Who is Counselor Charles W. Brumskine?

By Jah B. Fahnbulleh

The Perspective

October 18, 2001

In a submission to The Perspective [Is Brumskine the Right Presidential Material Liberia Needs?], Counselor Mohamedu F. Jones took Counselor Charles W. Brumskine to task on the ideal characteristics of an individual seeking the presidency of Liberia. In this presentation, Counselor Jones raised some fundamental questions about history, character, temperament and judgment of Counselor Brumskine. I thought it expedient to address some of the issues raised by Counselor Jones.

The answer to his fundamental question is an unequivocal and a resounding, yes! I believe that at the end of the day, the people of Liberia will provide the ultimate verdict as to who is ready to lead them. But for purposes of the record, I will show, based on evidence, that Counselor Charles W. Brumskine has built a record of service, personal struggle and humility that Liberians can be proud of. The test here is not that he is a perfect person (as no one will ever be), but that given the current situation in which we find our country, he possesses the requisite credentials and personal integrity to lead Liberia.

Let’s consider Counselor Jones’ premise that Counselor Brumskine is running for president of Liberia. This is a premature and presumptuous proposition. What is actually true is that Counselor Brumskine is putting in place a process to explore his future leadership role in Liberian politics. At the end of this process, he will make a determination as to which role he will play and/or if he will run for president. Counselor Brumskine notes Counselor Jones’ preamble about his intelligence, education and success, and his likeness and respect for him. It now leaves the readers to wonder as to why his questions were not directly addressed to Counselor Brumskine. Counselor Brumskine would have loved to engage in this discourse with his "friend and brother lawyer." Instead, Counselor Jones circular came to his attention only because it was forwarded by one of Counselor Jones' direct recipients.

As he proceeded with his challenge of Counselor Brumskine’s capability of becoming president, he referred to a statement of reaching out to Liberians at home, that Counselor Brumskine made in a recent speech in Washington, D.C. Sure, anyone can call for solidarity with the homeland but few Liberians can say it with the kind of intestinal fortitude, passion, commitment to service and personal reflection Counselor Brumskine possesses. After all, it was Counselor Brumskine who opted to make the sacrificial service to his country while men of equal qualification and competence chose the comfort of the United States.

In a number of broad subjects, Counselor Jones urged Counselor Brumskine to prove that he has the characteristics mentioned. Counselor Brumskine welcomes his thoughtfulness in raising the points and all attempts will be made to address not just Counselor Jones’ questions, but all those posed to him from time to time by Liberians who are truly interested in a viable political alternative in Liberia.

On the issue of Counselor Brumskine and his relationship with President Taylor, Counselor Jones’ observation or allegation could not be further from the truth. It strikes one more as an attempt to engage in the politics of personal destruction, to which Liberians typically engage as a form of "sport"- a display of the "Crab syndrome." The records, however, show that Counselor Brumskine was never a part of the NPFL and he never lived in Gbarnga or Buchanan when Mr. Taylor was in total control of those areas. While those may be feast for fodder, they just simply are not true.

Counselor Brumskine associated with the NPP at a time when most Liberians and Liberian politicians were aligning themselves with one party or another. Like many Liberians, he wanted an end to the war and felt he could help bring about a process that could turn warlords into statesmen.

His "break" with President Taylor came as a result of the legislative record he amassed and his attempt to position the "first" branch of government as a separate and equal branch of government. He was the first to call for an investigation of the Sierra Leone war, even before it was popular for the international community to do so (see Brumskine remarks on the floor of the Liberian Senate February 2, 1999). His attempt to be an independent legislator raised the ire of his party and his party leader, the President of Liberia. Under Counselor Brumskine’s leadership, the Liberian Senate, for the first time in many years, exerted its constitutional role, receiving local and international acclaim. This was evident by the support he received from Liberians at home, and his selection by the National Democratic Institute (Washington, D.C.) and The Carter Center (Atlanta, Georgia) to serve on a delegation headed by President Jimmy Carter to observe the Nigerian elections in 1999. He sponsored legislations that increased the number of small-scale businesses with greater access for Liberian citizens. In his capacity as senator from Grand Bassa County, Counselor Brumskine mounted stiff legislative opposition to the sale of land to non-Liberians prior to the enactment of land reform legislation that would grant title deed to Liberians who have lived on public land for generations, without the right of ownership. He opposed the president's grant of monopoly rights to certain businesses and blocked the passage of legislation that would have prevented Liberians from suing financial institutions to recover their pre-war bank deposits. Counselor Brumskine also established Senate Committees to investigate allegations of President Taylor's involvement in Sierra Leone's rebel war.

Mindful of his role as leader of the Liberian Senate and his fight to keep the Senate independent based on the concept of three separate and independent branches of government, it would have been political and personal hypocrisy for Counselor Brumskine to declare the guilt or innocence of Liberian citizens who were being tried before the judiciary. He, however, constantly worked and advocated that all Liberians should be treated fairly under the law.

Counselor Brumskine established a non-governmental guarantee fund (out of his personal resources) for micro credit in 1997 as a means of alleviating poverty among indigenous traders, mainly women, in Liberia. This facility helped create an access to trade credit from importers, which would have ordinarily been difficult, if not impossible to secure. Trade credit was extended on the strength of the guarantee to indemnify importers in the event of default. The default rate was as low as 2 percent, but unfortunately, the program was discontinued after Counselor Brumskine left Liberia.

Counselor Brumskine established two charities (out of his personal resources) that awarded scholarships to Liberian students and scholars. The Student Service Corp, which he established, provided college scholarships for students who committed themselves to return to their villages during school holidays to conduct summer schools. The scholarship program was intended to accomplish two objectives: provide financial assistance for deserving students and also create a sense of civic awareness among young Liberians. Even in exile, he has remained committed to Liberia's future by continuing the scholarship programs for indigent and other deserving students.

Counselor Jones raised the issue of Counselor Brumskine’s professional relationship with Gus Kouvenhowen, a foreign businessman who has been living and operating businesses in Liberia for a long time. As Counselor Jones knows, lawyers represent people of varying backgrounds every day. A lawyer relationship with his client is governed by certain rules of ethics, which Counselor Brumskine has scrupulously adhered to. For example, a lawyer should not assist a client to commit crimes or assist a client in concealing the commission of those crimes. His law office in Monrovia was closed in 1999, when he left Liberia. Since then he has had no attorney-client relationship with anyone in Liberia, including Mr. Kouwenhoven. Certainly, he was not representing Mr. Kouvenhowen at the time he was placed on the UN sanctions list.

Counselor Brumskine has never used "his power" to the disadvantage of other lawyers and Liberian business people. I urge Counselor Jones to provide the name of one, not five or ten, but a single client whom Cllr. Brumskine took from another lawyer (the name of the client and the lawyer) while he was a member of the Liberian Senate.

With regard to Liberian business persons, Counselor Brumskine spent his entire tenure in the Liberian Senate fighting for Liberian businesses. His commitment was evident by the Liberianization Act, which was passed into law, the Public Purchase Bill, giving preference to Liberians for sale to government, which he introduced on the floor of the Liberian Senate, his fight with the Administration to allow Liberian businesses to import rice in the country, and undertakings from his personal resources to assist Liberians to succeed in commerce, as indicated above.

Counselor Brumskine considers Mr. David Vinton a personal friend, and he is unaware of Mr. Vinton ever being involved in the logging (forest) business. In any case, Counselor Brumskine denies taking business from any Liberian - his fight was to give business to Liberians. A simple phone call or email to David Vinton would have set the record straight, if that were the intention of Counselor Jones.

Counselor Jones also questioned Counselor Brumskine’s legislator-lawyer role. We must avoid the pitfall of expecting Liberian democracy to be like that of the current day United States Federal Congress, without fully understanding its historical context. Counselor Brumskine's view has always been opposed to restricting legislators who are lawyers from maintaining law practices for two main reasons: 1) If a legislator cannot earn meaningful income, they surrender their independence to the executive branch of government who now controls the purse string, contrary to our Constitution. Even the United States, to which Counselor Jones referred, had "citizen legislators" in its early days. These are people who serve time in the legislature and returned home to their businesses and line of work. There can be adequate safeguards to avoid conflicts. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson and many of the great American patriots were citizen legislators. 2) This system prevents honest citizens from seeking service in the legislature. It also presents opportunity for abuse, as the system begins to outlaw certain professions from becoming legislators.

Further, the laws of Liberia do not prohibit lawyers who are members of the Legislature from practicing law. Notwithstanding, Senator Brumskine imposed upon himself the restriction of not appearing before any court while he was in the Liberian Senate. He lifted his self-imposed restriction only once in the nineteen months that he served in the Senate. That was at the request of the City of Monrovia to defend the constitutionality of its City Ordinance, banning the opening of the market place on Sunday. He did this on a pro bono basis. That is the kind of integrity that Liberia needs in public service, not institutionalized restrictions that will further weaken the first branch of government and make it difficult for democracy to work in Liberia.

Equally important, Cllr. Brumskine would like to see doctors, engineers, and other professionals in the legislature, who may also practice their profession. Most of the State Legislatures in the United States allow some variation of dual employment. (Counselor Brumskine discussed this and other issues in detail in a paper he presented to the Liberian Studies Association on March 30, 2000. The paper entitled, "The remaking of Liberia Under The Rule of Law" will be emailed to you upon request.)

On the question of Counselor Brumskine’s temperament, I would like for Cllr. Jones to kindly provide an example or examples. What did he do at the law school while he served as assistant professor of law that causes his temperament to be "questioned?" Was it insisting that students be on time for classes, be prepared for classes, or as future lawyers, treat each other with candor and respect? Anyone who knows Counselor Brumskine or who has ever known him would not say that he is temperamental. That is just not Charles Brumskine. He exudes and exhibits thoughtful deliberation, humility, and candor. That is the Charles Brumskine that Counselor Jones admits to respecting.

While Counselor Brumskine acknowledges and accepts the challenge of Counselor Jones to continue to provide full disclosure, Counselor Jones himself must be challenged to help elevate the debate. Accusations and questions founded in "rumors" and deliberate lies, innuendos and "stories" are not the kind of discourse that will lead to the discovery by the Liberian people of who can best be president at this time. It only leads down the road of personal destruction, which will not build a single road in Liberia, educate one child, rehabilitate one child soldier, or provide adequate health care for all.

Jah B. Fahnbulleh is an Advisor to Charles Walker Brumskine

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