Busting Sanctions With "Impunity" And "Defiance"

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

October 30, 2001

"Security Council, Please Heed The Pleas Of Liberia And Kofi Annan", screamed a recent Liberian government "editorial" headline. "UN: This Is Our Plea", read yet another.

One editorial said: "Liberia certainly wants to continue to be a disciplined member of the U.N. She obeyed the marching orders coming from that end without any kind of defiance. The government’s defense against accusations which led to the sanctions was clear, and never contested by any concrete proof of guilt. But in the spirit of loyalty to the discipline of international organizations to which we are committed, Liberia took the sanctions on its shoulders with the equanimity of a camel."

In addition, some people, including Liberians, have been vehemently critical of the United Nations (UN) sanctions regime that was imposed on the country last May as punishment for President Taylor’s "direct" involvement in destabilizing neighboring Sierra Leone [and even the entire Mano River Union (MRU) basin]. And naturally, being the National Patriotic Party (NPP) government’s longtime "blind" supporters, they have been calling on the world body to hastily lift the sanctions in order to, what they claim, "relieve" the ordinary Liberian people of their "suffering".

Well, unfortunately for them and the Taylor government, all of their combined efforts have turned out to be nothing more than "mere" government propaganda designed cleverly to make it seem like the Monrovia regime is actually "complying" with the UN sanctions and travel ban imposed on it for "meddling" in the internal affairs of Sierra Leone.

But the "relatively new" revelation that the "pariah" NPP government has "defiantly" used some of the severely bankrupt country’s maritime revenue (income) to purchase arms should not be a surprise to anyone. From day one, this government (Taylor’s) has been "deceiving" its own people and then the international community, which it relies "heavily" on for help and support. And to think that the NPP government would change now and live up to its commitments and "words" is to only fool oneself.

"With the United Nations’ embargo on Liberian diamonds impinging on revenues, the country’s ruling elite has turned to [Liberia’s] maritime registry to fund the war in neighboring Sierra Leone", the prestigious Financial Times reported on October 24.

Quoting a recent report by UN experts that was supposed to have been released last week, the Financial Times further said: "Upon requests from [the] maritime affairs commissioner [Benoni Urey], LISCR [Liberian International Shipping and Corporate Registry, a US-based company] made four money transfers to non-government accounts, at least two of which, worth Dollars 1m [one million dollars], were used to buy arms in violation of the UN’s embargo."

"LISCR should NOT have made those four payments to non-governmental accounts in 2000, the experts wrote in their report. The payments were contrary to their agreement with the Liberian government and showed a complete lack of due diligence", the Financial Times also said.

But what is most "troubling" or even "deeply disturbing" about the whole Liberian situation, is that people that are supposed to know better, apparently don’t. Because if President Taylor’s "diehard" supporters knew anything about "good governance" and the responsibilities of a "democratically elected" government, a term they use quite often to blindly defend the NPP, they certainly wouldn’t be blaming anybody, including the UN, for the continuing sufferings of the Liberian masses.

For those of us who know better, and obviously want to see the lives of ordinary Liberians improve drastically, we have no other choice but to hold President Taylor and his NPP government "fully responsible" for the Liberian people’s current sad plight and backwardness. Our reason is very simple and one surely does not have to be a "rocket scientist" to understand why, either!

First of all, the UN just didn’t get up on its own one-day and decide to impose sanctions on the "crooked" Taylor regime. As the matter of "record", various sanctions were imposed on the Taylor-led NPP government "only after" the UN had "carefully" collected "facts" on the ground in regard to Liberia’s support for its equally brutal allies, the evil-minded so-called Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels of Sierra Leone.

The result of the UN’s action against the Taylor government can now be seen as the "reasonable" level of peace and stability that Sierra Leone currently enjoys despite periodic threats from the savage RUF rebels. The fact that Sierra Leone has become relatively "stable" ONLY AFTER the sanctions were imposed "clearly" proves that President Taylor’s unflinching support for the rebels led to the "chaotic" situation that existed there prior to the embargo.

Moreover, there are very good reasons to believe that the NPP government is "still going to bed" with the ruthless RUF rebels in open defiance of the sanctions. But it certainly wouldn’t be too long before Secretary General, Kofi Annan and the UN realize that unless they put some sort of "enforcement mechanism" in place, the relationship between the NPP government and the RUF will continue unabated for a long time to come.

Another "troubling" and rather "very disturbing" aspect of the sanctions issue, is the illogical suggestion by some people, especially Taylor’s staunch supporters, that the lives of "ordinary Liberians" will be greatly improved if the sanctions and embargos were to be lifted today. I beg to strongly disagree!

Here is why. Long before the sanctions were imposed on Liberia, public servants were still not being paid (let’s forget about it being done "on time"). There were NO major road projects going on in the country "except" those that were meant to serve the so-called "elites" and their business interests. The country’s health sector was in a very poor state, "except" those entities that were catering basically to the rich or people who had the money to afford "private" medical care, among others.

Now, would any of this change if the sanctions and embargos were to be lifted? My answer is an emphatic NO, because from the actions of the NPP government, it does not appear like it wants to improve the lives of "suffering" Liberians. Because in order to do that, the incumbent government, that was "supposedly elected democratically", MUST have a "sound fiscal plan", something that it is evidently lacking right now.

It means that the government MUST also spend its "scarce" resources very "wisely" and be "honest" about which development projects it should pursue as a means of improving the people’s living standard. After all, that’s why it was "elected" or wasn’t it? I’m sure that Liberians did not vote for the NPP government just to plunder the nation’s coffers. It means too, that the government MUST be "fiscally responsible" and do all it possibly can to avoid "misusing [misappropriating]" the "people’s money". Because that’s really the only way that civil servants, who are already making tremendous sacrifices for their war-weary country, can be paid so as to enable them to care for their loved-ones. Because that’s the only way that the government can improve health, build schools, farm-to-market roads, and provide electricity, etc.

But what amazes me the most about people that are calling on the UN to lift sanctions on Liberia is that they are "dead" silent when it comes to questioning the Taylor government about what is happening to the crippled nation’s revenues from maritime and logging, to name a few industries that are "tightly" controlled by the President and his cronies ("kitchen cabinet).

Don’t they believe that it is "grossly inappropriate" for the "pariah" Taylor regime to have requested the LISCR to transfer maritime funds worth millions of American dollars into the "private" bank account of, say, Commissioner Urey [Benoni], funds that were said to have been used subsequently to buy arms intended for the RUF [or even Taylor himself]? Don’t they think that the "millions" should have been used, as good fiscal policies dictate, to alleviate the "pain and sufferings" of "ordinary" Liberians? Seriously, I personally don’t see any tangible reason that justifies the arbitrary transfer of the "people’s money" from a "government account" to a "private account" short of the "lack of fiscal discipline". The practice of transferring "public funds" to "private bank accounts" is highly "inappropriate" from all financial and accounting viewpoints.

That’s why the government can’t afford to pay its employees and that’s simply why the Liberian people are "suffering". Really! They are suffering because their money, which should be used on them, is being diverted to someone else’s pockets and surely not because of the UN sanctions as Taylor’s "patriotic" supporters want us to think.

In fact, many Liberians feel that these are the kinds of issues that the Legislature should be probing, instead of spending their valuable time jailing lawyers for acts that have no direct bearing on the people’s lives. Yet, it doesn’t mean that lawyers should disrespect the body outright, disregarding their professional "rules of ethics". Likewise, Liberian lawyers definitely can’t afford to waver from their "constitutional responsibility" to fight vigilantly for what they believe is "right and just".

That’s why it is of utmost importance that the ongoing rift between the Legislature and the National Bar Association be resolved in a timely and amicable manner. Because keeping Cllrs. Jones and Campbell "behind bars" (dungeons} for a protracted period of time without "due process" just doesn’t help the "ordinary" Liberian in any way but deny them their "constitutional right" to counsel.

Now that the matter has reached before the Supreme Court of Liberia, it is hoped that the justices there will do their part to "uphold" the Liberian Constitution. In this regard, Associate Justice M. Wilkins Wright, who initially presided over the case, was very correct when he said lately in his ruling as quoted by a local newspaper, the NEWS, that the matter has "grave constitutional implications" and that he could not single-handedly decide the case. But they should keep themselves above the fray and render their judgment based "entirely" on the law (constitution) and the "facts" on hand.

Regarding the "arbitrary" transfer of the Liberian "people’s funds" to Mr. Urey’s "personal" bank account as reported recently in several newspapers, we strongly support the experts’ recommendation that the: "Security council set up an escrow account for LISCR revenue to be audited by Liberia’s government and the International Monetary Fund." We would further suggest that such "escrow account" also be made available to "independent" Liberian Certified Public Accountants (CPA) who would want to ensure that the Liberian "people’s money" is used adequately to raise their "standard of living" instead of benefiting Mr. Taylor and his "small clique" of corrupt officials.

Lifting the sanctions alone, therefore, will not make life any better for "suffering" Liberians, unless the funds that’s being diverted to the "private accounts" of the likes of Mr. Urey and others are immediately redirected towards meeting the real needs of the people.

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