Old Wine In New Bottles: $1.2 Million Dollars For Taylor & Urey
(LDF Commentary)

July/Sept 1997

Like most Liberians, we at the Liberian Democratic Future - publisher of The Perspective, had hoped for Liberia's new president to have been someone other than a ruthless former warlord. But like most people, we were surprised by the result of the recent elections which brought Mr. Taylor to power. Now our fear and apprehension are becoming a bitter reality. From the way events are unfolding in Liberia, it appears our ugly past which we thought would have become history is surging and it seems like old wine in new bottle, and corrupt business as usual.

The question that is paramount on most people's mind is: Will Taylor make good on his promises? The answer to this tantalizing question is now emerging. And from all indications, a pattern is being established - a disturbing pattern nevertheless. You be the judge.

On August 14, 1997, twelve days after Mr. Taylor was inaugurated president, he issued Executive Order #1 to the president of the International Trust Company (ITC), a U. S. based corporation that manages the Liberian shipping registry. Based on this order, the president of ITC was instructed to place 10% of the Maritime revenues into the personal account of Mr. Benoni Urey, Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs. This was a classified information never intended for the public. As a result, Mr. Urey did not refer to it when he outlined his bureau's plans before the legislature.

According to reliable sources, Mr. Urey is "not the brightest of Taylor's die-hard loyalists, (but) he is very close to Mr. Taylor and works pretty fast." Ten percent of the Maritime fund amounts to $1.2 million (U. S.) annually. Our sources further noted "It is not a good signal of how the government intends to conduct its fiscal affairs."

It is reported that President Taylor was not pleased when certain foreign officials cautioned that "the Maritime Bureau needed to keep in mind that the success of the registry depended on Liberia's ability to keep its customers - the ship owners happy. Open criticism of ITC by the bureau and its efforts to strip ITC of responsibility for providing related services were causing concern."

In addressing this concern, Mr. Taylor said "the issue was more complicated than that. The Maritime program was originally set up as a security arrangement that would serve both governments' interests. The president of ITC parent company had set himself between the two governments and was the source of all friction. There should be no question about who's the boss," Mr. Taylor emphasized.

Throughout his discussion with foreign officials, President Taylor shrewdly avoided the 10% set aside he had ordered ITC to place in Benoni Urey's personal account at "a reputable bank." Instead, he shifted the issue to some audit that ITC refused to conduct.

This reminds us of the argument advanced in the May 1996 edition of Current History (A Journal of Contemporary World Affairs) by William Reno. In the article entitled "The Business of War in Liberia," Reno stated that the key to sustaining the Liberian civil wasr has been Taylor's skill at controlling and cultivating sources of foreign exchange; this has allowed him to arm his soldiers and conquer areas with easily exploitable resources. Taylor first turned to foreign firms with operations in Liberia. The advantage of this strategy was that it freed him from reliance on bureaucracies. As a wayward client of the former president (Doe) Taylor recognized that bureaucracies are especially dangerous, since enterprising directors can use them to build their own power bases."

This argument explains Taylor's action in transferring a slice of the pie to his confidant's personal account. Remember the bureau for the eradication of corruption? Rampant corruption? The more things change, the more they remain the same. In Liberia, it's old wine in new bottle!.