Excuse Me, Commissioner – It’s The "People’s Money"!

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

November 9, 2001

In one of the most ridiculous and arrogant remarks made by a senior government official anywhere in recent times, the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) has quoted the Liberian Maritime Chief as saying that: "It is our right to decide what we do with our money."

Apparently struggling to defend his beleaguered bureau’s arbitrary transfer of almost a million dollars of the war-wrecked country’s maritime funds on at least four different occasions to "private accounts", Mr. Benoni Urey, the long-time Commissioner further said: "They [UN] cannot tell us that they would take the money of the Government of Liberia and put it in an [escrow] account controlled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)."

But if his "our" or "we" is in reference to the present government that was supposedly "elected democratically", then it is obvious that the money in question as well as all other revenues belong rightfully to the "suffering" Liberian people as opposed to the small clique of corrupt officials controlling it. And if the Liberian people are suffering because of the sanction regime imposed on the Taylor government, then it only makes common sense to use such funds to alleviate their plight instead of using the money to clandestinely buy arms for the ruthless so-called Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.

That’s why it’s so vexing to hear the "blind" supporters of the morally bankrupt National Patriotic Party (NPP) government blame the continuous sufferings of the Liberian people on the UN imposed sanctions instead of the "bad behavior and policies" of the law-breaking Taylor regime.

And it’s so sad that everyone else clearly understands why the sanctions and embargos were placed on Liberia - Mr. Taylor’s direct involvement with the limb-chopping RUF - except a few of the NPP government’s diehard supporters. And the longer they remain in denial, the worst the situation could probably become for them and the entire country. Can’t they get it?

As Mr. James Cunningham, the United States’ Deputy [UN] Ambassador observed in a recent article in the Washington Post: "[the] hardships facing Liberians [are] not a result of sanctions but years of war and the policies of [the] Taylor’s government." He also praised the experts’ report on Liberia. I might add, it now seems that the brutal and savage Liberian civil war that has completely devastated the country and brought untold "sufferings" on the people there was all about "Ghankay" becoming President of Liberia, not necessarily to improve the lives of the nation’s downtrodden people as we are now seeing.

But the UN didn’t put sanctions and embargos on Liberia because of the Taylor government’s well-known "misrule" of the country and countless incidences of gross human rights abuses. It imposed sanctions on the regime in Monrovia as a way of telling the government there, NO, you just can’t go on doing business as usual with the RUF and destabilize Sierra Leone, a demand that the Taylor administration has always taken for granted.

Let’s say, for example, that when the Liberian government, through its Bureau of Maritime Affairs, requests the Liberia International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR) to transfer portions of the war-ravaged country’s shipping revenues to "private accounts" to be used subsequently to buy arms intended for the dreaded RUF or even Taylor himself, isn’t that a clear violation of the UN’s sanctions? There’s no doubt about it!

The disturbing thing about this entire picture, though, is that the Liberian government continues to break the sanctions and embargos simply because they know that the UN would definitely do nothing about it – plain as that. And so far, the Taylor government seems to be succeeding in telling the people at home that it is the sanctions that are causing them to suffer, not the NPP government’s stubborn behavior and strong determination to maintain close ties with their brutal "blood" allies (the fearful RUF hoodlums) in Sierra Leone.

Again, the fact remains that if the UN really wants the sanctions to be effective, then it has to immediately put into place some kind of "enforcement mechanism" as it has been suggested on several other occasions. That’s the surest way to prevent the Taylor government from getting away with violating the UN imposed sanction regime.

Equally so, what the "lack" of enforcement does, especially in dealing with the "crooked" NPP government, is to send the wrong signal as well as make a mockery of the whole concept of sanctions.

Besides violating the UN arms embargo and on another key issue, it is highly inappropriate for the government (no matter which - Taylor’s, LURD’s, etc.), to arbitrarily divert a portion of the "people’s money" [maritime funds in this case] from a "public account" to a "private" one. That’s simply a NO, NO because it’s not fiscally sound and furthermore, it’s prune to corruption. In fact, the current Liberian Constitution tells the government exactly how the country’s revenues should be spend (Article 34). And so, there’s absolutely no need to be innovative here! That’s why I would seriously encourage President Taylor’s "blind" supporters to begin to not only read, but also study the Liberian Constitution in the national interests so that true democracy can come quickly to our country.

When Mr. Urey says that his bureau’s activities are "completely transparent", I wonder what he really means. Does he actually mean that the "suffering" Liberian people know and approve of the manner in which their maritime money is presently being spend? Or, does he mean that the Liberian Legislature approved these transactions after open public debates? His comments surely raise more questions than answers, I’m afraid! Because it doesn’t make any sense at all for them [Liberian people] to use "their money" to purchase arms instead of food and other basic necessities, and then turn right around and scream out to the world for help.

On the other hand, if they choose to support the NPP government in "squandering" their money, then they need not look any where else for help, but just sit there and allow President Taylor and company to continue "plundering" their coffers. In the end, they can rest assure that they’ll still be out there "suffering" while the likes of Mr. Urey benefit themselves financially in any and every way possible. But I hope that I’m wrong about this!

Commenting further on the latest UN experts’ report which states, among other things, that funds from Liberia’s maritime program is being used to finance gun-running in the West African sub-region, the Commissioner also left the impression that all Liberians, including the country’s so-called opposition, are "comfortable" with the way his bureau is handling (mishandling) money generated from the shipping industry. Although they may be "comfortable", but frankly I’m not.

Contrary to his statement, I sincerely believe that all the dying nation’s income (revenues) should "wisely" be used to ease the Liberian people’s sufferings so that they won’t depend thoroughly on others to do for them what they can do for themselves. There’s no doubt that many Liberians do need help, but the primary responsibility for their well being rests entirely with the NPP administration. In any case, the Taylor government should not be let off the hook so easily once again for defiantly violating the UN sanctions and embargos.

Therefore, the best way for the UN to balance between enforcing the exiting sanctions regime on the present government and at the same time provide humanitarian assistance to the "suffering" Liberian people is to use whatever funds it can find (whether its from maritime, logging, etc.) to respond "directly" to their (people) basic needs without hindrance. The UN could also save itself a lot of money in the process since Liberians would be using "their own money" to meet their basic needs.

I mean, if Liberians are suffering as much as the Taylor camp is suggesting, then it only makes "good governance" for the "people’s money" to be used to help them instead of buying arms or lining someone else’s pocket.

More significantly, the bottom line is this: If the UN really is serious about making the sanctions stick on the Taylor regime, then it has to put into place, almost immediately, a means by which they (sanctions) can be strictly monitored and/or enforced. Otherwise, let’s just call it the day and allow the Taylor government to continue to make a "laughing stock" of the UN.

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