Dr. J. Chris Toe: Serving As A Minister Of Liberia And Receiving Pay From Private Clients; Is There An Issue Of Conflict Of Interest?
By J. Yanqui Zaza
By definition, a conflict of interest is a situation in which someone in a position of trust, i.e. a minister, or an executive, has competing professional or personal interests. Such competing interests can make it impossible for such a person to exercise his/her duties impartially.
Are private clients of the Minister of Agriculture doing businesses with the Liberian government? If yes, is Dr. Toe protecting Liberia’s interest or serving the interest of his moonlighting clients? Does his proximity to the President of Liberia increase his business revenue? Was conflict of interest not part of the reasons why Liberia has collapsed in the first place? Civil war engulfed Liberia because the nation-state had little money to provide quality education, effective transportation, accessible health care, affordable housing, etc since many of its officials were busy colluding with private clients against her interest. Our law-makers were also lawyers for companies, ministers were business partners, and others were consultants.
Even if Dr. Toe says that his private clients are not doing business with the government (which I will find difficult to believe), the appearance of impropriety is there which can undermine confidence in his ability to act appropriately in carrying out his responsibility as the Minister of Agriculture. I don’t believe that the country after going thru 14 years of mayhem will settle for a part-time Minister of agriculture. So sir, it is not reassuring. You have two competing interest and when such a situation exists, as is in this case, efficiency becomes secondary. Dr. Toe’s statement, “… stay up until 2 am in writing a paper, serving as consultant for some organization in America or somewhere else…. I do that basically because I am a professional person…” is a classical example of a conflict of interest statement that be evaluated by the government of Liberia.
Did President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s special salary arrangement for few advisors encourage Minister Toe, and maybe other officials, to fetch for extra cash? Does Minister Toe see no issue of economic injustice in the idea of her boss firing $20.00 per employees, while paying $10,000.00 per month to privileged advisors? Or should Dr. Toe call on his boss, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to follow the idea of transparency and accountability by releasing the list of the privileged ministers? Such an effort on his part would not only help to promote transparency and exonerate him, but would also be aiding the Sirleaf Government to practice fairness.
I agree that if we are to create an environment where fairness is not limited, some former officials of government should be encouraged to voluntarily disclose properties owned and services received and the source of financing them. It might appear to be a difficult task such as documenting income, but comparing estimated costs of properties and services to the total combined of inherited funds and earnings is not impossible. The government could help by providing certain data and simple logic. For example, defining the value of money and explaining behavioral pattern would be helpful. It is said that money can not be kept in the dark, it is spent on properties, services, entertainment, etc or it is saved. Behaviorally, people rarely change, and those with high taste for good life are easily gullible to corruption.
Dr. Chris Toe knows I am not corrupt and he knows where to get information if he had doubt, but he chose not to. Perhaps, had Dr. Chris Toe reviewed the Audit findings of the Bureau of Reacquisition he might have changed his views about me. I was under the chairmanship of General Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, who approved all major decisions such as signing checks. And I do not think any illegal transactions and, or misappropriation of funds would have gone unnoticed because President Samuel K. Doe and General Quiwonkpa were at loggerhead at the time of the audit.
Or had Dr. Toe read comments about me in an article carried in 2007 by the Analyst on reacquired properties, he would not have stated what appeared in the FrontPage interview. Or had Dr. Toe ask a simple question he would have realized that the government turned all properties over to the rightful owners in 1984, making it illegal or impossible for some former officials to change “… people’s properties and turned them to personal properties?...” Or Dr. Toe could have asked about my honesty demonstrated in serving in different capacities within many Liberian organizations in the U.S.
Did I hide some funds from the Audit Team to purchase a home, other properties, or live an opulent lifestyle? No. Both at home and abroad, the only house I ever owned was one donated by my late uncle, Chief Oldman Zaza of Fessibu Town, Lofa County. May his soul rest in peace. Did I run away from prosecution as Dr. Toe inferred in his statement? No. I asked and got permission from President Doe to emigrate to the U.S. for advanced study in July of 1982. In fact the government financed my education and living expenses from 1983 through May 1984. The first check covering my living expenses and school fees was deposited in a friend’s checking account. After completing my studies I got employment with the City of New York as a tax auditor on August 21, 1984.
In my public life, I have sough for fairness. As President of the University Varsity Sports, I asked and used the gate-intakes from the games and compensated all players, excluding officers as well as officer-players, including me. At the Ministry of Finance of Liberia in 1978, I along with newly recruited accountants recommended that payment vouchers processing should be based on first come first serve basis to eliminate the motives for giving kickbacks. While performing as the General Auditor at the Commerce Ministry in 1979, I disclosed ghost names and identified reasons on how and why government paid for the same items more than once.
On one of my appearances on television in Liberia in 1982, I informed the public that officials were not doing enough to vacate infantrymen from reacquired homes because they themselves were illegally occupying the homes. Unlike many officials, I did not use any of the properties such as homes, with the exception of a vehicle since the government was obligated to provide transportation.
The same idea of fairness has encouraged me not to fetch for extra cash during the tax season. As a New York State Licensed CPA, I have gained enough experience at New York City within the 22 years to make good money during tax season. However, unlike others, I do not because I would be violating the spirit and intent of the rule governing conflict of interest. And back in 1986 and 1987, instead of making money, I taught Liberians residing in Newark, New Jersey on how to prepare simple tax returns.
So, Dr. Toe if you intend to follow my recommendation you should explain how you built a house within a short period when you worked at Liberian Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC). Sir, please do not trace the funds for your home to earnings from consultancy without documentations, including business registration and tax payments for your salary and business income.
As a consultant serving private clients and a minister advising President Sirleaf, IS DR. TOE SACRIFICING FOR LIBERIA OR MAKING MORE MONEY? Most importantly, should President Sirleaf propose some guidelines, if there is none? If the government has effective CODE OF ETHICS, THEN SHE SHOULD ENFORCE IT.