The Senate's Inquisition
By Tom Kamara
February 26, 2001
Old habits die hard. The personality cult, the obsession with simplicity, the knack for all things venal which propelled the bloody coup of 1980, have been elevated to higher heights, bringing fresh memories to those years of ineptitude when a greedy oligarchy stamped its imprints of poverty and stupidity on Africa's so-called oldest republic.
The values of Tubman era, centered on theft and plunder by the few with "generosity" to underlings, are back, but only this time to compete with mounting poverty and rising, explosive disenchantment. Now, what Liberians call a Senate has turned on one of its own for denouncing the escalating plunder and for exercising free speech in a body that ought to ensure free speech.
This, in itself, is far from surprising, if only we look at the quality of individuals in what Liberians call a senate. Taylor's Senate President, Kekura Kpoto, is a man who made his money, as chair of the junta's political party, collecting money from those capable of paying for ministerial and other state appointments after the 1985 bogus election he helped rig. From then onwards, as Doe's point man, he collected goods from several state entities and simply sold them for himself, forcing Samuel Doe to threaten him with imprisonment if he failed to refund the hundreds of thousands owed oil, produce companies, etc. Another means of stealing was collecting Liberian dollars and dumping them at the National Bank of Liberia where one of his appointees would exchange them on one to one basis, even if the exchange rate was two to one. Senator Tom Woewiyu was Taylor's partner in selling non-existent goods to the junta via their New Jersey-based "company". Those who questioned such armed robbery were condemned as Communists", just as Taylor now condemned students at the University of Liberia as "Marxists Leninists" because they question the depletion of their forests. The background of such Senate luminary as Myrtle Gibson is hardly known, except hat she was in every "company" during the war, finally landing an NGO contract from one of her UN "contacts" to "cater" for children. Many other senators and representatives are "veterans" of the "Great Patriotic War", meaning they butchered women and children, looted personal properties, etc.
These are the senators threatening to impeach another senator because he has violated the oath of "omerta", the Mafia oath of silence in a government with all the trappings of the Mafia. This onslaught on values of probity and accountability, for which Liberians were told the war was launched only to be burdened with the selfishness and cruelty of the past, is instigated by familiar names in the cheering squad Senate- Evelyn Diggs Townsend, Grace B. Minor, Willie Regland , to name a few. These names, patriarchs of the oligarchy of yesteryears, want to hang a man for saying what every one knows-that the country is a bastion of theft and plunder with no hope of reconstruction, only the crude recreation of the past in which names and relations meant privileges at the expense of the country. Those who continue to desecrate Samuel Doe's name for corruption and abuses must in fairness seek repentance, for he has been redeemed.
Townsend, wife of one of Liberia's past Americo-Liberian (descendents of freed slaves who settled in this part of Africa in 1822) political heavyweights now member of Taylor National Patriotic Party, and Grace Minor a rebel operative whose rise to fame is that she served as secretary to Taylor when he served as purchasing chief for the military junta and looted government coffers, want to hang Senate's Majority Leader Abel Momolu Massaley because he says government appointees are spending 24 hours around the clock stealing to enrich themselves, and that a presidential inquiry was needed to halt the looting. Massaley restricted his criticism to Government ministers minus the President, their chief of general staff in theft and plunder. By doing so, he perhaps thought he could escape the wrath of his friends in the ceremonial body. No, not so. In the Mafia, disobeying "omerta" is a cardinal sin deserving death, and the senators want nothing but an inquisition as deterrence against violating the oath of silence. The inquisitors are smarter, for they are convinced that without moving quickly to silence men like Massaley, their chief of general staff and Don would be next in exposure. An inquiry, if independent, would reveal that no government official acts independent of the Godfather. All roads lead to Don Taylor. He approves all transactions. All payments above certain amounts are made to him. This is why Maryland County Senator, Willie Regland, described Massaley's claims as "crucial and explosive," warning that the matter needs to be "handled exclusively".
And if the performance of the "Opposition" in this lapdog senate is any measure of its quality, then Liberia as a lost country will be difficult to rediscover. Unity Party Senator Baryogar Junius, expected to checkmate the government even if the President's stooges have to dance to his music of doom, is at the fore front of the Inquisition, in fact the chief inquisitor. He has vowed to personally pursue legal action against Massaley. But Massaley found an unlikely ally, a Taylor fanatic Thomas Nimely (who has asked the American ambassador to pack his bag for bringing in drums of money for the government) , who warned that "the lawmaker might have some evidence to provide the Senate" from his reading of newspapers and that the Senate must be careful how to handle the matter
So they want to impeach a man who, theoretically, was elected by the people. But in fairness to the Taylor cheering squad in the rubberstamp Senate, their chief had long ago informed them that they were at his behest, and that he had the right to kick any one of them out. A man who constantly boasts "I am good on my word", vowing to chase opponents "in their mothers' wombs", he wasted no time in making an example of the President of the Senate, Charles Brumskine. The man fled at midnight after the ATU(Anti-Terrorist Unit) visited him because he called for an inquiry into claims that the President was stealing Sierra Leone's diamonds and amputating children limbs for them.
On the other hand, Massaley, next in the Inquisition, is being accused of disgracing the Senate and asked to provide evidence of his claims that Taylor's loyalists spend 24 hours carving out means to loot the country. But what other evidence could Massaley possibly provide other than that from the Ministry of Finance which announced this week that government officials and their families were not paying taxes to the state? The Ministry said security officers loyal to the President were clearing goods for so-called businessmen who pay taxes directly to the ATU and not to the state. So why would individuals who call themselves senators not open an inquiry into such reports by the Ministry of Finance and are instead lining-up to lynch and hang the messenger?
The fact of the matter is that these old oligarchs in the thing they call Senate, interested in politics because of the theft opportunities it provides, are aware of the unprecedented looting spearheaded by the President. But to begin an inquiry as Massaley suggested is to entrap themselves since they are among those spending 24-hour looting and plundering this little country with no schools water, light, hospitals, etc.
Taylor recently complained that, "If your house does not sell you, the street cannot buy you." True, because a decent house, risking its reputation, cannot sell a rotten item to outsiders. Several local and international organizations have concretely documented the cycle of theft institutionalised in Liberia and now extended to Sierra Leone's diamond fields. The human rights organization Liberia Watch for Human Rights, in a recent statement, said the personalization of resources has led to spiralling poverty. Students at the University of Liberia are decrying the unmatched misuse of resources as they lack basic facilities such as a functioning library while their forests disappear into living rooms of France (which imports 37% of Liberia timber) and other countries. Journalists are thrown in jail on laughable charge of espionage, "selling military secrets to a foreign power" because they revealed that President's lie that he is not siphoning money from state on pathetically useless items such as greetings cards costing US$23,000 and the repair of a dubious helicopter for $50,000. The UN Panel of Experts report pointed out that Taylor and his "Inner Circle" was engaged in illegal economic activities not only within Liberia, but within the sub region and beyond:
"President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fuelling the violence in Sierra Leone. He and a small coterie of officials and private businessmen around him are in control of a covert sanctions-busting apparatus that includes international criminal activity and the arming of the RUF in Sierra Leone. Over the years - before President Taylor's inauguration and after - this group has contracted foreign businessmen for the financing, sourcing or facilitating of these covert operations," the Panel of Experts reported.
For those who continuously mourn the coup of 1980, they must begin, now, to administer the needed medicine in order to avoid the recurrence of 1980. All the habits, attitudes and cruelties have returned to make Samuel Doe look indeed like a redeemer who led the People's Redemption Council. Few ill complain if another redemption comes.