By Abednego Davis
With less than 12 days to the moment when George Weah takes oath as President of Liberia, there is much debate about how serious the President-elect is about the pro-poor and pro-justice promises he has been made since he was announced winner of the December 26 run-off presidential election.
In his acceptance speech, Weah vowed to fight corruption in his government, saying there will be no room for corruption under his administration, and “that those wishing to cheat the Liberian people will have no space” in his government.
His anti-corruption statement, no doubt a strong point in his favor for his supporters, is tested by whether the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is willing to provide money for the prosecution of the US$950,000 bribery case that Global Witness alleged involved former House Speaker Alex Tyler, who has already been indicted by the government on multiple crimes including economic sabotage, bribery, criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation and facilitation.
Tyler’s Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP) was part of the coalition that gave Weah his electoral victory during the just ended December 26, 2017 runoff presidential election.
He is believed to be one of the financiers of the coalition, including Vice President-elect Jewel Howard Taylor, wife of jailed former President Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Party (NPP).
Weah’s predecessor, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, appeared very intent on pursuing the prosecution of the indictees named in the Global Witness report even beyond the 2017 elections process.
The Daily Observer is in possession of several letters written between October 2016 and October 2017, showing that the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Sylvester Grigsby, requested disbursements of US$260k to Finance Minister Boima Kamara, to enable the Special Presidential Task Force (SPTF), led by Cllr. Fonati Koffa, to continue their prosecution of the indictees, including former Speaker J. Alex Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman. The latest communication from Min. Grigsby to the Finance Minister, dated October 16, 2017 — a week following the October 10 presidential and legislative elections — specifically requested a “the regular allotment for the [SPTF] in the amount of USD $260,000 (Two hundred Sixty Thousand United States Dollars) to enable them continue their work.”
Letter from Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Sylvester Grigsby, Finance Minister Boima Kamara, dated October 16, 2017, requesting US$260k “to enable the [SPTF] team continue their work.”Grigsby’s communication was received and signed for by an official in the Department of Budget and Development Planning, MFDP, on October 18, 2017, with a notation that the amount to be disbursed was under the National Security Agency’s (NSA) account. A subsequent MFDP internal communication, dated October 23, shows action being taken toward fulfilling Min. Grigsby’s request.
Weah has made no mention of pursuing former officials of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration already indicted and facing prosecution. He did not say anything about providing money to prosecute the Global Witness case, the biggest corruption case ever in the history of the country, another key promise he made to voters. What he did say was that he “will build on the institutional gains made by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to improve the lives of the people of Liberia and build new institutions where necessary to protect rights and promote inclusivity.”
Other steps, he said, will include positively impacting the lives of grass rooters, who are popularly known as the masses, assembling a government that is committed to fighting for the ideals that inspired the CDC campaign and dedicating their time to empowering Liberians.
There are other elements to the Weah brand that helped him get elected, among them was how he was going to handle corruption and alleged corrupt officials, to which has not said anything for now. However, many in the public now believe that he downplayed and virtually ignored the issue on the campaign trail by refusing to say directly if he had any interest in prosecuting corrupt officials.
Will such apparent indifference to these concerns dog his popularity and that of his government?
Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi in an interview with the Daily Observer believes that nobody should think the Weah-led government will make as its first priority spending scarce resources to prosecute indicted former public officials like Tyler.
“Prosecuting depends on the discretion of the president-elect; in the case of the Global Witnesses report, the incoming government will not want to spend a million just to fight that case,” Massaquoi said. Yet, if the Finance Ministry fulfilled all of the requests issued by the Minister of State to enable the SPTF between October 2016 and October 2017, then it is fair to say that the Government of Liberia has so far spent US$750,000 on the Task Force.
“This is not the government’s priority case, so do you think they will be interested in that direction? They will be thinking about building schools, hospitals and roads throughout the country, more than prosecuting corrupt past officials.”
The Global Witness report, entitled “The Deceivers” and published on May 11, 2016, alleged that Sable Mining Africa, Limited acquired a stake in Delta Mining, which was operating in Liberia, and devised a scheme and system to bribe officials of the Government of Liberia to change the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) Act for Sable Mining to obtain prized mineral concessions below market prices, principal among which is the Wologizi Mountain range in Lofa County.
According to the report, Tyler advised that he knew the importance of the procurement laws and that he could help Sable Mining get the changes quickly for US$250,000, of which he allegedly received US$75,000.
Tyler, however, denied the allegations levied against him. So far the the matter remains undecided at Criminal Court ‘C’ due to the lack of funding to continue with the case.
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