Pres Weah Curtails Public Policy Comments of His Govt Officials

Monrovia, Liberia –  In the wake of comments from allies and Government officials which have embarrassed the President and Government, the President is now moving to instill some control of the narrative of his officials, especially on issues of national concern.

President Weah Addresses the Lawmakers
President George M. Weah – File Photo

Late on Wednesday the Executive Mansion in Monrovia issued a press statement in which it said, “The President of Liberia, H.E. Dr. George Manneh Weah, has issued an Executive Memorandum directing all Ministers, Deputies and Assistant Ministers, and Heads of Agencies and Commissions, and their deputies to refrain from making public comments on policy issues of national concern on both conventional and social media without first seeking authorization from the appropriate authorities. The President’s Executive Memorandum, issued Wednesday, May 8, 2019 through the Director General of the Cabinet, Hon. Jordan Solunteh, also instructs all government Ministries and Agencies to direct their communications on public policy matters to the Minister of Information or his designee. The Memorandum further indicates that there would be grave consequences for any member of the Executive Branch of Government found in violation of the directive. The President therefore cautions all members of the Executive Branch to take heed and govern themselves accordingly…,” the statement concluded.

Earlier during the week, the U.S. Embassy chastised some Government officials and lawmakers over their public comments. “…It is unacceptable for Senator Prince Y. Johnson, Representative Yekeh Kolubah, “ex-generals” or other former actors in Liberia’s civil wars to incite unlawful acts through ill-considered rhetoric that could jeopardize Liberia’s hard-won peace and security. It is equally irresponsible for people within leadership positions in government or the ruling party to promote such division as Deputy Minister Eugene Fahngon has done on social media. To take such a public stance and suggest it is a private opinion or a personal right reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of public service in a democracy…,” the U.S. Embassy said.

The Chairman of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) Mulbah Morlu and Representative Kolubah have both welcomed the statement of the U.S. Embassy.

The Presidential directive does not cover the ruling CDC but observers say they expect the fiery rhetoric and accusations against the opposition of Chairman Morlu to be toned down.

Some observers say the action by the Liberian leader may have come following a closed door meeting with members of the Senate on Tuesday in which they made some suggestions to address the political tension in the country.

By Our Reporter

West African Journal Magazine

 

Liberia: Media Say President Must Keep Free Speech Pledge Real

Monrovia, Liberia: January 1, 2019  – After experiencing a difficult relationship with the George Weah’s government during the first year of his six-year mandate, Liberian journalists have unanimously agreed that inflammatory statements from several officials harm the President’s repeated pledge to support press freedom and free speech in the West African country.
Logo of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Campaigners for press freedom and free speech hailed Weah after pledging in his first inaugural speech last  January, to guarantee those basic tenets of democracy.
But his actions sooner than later went contrary to that pledge when Weah labeled government critics including journalists as “enemies  of the state.”
Weah’s charge went against journalists that reported plain constitutional breaches and probable corruption. 
Cabinet ministers failed to declare their assets on schedule in keeping with law while Weah himself reportedly declared his last July 26 after accountability campaigners coerced him.
His declaration, however, remains under seal and contravenes his pledge of government transparency.
Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, accused of shady financial deals, have joined the anti media chorus, vowing “to weaponize” (sic) supporters against critical journalists.  
As if these attacks against  the independent press and Mr. Tweah’s  sworn refusal to advertise in independent newspapers, all aimed to frustrate journalists, were not enough, the country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe dismissed the journalists umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia as “useless”.
Liberian Journalists At A Recent General Meeting – File Photo
In response to what Union executives call Nagbe’s “unethical comments,” they promptly suspended his traditional “honorary” membership after the Minister vowed not to apologize, saying that he would challenge the legality of his suspension in court.
Meanwhile, Liberia journalists experienced a “catch-22” scenario last Friday when President Weah, perhaps unaware of a previously scheduled PUL mass meeting, called Union members to disabuse their apprehension.
According to our correspondent in Monrovia, President Weah told the willing few who attended his meeting that “as a friend of the media I will always support press freedom… No journalists will go to jail during my administration.” But he warned that “journalists must always have their facts together and correct. “
As the bulk of Liberians is viewed as a gullible public that can quickly disown rights advocates and campaigners for justice and fair play, it would be unsurprising for media practitioners to sooner than later become cagey about their aggressive reportage.
Liberian Journalists Meeting President George Weah – File Photo
One media executive quoted long time multi party democracy rights advocate and politician the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews who warned decades ago about Liberians: “When you remove their roasted palm nuts safely from the fire, they hail you; but if your fingers get  burnt, they’ll say he looked for it.”
Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief, Africa
West African Journal Magazine

SPECIAL FEATURE: Attorney Kofi Woods Address To NGO Coalition On Forest Governance In Liberia

STATEMENT AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF ADVOCACY STRATEGY OF THE NGO COALITION ON FOREST GOVERNANCE IN LIBERIA

CORINA HOTEL, SINKOR, MONROVIA

OCTOBER 19, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am deeply honored by your invitation to join you in launching your advocacy strategy.

Attorney Kofi Woods - File Photo
Attorney Kofi Woods – File Photo

This strategy I am told seeks to, among other things, address complaints from forested communities on the lack of knowledge on social contracts signed between various forested communities and contract holders. And when fully implemented, host communities will begin to have access to final copies of contracts and social agreements. This will further enable them demand their just benefits as far as their knowledge on the contract is concern.  Additionally, the strategy aims to minimize tension, mitigate challenges in implementation and help community members take ownership of the social agreement between them and contract holders.  These are noble undertakings for a sector that has historically been a contentious aspect of our conflict history and bane to the development of our society. This approach tends to expand the frontiers of human rights advocacy in Liberia.

I would also encourage you to include and interact with lawyers, legal practitioners and law students to encourage their full participation as it relates to legal questions as well as the provision of legal advice and redress of grievances emanating from this sector. On this note, I offer my personal expertise and support as a long-standing human rights lawyer and advocate.

Let me pay tribute to those who initiated this approach and strategy. This is a major first step in developing a coalition or undertaking collective   action to address various anomalies. The significance of a collectivity is to demonstrate that you seek to affirm that the ideals you espouse is far greater than yourself and transcends the narrow bounds of individualism, thereby elevating your discourse to national and international levels.

This strategy must therefore seek to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable will be in the position to:

  • Have their voices heard on issues that are important to them,
  • Help to defend and safeguard their rights, and
  • Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.

Such rights-based approach will require an advocacy that identifies, assesses, and uses evidenced based research findings to inform, educate and influence policy decisions. In this regard, a strategy cannot be effective without a framework to ensure implementation and monitor its impact.  The most important component is to ensure that communities and people can advocate for themselves – and do so based on knowledge.

Aerial Forest View in Liberia
Aerial Forest View in Liberia

The launch of this strategy will fill a long-standing gap in our national advocacy in Liberia.

For years, we have witnessed the sufferings, pains and agony of a large section of the population hidden behind the dark shadows of our forest.  For many years, our communities have remained hapless and sat helpless as they faced deprivations associated with conditions imposed upon them by the exploitative nature of forest mismanagement due to government’s insatiable quest for rent and at times complicity of some community leaders on one hand, and the excessive greed of some concessionaires on the other. -Whether it is through the looting of the 90s, during war and corruption, or  the Private Use Permits, the complicity of government officials and the onslaught of greedy individuals on our forests, the now proverbial “resource curse” stares us in the face. A classic example is the misuse and abuse of opportunities in the forest sector. The ownership of logging companies by government officials, the Carbon Credit imbroglio and other forms of criminal forage in our forests is a bane of resource development and advancement in Liberia.. The bleeding of our forests must come to an end. I know this is a cliché, but our natural resources must cease being a curse; it must be a blessing!

This strategy you are employing should offer our society (the supply chain) and the international community (the demand chain) redemption from years of pillage, plunder and the callous disregard for our communities, our environment, our land use and our forest. Our unique species of wildlife, Flora and Fauna are being destroyed and it is now time to act for the good of posterity.

We as a nation must understand and this strategy must help us appreciate the connectivity between human survival, the use of our forests and our environment in general and the overall impact on climate change and weather patterns not only in Liberia but around the world.

We have failed to realize that the abuse of our forest is an abuse on human civilization and the threat to our forests and environment represents a threat to human civilization.

“Studies have shown that forests provide protection against flooding. Therefore, the unabated loss of forests in Liberia due to the illegal logging which has become common may exacerbate the frequency of flood we are currently experiencing. It may also increase related disasters with severe negative impact on the environment and inflict havoc on the economy. Sadly, illegal logging without reforestation is bad news for glaring and galloping effects of global warming.”

Researchers and other forest advocates have warned that “Liberians should not sit reluctantly and wait for their government to take action first, but instead every Liberian must begin to create an environmental conscious culture through research, education and people centered grassroots initiatives like environmental restoration, ecosystem rehabilitation and planting trees campaign in every community across the country.”

 

The forests are of vital importance for the livelihoods for millions of West Africans and provide key ecosystem services of local and global importanceLiberia’s Upper Guinea forests (about 43-45% of sub-Saharan forest) are exceptionally diverse, with very high rates of endemism. Liberia holds some of the last remaining, intact forests in West Africa and so reducing deforestation quickly and efficiently would be important in global climate change mitigation.

The Land rights bill has affirmed that all land owned and occupied by communities for hundred of years belong to them, and that their ownership is effective upon its passage without regards to whether they have a deed to it or not. It says that these communities do no need deed from the Republic, because the Republic never owned their land, and so the Republic does not have ownership that it will transfer to them.

The law reaffirms the provisions of the Constitution that the mineral belong to the Republic, but says that the ownership of the surface land belong to the communities (as to community land) or private individuals (as to private land) and government (as to government land. The law also says that community land will also be treated equally as private land. These are recent and interesting developments for your advocacy.

Logging in Liberia - File photo courtesy of PBS
Logging in Liberia – File photo courtesy of PBS

Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the worlds remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world’s remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation. Contemporary environmentalists have proposed some measures such as:

    • Expanding protected areas
    • Increasing surveillance of and patrols in protected areas
    • Building research facilities for training local scientists and guides
    • Establishing programs that promote sustainable use
  • Compensating displaced people
  • Involve indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management.
  • Promoting ecotourism
  • Ensuring economic success does not result in increased deforestation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship

I would therefore like to formally launch this strategy with some concluding comments.

  1. We must encourage partnership between our government, communities and interested groups, civil society and investors. We are undertaking an endeavor that affects our lives. Collective investment and participation in advocacy will require shared funding and support.
  2. Government must continue to see itself as providing the needed leadership in regulating the sector. The review of guidelines for negotiations and standard-setting in the areas of infrastructure development, health services, labor relations and dignity, law enforcement to curb illegal logging and mining activities, education and other services are critical to improving the lives of our people and creating wealth.
  3. Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future. I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
  4. The inextricable link between all elements of nature and the environment is indisputable. Our land, our forests, our wildlife of different and unique species is all connected. We breathe fresh air and live healthy lives when our land, air and sea are treated, as we want to treat ourselves. This is why I advise that our government and all of us must prevent the erratic interventions in our swamps, our wetlands, sand mining in our rivers beds and our forests or we risk an environmental catastrophe. I therefore urge our government to review its decision on the new development intended for the Bali Island, the Sarpo National Park, forest reserves and other areas. Any interventions must take into account proper assessments, analysis and advice on the environmental impact. We must take into account various international agreements and commitments, invite the UN Environmental Protection Agency and other professional bodies to ensure full compliance or risk punishment.
  5. As a long-standing advocate, I am guided by consistency on values and principles. IF IT WAS WRONG THEN, IT IS WRONG NOW! This country and all that lies within it is on loan to our generation by the future generation, we are under obligation to mange it well. Let me now add my voice to what is refer to as the Resource Swap. We should not begin any discussions in the absence of a public assessment, accounting and disclosure of our natural resource endowment.  No buyer should determine our price but rather negotiate our price. We risk intractable conflicts if we proceed without the necessary safeguards required to ensure distributive justice and wealth creation at all levels of our society. We should have a national resource accounting program that evaluates and determine the bankable nature of our natural resources, not leaving our desperation to be exploited by   unscrupulous people. We might be down now but not out. We might be broke now but not poor.
Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

In conclusion, my dear friends and colleagues, People cannot be developed but develop themselves.” With the new thinking, development cannot be viewed as a product made by the “unilateral transfer from an agent (whether a donor or a state) to a passive recipient. The delivery approach to development through assistance is disempowering to citizens, which relegates them to the role of  “subjects” to change or transformation. For it to be an empowering process, development must be seen as a social contract (or compact) among citizens themselves, citizens and the State, The State and donors and citizens and donor.

In the abundance of wealth, we cannot be poor!  Our strategy must help address this paradox.

When I was a child – and I believe every child experiences such – whenever I had the opportunity to express my thoughts about an ambition, I was asked the questions “WHY?” It was common for a child to be asked “why” if they expressed the desire for a professional undertaking such a doctor, lawyer or even president. I believe the “Why” question stems from viewing a child’s ambition from the prism of perceived challenges and impossibilities. From now on we must cultivate the notion to ask “why not” when a  child from anywhere tells you he/she wants to be the President of Liberia or Secretary-General of the United Nations, Let them realize and appreciate the possibility of what is possible or what can be. I therefore ask you to say “WHY NOT” in pursuing this noble enterprise.

Our nation, our government and our people must seek to end impunity through the rule of law. Years of pillage whether under the guise of war, looting, historic lack of political will, complicity, lack of integrity, lack of accountability, mismanagement and illegal activities in the sector must not go unpunished.  Justice for this sector is a must. Recommendations on economic crimes in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report must be implemented to ensure reparations for affected communities and possible repatriation of profits. No one must be spared: Liberians and non-Liberians past, present and future.

I therefore speak of justice for the alleged victims and those accused until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

I thank you!

Speech By Attorney Kofi Woods

West African Journal Magazine