Liberia: “Missing Billions” Report In; Govt Allegedly Planning Against Opposition, Media

Monrovia, Liberia January 15, 2018: The Task Force constituted to investigate the missing $16 billion dollars in the West African country of Liberia has reportedly presented its findings to President George M. Weah in the capital Monrovia, according to an unimpeachable source.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

The forensic report is expected to confirm that the printed Liberia dollars did come into the country and that over $2 billion Liberia dollars (LD) are actually unaccounted for and may be part of monies which came into the country after the inauguration of the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led government in January, 2018.

Shortly following disclosure of the “missing billion” scandal by an independent Liberian investigative journalist Philibert Browne of the local Hot Pepper newspaper last year, the Weah Administration instituted a task force to investigate the matter. The U.S. Government through USAID seconded forensic auditors to assist with the investigation.

Last September, shortly before departure to address the UN General Assembly in New York, President Weah addressed citizens on the “missing billions”.

“I asked all citizens to be patient and those involved in the investigation to be corporative. I am confident that in the end, we will come to a logical conclusion into the circumstances surrounding this money and if anyone is caught in any financial malfeasance they will be held accountable to the full extent. I can assure you, my fellow Liberians, proper accountability of the money in question is vital to my government’s ability to improve your lives. As we accelerate our investigation to which I have invited international partners to join in advising us to ensure transparency. Let’s us remain calm and have faith in the process. I believe that the mandate I received from you is a mandate to end corruption in public service and I remain fully committed to this task. I promise to deliver on this mandate and I will not let you down, the President said at the time.”

It can be recalled that on Monday September 17, 2018, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Monrovia issued a press statement in which it officially confirmed that an investigation of the matter was underway by multi-sector government agencies including the Liberia National Police, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) .

liberia justice minister counselor frank musa dean
Liberia Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean

“…Initial findings indicate that the containers and bags of money allegedly arrived between November, 2017, prior to the inauguration of the current Government and on August, 2018. Evidence available to the investigative team has established that the current administration was not informed about the containers and bags of money and bags of money into the country…” the Justice Ministry press statement said at the time.

Information Minister Eugene L. Nagbe around the same time and at the height of the scandal disclosure said, “We can confirm that the money was brought through the Freeport of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport and for now we can confirm that the amount was L$16 billion. An estimate of a little over US$60 million as far as we are concerned from ongoing investigation as of today, and it came in the two ports of entry,”

But the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah quickly dismissed the Information Minister’s statement in a radio interview on Thursday, September 20, saying, the  “missing billions” had been infused into the Liberian economy.

Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  later dismissed any responsibility for the scandal saying it was a ploy to impugn her reputation.

liberian protesters - file photo
“Missing Billions” Protesters In Liberia

Our source in the Executive Mansion who is familiar with the report but not authorized to discuss it due to its sensitivity, told the West African Journal Magazine Tuesday that $1 billion LD is also unaccounted for from the  about $5 billion LD printed by the former Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration. About $10 million LD of $15 million LD which were allegedly infused to stabilize the Liberian economy is reported to be unaccounted for – no record, the source said, adding that the plan is to water down the report before release to say that “although the money is not accounted  it is not missing”.

Government spokespersons and controlled media have been instructed to push the narrative that “no money is missing”.

Opposition and Media

Allegedly, part of the Weah Administration plan to blunt the fall-out from the damaging report is a massive public relations onslaught to “kill public anger”, the source said. Protesters in September, outraged by the alleged “missing billions”, staged a peaceful march to demand accountability and return of the money.

free press
Free [Press In Liberia
Manifestation of the alleged plan also include discussions among CDC strategists and government functionaries to target vocal talk shows and hosts and to have critical content controlled through new restrictive media regulations, the co-opting of some “Government friendly” media personnel and financial strangulation of others, the source disclosed, adding that, “some businesses and government agencies are being called in and threatened and instructed to re-channel business to more government-friendly media houses. Some critical talk show hosts will be taken off air”.

A Liberia media executive and publisher of the of the independent Inquirer Newspaper Mr. Phillip Wesseh disclosed over the weekend that there was an attempt to “destroy” his paper with the sudden exit of about five employees who are planning to launch the “Independent Inquirer” newspaper. Accusing fingers have been pointed at the Government in the scheme to financially destroy the paper which was launched in October, 1990 during the height of the country’s civil war.

Wesseh has told the independent Daily Observer newspaper that the Inquirer will continue publication and is not worried about the exodus of some employees.

But publishers of the new Independent Inquirer newspaper have rejected claims that they were being used by the government operative to sabotage their former paper.

“Very harsh language and vocal language will be used including intimidation, family pressure and inducements against opposition operatives, if necessary, ” the source disclosed, saying that the aim is to harm their reputation and demoralize their partisans.

rep acarous gray and deputy minister samorra wolokollie
Rep Acarous Gray and Deputy Minister Samora Wolokollie

Over the weekend, a senior government official and Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) Samora Wolokollie and long-time CDC operative and Montserrado Electoral District #8 Representative Moses Acarous Gray  verbally attacked the  opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) leader Alexander Cummings, calling him a “bare-faced” liar”.

The two officials of the CDC government who appeared on the state-runned national broadcaster took issue with stinging criticisms leveled at President George M. Weah by Cummings who warned in an interview recently that “looting and stealing” in the Government has got to stop. Cummings’ statement drew favorable reviews from several quarters in and out of Liberia including social media.

The source alleged that government surrogates Ansu Konneh and Boikai Fofanna are the lead persons designated to “control the discourse on social media” in favor of the CDC led government.

West African Journal Magazine attempted but was unsuccessful in obtaining a response from the state house the Executive Mansion in Monrovia since no one was authorized to discuss the matter.

Liberians are anxiously awaiting the release of the contents of the report. There is no indication of a release date by the Government.

By Staff Reporter and Correspondents in Monrovia

West African Journal Magazine

 

Gabonese Govt Puts Down Attempted Coup; Arrests Made

Philadelphia, PA USA- January 7, 2019: The situation in the African nation of Gabon is relatively quiet after loyal forces put down an attempted coup by some military officer early Monday.

president ali bongo ondimba
President Ali Bongo Ondimba

President Ali Bongo Ondimba who reportedly suffered a stroke recently is still out of the oil rich sub-Saharan country undergoing medical treatment.

Coup plotters who were dressed in military camouflage and seen armed on television were led by a Republican Guard commander Lt Obiang Ondo Kelly. They stormed the offices of the state broadcaster and announced that they had seized control of the government to “restore democracy.”

But according to international wire services, shortly thereafter, loyal forces regained control of state radio and television and strategic areas in the capital Libreville.

The coup makers reportedly fled and a government spokesperson Guy Betrand Mapangou told Radio France International that two of the coup plotters had been killed and others including their leader had been arrested.

gabonese coup makers on tv
Gabonese Coup Plotters As Seen On Television

Gabon which had been ruled by the Bongo-Ondimba family for the last 50 years was seen as a relatively stable African country. Some had accused the ruling family of massively profiting from the country’s oil wealth at the expense of poor Gabonese.

The attempted coup has been condemned by France, the African Union and others as “unconstitutional”.

Gabonese security forces are patrolling the capital and say they have quashed the attempted military take-over.

 

By West African Journal Magazine and Wire Services

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

New Liberian Diplomatic Envoy To U. S. Commissioned

Monrovia, Monday, December 31, 2018: Liberian President George Manneh Weah has commissioned Ambassador George S.W. Patten, Sr, Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary designate to the United States of America.

New Liberian Ambassador To U. S. George S.W. Patten Sr.

Ambassador Patten Sr. replaces Cllr. Lois Brutus.

According to a Foreign Ministry release, the commissioning ceremony took place on Saturday, December 29, 2018.

President Weah encouraged Ambassador-designate Patten to represent Liberia’s best interest at his new assignment. President Weah also advised Ambassador Patten to be mindful of the special relationship subsisting between Liberia and the United States of America.

According to the release, Liberia’s Ambassador-designate to the United States, Ambassador George S.W. Patten Sr, promised to promote and push Liberia’s Foreign Policy to the highest level while performing his duties and responsibilities to the best of his ability. Ambassador Patten thanked President Weah for the opportunity and the confidence reposed in his ability to serve Liberia at that ambassadorial level.

Ambassador George S.W. Patten previously served as Liberia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, and Chargé d’Affaires a.i., at Liberia’s Permanent Mission to the UN, the government release said.

West African Journal Magazine

 

 

Special Feature: “Economic Outlook of Liberia 2019”

Liberia’s rapid decline is becoming alarming and unsustainable without the right policy actions to reverse course.

2018 Economic Freedom Score - Liberia
2018 Economic Freedom Score – Liberia

The current state of the global economy is expected to make things muddy for a country whose standing in the world has diminished from the fourth poorest country in the world in 2016 by Business Insider to #1 today, according to a USA Today report, and which GDP per capita per purchasing power parity (PPP) (not always an indicator of economic growth and wealth) has decreased from $934 U.S. dollar to $710 U.S. dollars within the same period.

While the current government bears the brunt of the decline, the country was already on a downward spiral during the last few years of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration.

I think it is time that we take a capricious but nuanced perspective on the economic outlook of Liberia in 2019 and provide an honest and balanced perspective as to the global economic conundrum and headwinds ahead and propose recommendations for policy makers seeking measurable indicators to drive decision-making and prepare for the future.

These trends are particularly important for Liberia to achieve its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), if we expect to improve the living standards of our suffering people.

In Context

The outlook for the global economy in 2019 is becoming alarming even in established economies. The recent stock market volatility in the U.S. (at one point, 138% of stock market gains from the Obama Administration was wiped out and barely restored), unprecedented global interest rates hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve to address monetary concerns, escalating trade tensions between U.S. and China (a tit-for-tat action), Brexit debacle in Europe and the murky state of UK politics, economic softening in China, slide in oil prices, inflationary pressures coupled with other global concerns (labor market tightening) are creating uneasiness worldwide.

Liberia National Investment Commission
Liberia National Investment Commission

Most economic indicators suggest that the global economy looks poised to slow from 3.8% in 2018 to 3.5% or less in 2019 and the risk of a global recession is becoming more likely.

All these geopolitical tensions mentioned earlier, suggest a daunting and challenging time ahead for the country since it lacks the structure, mechanism and fundamentals to react to shocks and would require policymakers to craft out effective monetary and fiscal policies to tackle these economic trends. But instead, most leaders are involved in political and/or social activities to the detriment and future of the country.

In October 2018, President George Weah unveiled the “Pro-poor Policy” agenda as a road map for building a “harmonious society”, developing the country, uniting and reconciling the Liberian people, educating and developing its youths and promoting peace and human rights; all bold and aggressive policy actions that are expected to take place in just under five years (by 2023).

PAPD
PAPD

The question is how is this going to happen if the resources aren’t available based on future economic outlook? And as the concept notes from the National Budget suggest, a macroeconomic environment that continues to pose challenges. Is it expected that with the economic challenges, this government will continue to rely on aid and remittances as the main source of foreign exchange regimens?

Look, we are richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forest, and climate favorable to agriculture and principal exports such as iron ore, diamond, gold and rubber and yet we are the poorest country on the face of the earth. Think about it!
Liberia is 43,000 square miles with a little over four million people. What the hell are we doing, people!

As one author suggested, Liberia is not a poor country. The problem it has is that it has been blessed with mostly bad rather than good leadership in its entire 170 years history. It is unimaginable that at the dawn of the 21st Century with all the resources in the world, yet our people lack access to clean drinking water, unable to feed ourselves, continue to be trapped in poverty.

I believe that some countries, because of geography or bad luck are trapped in poverty, but don’t see that in the case of Liberia. It isn’t bad luck; it is bad and terrible leaders who care more for themselves than people.

Alternatively, Liberia Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per PPP, increased from $6 billion U.S. dollars to about $6.12 billion dollars by 2017 according to the CIA World Fact Book; an increase from 0% in 2015 to 2.5% in 2017. Under the Ellen Johnson administration total USAID obligations to Liberia between 2006 to 2017 was $3.242 billion dollars (USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard). This is excluding obligations from the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, and other NGOs. Similarly, the European Development Fund (EDF) contributed $285 million U.S. dollars for the period 2008 to 2013 and $310 million U.S. dollars for the periods 2014 to 2020 and yet, 84% of our people live on less than a $1.25 per day, 59% of our people are illiterate, 55% have limited access to food and 1.3 to1.4 million of the population live in life-threatening poverty.

Western Union Location In Liberia
Western Union Location In Liberia

So, it doesn’t appear that we haven’t had the resources; it is also because of greed and mixed priorities.

Today, most of the world have progressed through stages of development in the ‘post-industrial society’ when the service sectors generate more wealth than the manufacturing sector of an economy and the codification of knowledge is essential for growing an economy. For close to two centuries we haven’t even evolved to where we engage a robust manufacturing sector, and we call ourselves a country?

I suggest that this government hit the STOP button and reset its vision of ‘Hope for Change’, if it wants to provide for its people and begin to address the many pressing issues such as lack of coherent monetary and fiscal policies, shortages in tax revenues and the problem of liquidity.

The Crystal Ball

According to the EIU, political stability is presumed to continue in the short-run, and this is the one sweet spot. But systematic, widespread and endemic poverty, corruption, high inflation, pain and suffering will continue and remittances which dominate aid will decrease as labor market tighten in the West causing a spillover effect.

The risk of a global recession will also make things worse and impact any poverty reduction effort.

In a previous paper, I argued that any poverty reduction strategy must be buttressed and strengthened with sustained economic growth. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) known as “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted in 2017 by the United Nations is an ambitious inter-governmental set of 17 goals and 169 targets that are people-centered, transformative, universal and integrated and build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Its intended purpose is to end poverty and hunger, improve health and education, make cities more sustainable, combat climate change, protect the world and oceans from environmental degradation and foster prosperous, peaceful, just and inclusive societies in which people can live and strive peacefully.

UN Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals

I sincerely think that PAPD should have been built on SDG and MDG since the objectives are relative the same, instead of crafting a new framework. So how can the PAPD become successful?

First, by increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The caveat is that size and growth potential of markets are a major driver of FDI – a challenge for Liberia. Moreover, favorable business climate depends on strong and robust institutions and investor-friendly regulations. Liberia fails on that too. Case in point, there’s no shortage of stories about business people who have been duped and scammed through unscrupulous and unprincipled people masquerading in the Liberian Government hierarchy.

Second, by leveraging the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act passed by the US Senate on October 5, 2018 to counter China’s investment on the Continent. The initiative is characterized as bringing US relationship with Africa from underground (resource focused on oil, gas and minerals, etc.) to above ground (infrastructure, agriculture, etc.) per se.

I see this as an opening for Liberia to achieve sustainable, broad-based economic growth if requirements are met. As a forewarning, success in the program requires public accountability, high standards of transparency, environmental and social safeguards which I think this government will have a challenge based on how they do business today.

AGOA - US/African Business Partnership
AGOA – US/Africa Business Partnership

Third, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) enacted by the U.S. Congress to assist economies of sub-Saharan African countries develop a market-based economy and improve economic relations between the U.S. and the region. The act was extended on June 29, 2015 up to 2025. We haven’t moved the needle on that; an opportunity missed.

The Future

So, as we enter 2019, I think that thirst-quenching, vitalizing or invigorating the Liberian economy for the 21st Century will take clear policy actions, steps and skills to reduce poverty and increase the standard of living of our people. The world is changing. We cannot rely on what was done by previous administration. We must continue to reinvent ourselves as a people and government.

The history of Liberia is riddled with the same old failed and outdated promises that do nothing to move the needle one iota. Changing Liberia will require honesty, commitment, leadership, toughness and bold steps that include putting in the right mechanisms and structure that will combat corruption and limit waste in government.

Recommendations

At this moment, the government must develop and implement strategy that will result into economic diversification, increase business investment and trade, build robust institutions, maintain (if not build) its current infrastructure and continue to maintain the peace.

Liberian Dollars
Liberian Dollars

For one thing, there is a need to bolster human capacity development by increasing investment in Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Science Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the list goes on.

And so, I like to propose the following recommendations for the current administration:

  1. Build positive relationships with Diaspora Liberians, so that those retiring can begin to transfer wealth and knowledge.
  2. Create efficiency and effectiveness in how taxes and fees are collected to help finance development. Simplify taxes for business entities and minimize corruption and ill-gotten gains.
  3. Strengthen the judiciary system as a catalyst to declare war on corruption and persecute individuals or persons engaged in ill-gotten gains and corrupt practices and the net-net is that a well-functioning judicial system underpins economic development.
  4. Prioritize two strategic objectives at a time or simultaneously. Maybe self-sufficiency in food production first and growing the service sector as a means of creating employment next or undertake both at the same time.
  5. Improve tax policies and improve ability to collect revenues in especially hard-to-tax sectors.
  6. Create a positive and welcoming environment where businesses (especially foreign entities) can strive and grow.
  7. Improve ease of doing business so it is easy to create and grow a business.
  8. Mobilize domestic resources to increase market size for goods and services.
  9. Develop dynamic capabilities in either agriculture or the service industry and achieve sustained competitive advantage.
  10. Leverage aid resources to achieve maximum impact and outcome by enforcing transparency and accountability across the board.
  11. Leverage data, quantitative research and machine learning algorithm to drive effective decision-making and help solve practical, real-world problems.
  12. Improve revenue intake by automating custom systems and streamlining logistics processes.

To conclude, I think efforts to address items mentioned earlier must be done effectively and efficiently in order to improve livelihood and impact lives and leveraging limited resources to realize those objectives.

Business District In Monrovia
Business District In Monrovia

I like to caution that public service is never about amassing wealth and ill-gotten gains. It is about contributing to the greater good and effecting social and/or societal change. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Otherwise, our nation of birth will continue to lag at the bottom of the economic and development pyramid and eventually the laughing stock of the world.

Lastly, we must start to rethink and find novel ways of fighting corruption and poverty.

The status quo has not worked and never will.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

References:

  1. World Bank.org
  2. Economics Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Microscope

     3. Public Policy Magazine

    4. The African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank (AFDB)

    5. USAID Foreign Aid Explorer Dashboard

About the author

Dr. A. Joel King has a doctorate in Management and a diploma in Public Policy Economics from University of Oxford and Executive Coaching from University of Cambridge, UK. 

He is a Wharton Online Scholar and an academic tutor at Coursera and volunteers at the American Academy of Management (AOM) and Strategic Management Society (SMS).

Liberia: Two Former PUL Officials Say They Will Defend Right To Freedom Of Speech For All

Boston, MA USA December 28, 2018 – Two former officials of the Pres Union of Liberia (PUL) say they will continue to strongly defend the inalienable right of freedom of speech of every Liberian and the media, irrespective of whether views expressed are contrary.

PUL President Charles Coffey
PUL President Charles Coffey

In a press statement issued on Friday, December 28, 2018 from Boston, Massachusetts, the United States and copied to West African Journal Magazine, Messers Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo, two former Presidents of the journalists Union said their attention had been drawn to a decision by the PUL to suspend the membership of Liberia’s Information Minister Mr. Eugene Nagbe for a statement attributed to him in which he referred to the PUL as “useless”.

 The former PUL Executives said although the derogatory characterization of the Union by the current Information Minister was unfortunate and highly irresponsible, the attempt at curtailing his right to express an inconvenient view of the Union by suspending his membership pending his apology contravenes the very essence of the business of the PUL; to protect the alienable right of Liberians to freely and responsibly express diverse views through media reportage and serve as a watch dog in society.

 According to the two, the PUL has a duty to encourage and defend the right of every citizen who expresses an alternate view in the public square, even if that view makes the PUL, Government or public officials uncomfortable.

 

Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe
Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe

Meantime, Messers Bantu and Abalo have strongly criticized a statement calling for the expulsion of the Information Minister from the PUL without due process.

Liberians must be reminded, they said, that for some who are calling for the extreme position of the expulsion of Minister Nagbe from the PUL for expressing a contrary view, it was some of the same individuals who presided over the arrest, incarceration and mal-treatment of media personnel, including the closure of media houses for their reportage which were viewed as critical of past Governments.

The PUL must not be used to repeat the tactics of marginalization of free speech as was done in the past by public officials, according to the former PUL officials.

 “The current climate of intimidation and threats against the media as enunciated by senior governments officials are unacceptable and the Government of Liberia has a duty to protect all citizens, equitably enforce the Constitution and sanction its officials who threaten press freedom and media personnel. Freedom of speech and press freedom are scared rights that all Liberians should enjoy in a democratic environment,” the two media executives concluded.

West African Journal Magazine

Liberia: Media Org Suspends Membership of Country’s Information Minister

Monrovia, 27 Dec 2018: A  bitter row between the umbrella media organization known as the Press Union of Liberia ( PUL) and the West African country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe Wednesday entered its third day running after his membership was suspended for allegedly describing the body as “useless”.
Liberia Information Minister Eugene Nagbe
PUL executives quickly suspended the Government’s spokesman’s membership demanding an apology of the charge against the PUL before his status can be restored.
For his part,  Minister Nagbe clarified that, he, instead said PUL executives were ” useless ” for failure to regulate contents of the local media they accredit.
Our correspondent in Monrovia reports that The Liberian government official also rebuked the media organization’s leadership for failure to seek the welfare of working journalists, some of whom he says are paid the Liberian dollar equivalent of 10 to 15 USD monthly.
PUL President Charles Coffey
The PUL Vice President Daniel Nyan Konah told state radio that Minister Nagbe must recant his Statement against the media organization before his membership can be restored.
But Information Minister Nagbe says he will challenge his suspension in court.
In a separate development,  Truth FM 96.1 local radio remained off air for the fourth consecutive day Thursday as its 36 employees including journalists are striking to press demands for nine months of salary arrears owed them since April 2018.
Truth FM Radio Owner Musa Bility
Truth FM Editor in Chief Joseph Koon told state-runned ELBC Radio on Wednesday that the strike action was their last resort after Truth FM management including the CEO Musa Bility gave “deaf ears” to all verbal and written appeals from the employees.
Business magnate Musa Bility owns the RCI media conglomerate comprising radio, TV and a newspaper.
Reporting By Tepitapia Sannah
Africa Bureau Chief
West African Journal Magazine

Special Feature: Liberia – The Reality Is That Government Is Struggling To Deliver Relief

Monrovia, Liberia – December 21, 2018: Liberians are playing the “waiting game” with the expectation of a grand national economic redemption by the United States and the international community.

Liberia PAPD

However, the stark reality is that the unfortunate elements of donor fatigue, the country’s non-strategic posture, lack of credible national and economic support systems and poor fiscal management make for an unattractive courting by the international community.

The attempt at not projecting a “doom and gloom” characterization of the West African country is a real struggle because the truth can be “inconvenient and harsh”.

The bold face truth is that the Government is really struggling to meet expectations.

Voting queue in Liberia
Voting queue in Liberia – File Photo

The general sentiment among most Liberians is to remain hopeful and resilient because the alternative is depressing. But the bare facts are that it will take more than hope and wishful thinking to wrest the country from the downward spiral and economic depravity that are impacting the country in these modern times.

The George Weah’s government which is clocking one year at the helm of governance is struggling to project its best face but the head-winds of lack of technical capacity and qualified personnel coupled with inexperience are a drag on national progress.

Pro-Poor Pillars For Prosperity and Development (PAPD)

 The Government has laid out an ambitious roadmap to guide its march to prosperity and development with a timeline of achievement by 2023.

In Pillar 1 , the Liberia Government states that it is, “To empower Liberians with the tools to gain control of their lives thru more equitable provision of opportunities in education, health, youth development, and social protection”. But the challenge is the successful application of proven systems, criteria, trained human capacity and measurable results to this goal. This will pre-suppose that existing national health infrastructures, educational programs and curriculum, and youth engagement and programs are reviewed for quick impact returns.

Pillar 2 projects the goal of “A stable macroeconomic environment enabling private sector-led economic growth, greater competitiveness, and diversification of the economy.”

To government’s credit, a macro loan scheme with oversight management by the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) was launched recently. But like most fiscal systems in Liberia, the management, eligibility criteria and promotion of awareness effort for small businesses who are expected to benefit are unclear. How is such a loan facility system structured to accommodate repayment? Will this loan facility be extended to small businesses in leeward counties? How much non- repayment tolerance is built into this scheme? What does success looks like from implementation of this macro finance scheme?

In April, 2018, a local paper the Daily Observer reported that the President of the Bankers Association In Liberia and President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) Mr. John B.S. Davies passionately spoke up against the enactment and enforcement of a law which makes the Liberian dollar the sole currency of the country and legal tender.

“…Mr. Davies believes that the use of the Liberian dollar as sole currency will cause local banking institutions to lose relationships with foreign correspondent banks to maintain their offshore accounts (accounts held in foreign banks), which transactions are traded with United States dollars. Local banks will not be able to pay depositors in the event of a run on the bank for huge United States deposit, owing to the depreciation that dollar deposited may be nationalized,” Mr. Davies said, according to the paper.

It is quite evident now that in spite of that grave warning then, the Government proceeded to advance Pillar 2 of its “Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development; the result of which points to a total disconnect from Government’s public policy and stated goals. Today, the non-availability of local Liberia dollars in commercial banks is reaching crisis proportions.

Pillar 3 states its goal as, “A more peaceful, unified society that enables economic transformation and sustainable development. The crux of this pillar is ending fragility and the root causes of conflict. But the achievement of this goal is a non-starter because Government has ignored local and international calls for addressing past incidences of gross human rights abuses and impunity. The roadmap to address the ugly history demands that leaders rise above personal and partisan interests and boldly commit to implementing recommendations contained in the Final Report of the country’s  Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which completed its work since June 2012.

The installation and respect of a culture of rule of law remains elusive and contributes to the “fragile peace” posture of Liberia even after three democratic elections. There is a reason why the erosion in state institutions and governance and lack of trust in government is pervasive; the “Liberian way” of doing things dominates to the detriment of the people and Republic.

Pillar 4 offers that, “An inclusive and accountable public sector for shared prosperity and sustainable development”. The gulf between ordinary civil servants salaries and senior government officials is astonishingly incomprehensible. Part of the solution to set up accountability for public officials is the lawful system of “Asset Declaration”.

CDC Logo
CDC Logo

In spite of a pronouncement by the country’s Chief Executive President Weah to his Ministers and officials to comply with the law, they have deliberately ignored compliance and in some instances offered incomplete asset disclosures. Even President Weah’s Declaration is sealed. Accountability and transparency in such matters are the first seeds of building and gaining the trust and confidence of citizens. Worst is that the National Legislature sees itself as above the law, refuse to be audited and refuse to hold public officials accountable through credible hearings.

Additionally, investor confidence is very seriously impacted by the almost daily disclosure of scandals in government; namely, the questionable infusion by Government of $25 million USD in the local economy to shore up the local currency using un-named money changers, the bribery and extortion attempt by officials at the National Housing Authority (NHA), the construction of massive real estates by President Weah within one year of his ascension to the Presidency, the near catastrophic loss of millions of dollars from Government’s account to a fraudster, the confusing explanation from Government of the whereabouts of about $16 million Liberian dollars, etc.

The Liberian Government is totally convinced that its Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development can be achieved through designated Development Corridors, Economic Zones and Roads through northern-central, south and south-eastern parts of the country which are comprised of heavy population centers.

The argument can be advanced by Government that it inherited a very difficult economy and infrastructures; However, the Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) led Government has been seeking state power since 2005 and should be held acutely accountable for providing solutions. Liberians voted for solutions and it is time to deliver for them or show them a credible and implementable plan that they can subscribe to and believe in because they  believe it will begin to transform their lives.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

The “Economic Calvary” from the US and the international community is not coming anytime soon because the strategic importance of Liberia is not that attractive these days. International economic aid humanitarian assistance are now defined and designed around lessons learned from past experiences and adaptation to the  “complex Liberian development agenda and programs”; no longer just a blank check.

The Liberian Government must sincerely engage and utilize the experience and services of members of the opposition in order to appear united, broad-based and credible to its own citizens and the international community, if the country is to move beyond its notorious designation as a “problem state”.

The opposition is not an enemy but represents other Liberians who hold different political and economic philosophies.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Gus Kouwenhoven’s Conviction; Extradition Pending

The Hague, Netherlands December 18, 2018 – The AP is reporting that the Supreme Court in the Netherlands has upheld the conviction of the notorious Dutch arms smuggler Gus Kouwenhoven – a long-time associate of former rebel turned ex-President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor
Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor

Kouwenhoven who operated the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) in Liberia was convicted in 2006 of international arms and timber smuggling including supply of cars, weapons,  and ammunitions to the main rebel group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in exchange for access to timber, diamond and natural resources of the poor West African country during its devastating civil war in 1990s. He appealed that conviction and was cleared.

However, new evidence surfaced on which the Dutch national was convicted again early 2017 and sentenced to 19 years  in prison.

In his 2016 book on conflict diamonds entitled, “ The Lion That Didn’t Roar: Can The Kimberly Process Stop the Blood Diamonds Trade?”, author Nigel Davidson wrote that, “…The Netherlands utilised its national war crimes legislation to initiate a prosecution about the related issue of so-called ‘conflict timber’. Although not a conflict diamonds prosecution as such, the war crimes legislation was used to prosecute timber trader and Dutch national Gus Kouwehoven. Reminiscent of the conflict diamonds problem, Kouwehoven allegedly provided financial assistance through is logging activities to human rights violators. Kouwenhoven was charged with war crimes for his role in the conflict in Liberia, as well as breaching United Nations sanctions. The indictment alleged that in at least four locations, Kouwenhoven committed, directly or indirectly, the killing, inhuman treatment, looting, rape, severe bodily harm, and offences against dead, sick or wounded persons. Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used in an attack that made no distinction between active combatants and civilians…”

A Dutch Magisterial Court in 2006, however, did not find Kouwenhoven criminally liable for the alleged crimes. An Appeals court in 2008 overturned the decision and ordered him re-tried and he was subsequently convicted.

Charles Taylor Fighters
Charles Taylor Fighters

At the time of Mr. Kouwenhoven’s arrest last December in South Africa, the Executive Director of Global Witness, in a press statement said, “The arrest of Gus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals. The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail…”

“Gus” as he was known in Liberia, was a business fixture at the once famed Hotel Africa Hotel in the northern western Liberian suburb of Virginia.

“Years of dogged work by the Dutch government, and now the South African authorities, are paying off and are finally bringing an infamous criminal to justice. Global Witness applauds their efforts. Charles Taylor has already been sentenced and imprisoned. Kouwenhoven now faces a similar fate,” the Global Witness official said last December.

Mr. Kouwenhoven, now residing in South Africa who was appealing his second conviction but with the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision, he is now awaiting extradition to the Netherlands.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

His lawyers argued before the Dutch Supreme Court that the Kouwenhoven could not be prosecuted because of am amnesty granted to him by former President Taylor in 2003. That argument was rejected by the Court and his conviction upheld.

Over 250,000 Liberians were killed in the country’s civil war and another 1 million others were displaced internally and externally by the bloody conflict. Charles Taylor himself was convicted of charges by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in the Hague in May, 2012. He is currently serving a 50 year prison sentence in the UK.

In Liberia, the Administration f President George M. Weah is facing international and domestic pressure to establish a war crimes court to prosecute those accused of gross human rights abuses and economic crimes.

But the Weah government has said that the establishment of such a court is not a priority.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal

 

Liberia: Local Insurance Company Complains of Harassment to President Weah

Monrovia, Liberia West Africa – December 14, 2018: A local insurance company in Liberia has complained to the office of the President about what it refers to as “…the consistent harassment of our Company and members of the public Automobile Insurance by our Company by the Minister of Transports Hon. Samuel Wlue…”

Transport Minister Samuel Wlue
Transport Minister Samuel Wlue

According to a letter dated December 3, 2018, a copy of which is in possession of the West African Journal Magazine, and addressed to the Office of the Liberian leader, the Omega Insurance Company, through its Executive Director Mr. Charles Ananaba, said the Liberian Minister of Transport Mr. Wlue “…unauthorizedly used his office to print Insurance stickers that are properties of the Insurance Association of Liberia; moreover, he has compelled members of the Association to sell such stickers on his behalf…”

The Omega Insurance Company further informed the Office of the Liberian President Mr. George M. Weah that the action of the Transport Minister was in contravention of a Stay Order issued last July by Judge Eva Mappy, Chief Judge of the Commercial Court  of Liberia.

According to the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued against the Transport Ministry, the Association of Insurers in Liberia and the Liberian National Police in the matter in August, 2018, it said, “You are hereby commanded to restrain and enjoin the Respondents herein from further in inspection of all moto vehicles plying the roadways within the Republic of Liberia for insurance stickers and until further directive from this court…”

“It is not only difficult to operate normal business as a major tax paper under such circumstances where the Transport Minister disrespects the Tax Law, Vehicle and Traffic Law, and Court Order; but the actions of the Honorable Minister is contrary to declaration made by the President That Liberia is open for business and Liberians will no longer be spectators in their own company…” the Liberian owned insurance company complained.

It is unclear how much revenue to date has been generated from the unilateral and illegal action of the Liberian Transport Minister. There has been no official statement or response to the complaint from Omega Insurance Company.

Liberia’s economy is at present struggling to attract international investors due to anumber of factors including weak financial institutions, lack of basic infrastructure, lack of tehnical capacity and skilled labor and endemic corruption which is pervasive in all sectors.

The Liberian economy which is market based depends largely on the country’s natural resources whose prices have been negatively impacted by global slumps. The small West African nation now is is also largely dependent on direct foreign aid and some Diaspora remittances.

According to its statistics on Doing Business in Liberia, the website Trading Economics reports that “ Liberia is ranked 174 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. The rank of Liberia deteriorated to 174 in 2018 from 172 in 2017. Ease of Doing Business in Liberia averaged 161.91 from 2008 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 180 in 2014 and a record low of 144 in 2013…”

The disclosure of illegal actions by a senior Liberian government official and contravention of a Court Order in this matter impacts the country’s ability to attract investors who view the lack of rule of law as a major negative factor.

Corruption

The most recent disclosure of bribery extortion by Liberian government officials broke at the National Housing Authority (NHA) and involved a business from Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Top officials of the NHA including its Managing Director and his Deputy have been suspended and are pending prosecution. Other officials named in the case have denied any knowledge or participation in the scheme. Investigation is still ongoing into the missing “$16 billon Liberian dollars and which went missing from the Central Bank. There have been conflicting accounts from the Liberian government as to what happened to the money. At disclosure of the missing $16 billion LD, Liberian staged a peaceful protest to demand the return of the money

Forensic auditors from the US are assisting with the investigation and a report is due out soon.

Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah
Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah

Additionally, the Liberian government has yet to adequately explain the process of how it said it infused $25 million USD into the local economy to cleanup excess local currency and shore up the country’s economy.

The explanation by the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah that local, un-named and unregulated money exchangers were used by Government to infuse money into the economy has drawn sharp outcry from ordinary Liberians who are bearing the brunt of the persistent economic downturn. .

The political leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC) Mr. Alexander B. Cummings Jr. recently told a local radio station that Liberians need to be concerned about the direction of the country. He cited the “hard times” ordinary Liberians were experiencing.

According to data seen, “Liberia scored 31 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Liberia averaged 32 Points from 2005 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 41 Points in 2012 and a record low of 21 Points in 2007.

(The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

US Grant

Meantime, on Thursday, December 13, 2018, Liberia and the United States signed a US $112 million dollars grant agreement through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the 2018 fiscal year.  President Weah and US Ambassador Christine Elder, according to the State House press statement, affirmed their countries “ commitment to work together to institute policy reforms for broad-based private sector led, more effective and accountable governance and improved health and education for Liberia..”

President Weah and his government say they see reforms as critical to successfully moving Liberia on its journey to self-reliance, the Executive Mansion in Monrovia said.

Omega Insurance Letter and Court Injunction

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal