Law to possess Jeeps: Interim Legislators’ shameless act

By Wellington Nyema-Toe Newton


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 26, 2005


Conclusion: It is grossly shameful and is criminal for the interim national legislators to pass a law giving them personal ownership of vehicles purchased for their official use. They even overturned the interim president’s veto- one of the few manly acts the interim president has done.

Analysis: Senator-elect Clarice Alpha Bah justifies this act by saying that the government owes them five months salaries and allowances. So unless they get their legitimate money, they are taking the jeeps as full or partial compensation for their services. This is a preposterous assertion, especially coming from a senator-elect. Using that argument, then I suggest that each civil servant who has not received salaries for months (sometimes an entire year) during the last eight years or so, should take their computers, file cabinets, desks, chairs and stationery and sell or use them in lieu of compensation. You see, these items are assigned to workers to do their job. Unfortunately the country has been run so poorly and has self -destructed for so many years, that salaries are perpetually in arrears. So retirees, those who resign or are fired have the right to take these assigned properties with them as they leave their jobs.

This is a flawed argument and is even written in the bill. The bill also gives the General Services Agency five days to turn over the car documents to them. They also legislated that the car be sold to them at book value (the difference between original cost and an accounting concept called depreciation). In the first place, the bill went too far on these issues. It should have only legislated that the car be sold to them- assuming this is a serious item for legislation. The modalities of the price, the transfer of title, among others are the exclusive preserve of the executive branch (Finance or GSA).

Secondly, depreciation is a concept that has nothing to do with the value of the assets (in this case the jeeps). Depreciation by definition is an estimate of the “wear and tear” on an asset that has an estimated useful life in excess of one year (fixed assets). It often times has no relationship to the actual “wear and tear” of the item. No one can predict what the “wear and tear” will be at any one point in time- hence the real value of the asset. Similarly, no one can predict the useful life of a fixed asset (hence the rate at which it will be depreciated). For example, is the useful life of vehicles 3 years or 7 years? Depreciation and its cousin, book value, are therefore only a convenient way to recognize expense (the use of the asset with longer than one year life) on a periodic basis- for example annually- for financial reporting purposes or for tax reporting purposes.

By now, the reader may infer that the classification of assets to be depreciated (based on life in excess of one year is an arbitrary accounting divide. Why one year and not 3 years or 6 months? It is also acceptable for accountants to classify fixed assets from those to be expensed immediately by arbitrary original cost- say anything that costs more than $500, or $5,000 or $50,000 is a depreciable asset. Therefore book value, original cost less accumulated depreciation, is a nonsensical concept when it comes to selling a previously owned asset.

The price depends on the assessed value or what a similar “used” asset will sell for in a particular locality at a particular time. In other words, while the book value of each jeep may be $ 8,000 ($40,000 less 2 years depreciation, 40% a year), its assessed value or market value- at arms length bargaining- could be $15,000 or $1,000, depending on the situation (supply and demand, similar vehicles in the Liberian market at 2 years old, the condition of the vehicle, the mileage remaining on the vehicle, among others). How dare they set their price at the elusive accounting concept called book value?

Getting Personal: I am appalled by the bill. Where are my friends who all fought so hard to correct the ills of the Tolbert Government, facilitating his demise? There were people executed in 1980, for stealing less than what some of my friends have stolen. Some of the executed people did their wrong over decades- but we the young ones are doing it in no time at all.

Conmany Wesseh, my friend, what was your vote the first time. I saw your letter to the body asking them to avoid any perception of corruption by their veto- a veto for which you were absent. Very commendable- but what was your original vote?
Ranney Jackson and Saa Philip Joe. You lived in the United States for many years. You saw how things work. You worked, just like the majority of us, in jobs that a Liberian high school graduate would not have done in Monrovia- especially you, Saa Philip. You did this just to earn an honest living- and make ends meet- to support your family back home. You know how we all complained that we were underutilized, discriminated against – because we are Africans and black. You know how we were told we were overqualified or under qualified, depending on which excuse was more plausible to the hiring manager.

We all swore that were it not for the mess back home, we would not be “catching hell” in America- doing two jobs, running at neck-break speed so that our young supervisor, who was like a child or small brother, would not chastise us for being late for work. Now we have the chance to set things right-so that we don’t have to run back to America- where quite frankly- they have most of the qualified manpower they need. We now have the opportunity to make our country a good one, free from war, a place with electricity and running water, good roads, hospitals, schools. Now we have the chance to leave a legacy and contribute to the younger people’s welfare, younger people who have known nothing but war---- and we are fighting over jeeps?

The United States Embassy:

Well done, Mr. Ambassador. Well done. I am suggesting that the Europeans, Asians, Africans and other diplomats make similar pronouncements. Then, our legislators will only have the pot-hole roads in Liberia to ride their jeep Cherokees- no escape.

I know Diplomats don’t “melt” in the affairs of other countries, especially their host country. But these are not normal times. The United States has helped us- although I personally would have liked more help- especially in 1990, when they had a shipload of marines off the coast of Liberia, why Monrovia burned. In any case, George Bush’s, “Taylor got to go”, was all it took for the bandit to leave. Taylor was vacillating for weeks about going or not going – waiting for October, until Bush made that famous statement- with a whimsical smile.

This is the same sovereignty banner we used and kill each other up for better than 12 years. We used it to water-down the international team that is to help us regulate our affairs. You talk of sovereignty when you have not had running water for 15 years in Monrovia- or the money to pay salaries for years? Isn’t it the same friends- United States- and the international community – that stopped the war, facilitated the elections, brought in the unprecedented number of UN peace keepers, arranged a donor’s conference, raised money- some of which was used directly or indirectly to purchase those jeeps? In fact, I will be more than happy if Baba Obasanjo were to chastise the interim legislators strongly. After all Obasanjo- with all his flaws- more than any other African leader, expended enormous resources to the benefit of Liberia- consistently.

Note: I am not jealous of your jeeps. I own two myself. One 6 months old, the other 2 years old. One slightly more expensive than the Cherokee, the other cheaper- and mine will not depreciate- accounting-wise or physically- that fast- because of good roads. Just do the right thing.

About the Author: Wellington Nyema-Toe Newton, MBA, CMA, CPA, is a former Assist. Professor of Accounting, UL, and served as controller for NHA ,LPMC and NARDA. He presently resides in the Washington, DC area and is Chief of Finance & Accounting of a non-profit organization helping disadvantaged youths find employment. Email: or