the slightest clue and there are many who know even less. While we await further clarification and eventual disclosure, the story continues to blossom into a full mystery.

Liberia’s distinguished human rights team, Aloysius Toe, Augustine Toe and Alfred Brownell met with LPRC Managing Director Harry Greaves. If they had hoped to assist the public in understanding this mystery, they’ve only deepened and worsened it considerably, to our great dismay. After their recent meeting, the press reported accusations and counter-accusations. The human rights team accused the managing director of offering them a bribe and the managing director described their accusation as “rubbish”; claiming further that they had a “political agenda”…

I know many of us get our kicks from such antagonistic stories: The high-powered human rights team versus the high-profiled managing director. But what’s the benefit of all this hype and useless confrontation? I prefer to take another perspective in examining this new development. A series of questions occur to mind: Why were these “human rights” advocates examining these documents in the first place? Does this fall within their professional purview? If so, how? Were there any human rights crimes committed by the managing director by keeping this matter undisclosed? Shouldn’t there be other avenues to ascertain the necessary facts, maybe through a legislative hearing or by members of a professional financial team? If any crimes or improprieties were committed in consummating this oil deal, shouldn’t it be a team of criminal lawyers investigating this matter?

I have read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and you may do so by visiting its official site at I do not mean to imply that a human rights advocate should care nothing about commercial contracts between neighboring governments, my point is that particular issue should not be on the top of their priorities. Human rights organizations should primarily concern themselves with issues of “inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members…” The document emphasizes “freedom of speech, freedom from fear and rebellion against tyranny and oppression…” In thirty articles outlined by the declaration, the issue of transparency of business documents signed bilaterally does not take precedence over the basic individual freedoms of citizens. It may even be non-existent.

I have always advocated a harmonious relationship among the various entities of leadership on the Liberian scene and I have consistently been disappointed in the ensuing chaos and antagonism. Each one seemingly wants to flex his muscles at the expanse of the other. The legislature seems to be at constant odds with the executive. The press has a running feud with the presidency. The legislature seems to be treated with contempt and it collectively treats other entities with contempt; not the mention the internal public squabbles. And there was the case of the Police ordering the whipping and detention of a member of the legislature and refusing to appear for a court hearing. And now we have the case of the human rights lawyers publicly taking on the managing director of LPRC.

The rational question is, to whose benefit is all this public acrimony and lack of diplomacy? Obviously, it is not to the benefit of the citizenry. My advice is that these entities that claim to have the citizens at heart should begin to treat each other with dignity and respect. It doesn’t hurt to do more work behind closed doors… this not to suggest that principles be compromised. This is to protect the fragile public from these constant outbursts that eventually lead to no productive outcomes, except for a momentary exposure to the spotlight.

Imagine this explosive scenario: Mr. Aloysius Toe and Attorney Augustine Toe accused Mr. Greaves of offering them bribes, contained in two envelopes, which they refused to accept. Noble. But Mr. Greaves counters that he offered no bribes and the envelopes contained only a couple of gas slips valued at about twenty gallons of gas. Further, according to the office of Mr. Greaves, this is customary gesture, a gratuity given with no strings attached.

But Attorney Augustine Toe believed the envelopes did contain cash. Well, we’ll never know. It’s his word against Mr. Greaves’ word. I think the lawyer and his associate had an excellent opportunity that they blew by refusing the envelopes. They should have opened the envelopes in the presence of Mr. Greaves and confirmed that he actually offered them a bribe and gone on to make their case public with the fruit of crime in hand. The way the story developed after that proves incompetence on the part of the lawyer and the chief advocate. How can you walk away from a potential bribe offer and then try to make a case based on conjectures instead of facts? Simple. The lawyer blew it.

There is another thing the press could have done in this matter. Instead of rushing to publish rumors, the newspaper that carried the story could have verified if this is a custom practiced by the LRPC. Does the LPRC give all its visitors (maybe its most important visitors) gas slips as a friendly gesture? There could be a need to verify such a claim to validate or invalidate the LPRC’s claim.

The bottom line is such issues (verifying the veracity or authenticity of bilateral contracts) should not claim the priority of distinguished human rights teams. This should definitely be low on the national periphery. The only good news, however, seems to be that the new administration has curbed human rights abuses in the country to the extent that human rights lawyers and advocates are left with no major cases to pursue.

© 2006 by The Perspective

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