LIBERIA: Of Yachts & Planes: Presidential Jet ‘Gift’ A Constitutional Violation

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THE DRAFTERS of the Liberian constitutional code of conduct made it quite clear under Part IX regarding Bribes and Conflict of Interest.

SECTION 9.1 STATES: “Public Officials and Employees of Government shall not receive nor encourage the giving of any form of bribe or casual gift in connection with the performance of his or her official duties, whether for himself or herself or members of his or her family or any other benefits that could have any influence on his or her professional approach to issues and the discharge of his or her official duties. This shall not include gifts given during traditional ceremonies and celebrations, and fees paid for Lobbying. The Legislature shall enact laws for the regulation of lobbying activities.”

IN WAKE OF many speculations of late regarding reports that President George Manneh Weah had purchased a private Presidential jet, FrontPageAfrica made inquiries to the President’s office for clarity.

PRESS SECRETARY SAM MANNAH when contacted said: “The Plane is a private plane being provided to the President to facilitate his travels. It is not owned by the President; neither is it a chartered plane. We have been blessed to have a President who has many friends.”

THE PRESIDENT’S OFFICE has not said which one of the President’s private friends has made the plane available at his disposal for travel but the admission does raise several questions about the administration’s repeated disregard for transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

THE CONSTITUTION IS CLEAR. Section 9.2 regarding “Token Gifts” states: Any token gift received by Public Officials and Employees of Government must be declared, within a reasonable time not exceeding seven (7) days, to the appropriate authority that shall decide whether the gift item should be retained by the Public Official or Employee of Government or whether the gift should be surrendered to Government. Public Officials and Employees of Government who surrender a token gift must demand a receipt from the appropriate recipient or depository.

SECTION 9.4 UNDER Gifts and Offers intended to Induce or Influence goes on to say: “Every Public Official and Employee of Government shall report to his or her head of institution any circumstances where a benefit or gift was offered or made regardless of whether the benefit or gift was accepted, especially where the public servant feels that such circumstances constituted attempts to influence his or her official action/decision. In reporting, the Public Official or Employee of Government shall disclose the source of such an offer.”

SECTION 9.5 REGARDING the Reporting of Gifts from Foreign Governments, International Organizations, etc. adds: “A Public Official or Employee of Government may accept gifts other than casual or token gifts from foreign governments, donors, international or multinational organizations or quasi-governmental organizations closely affiliated or funded by a foreign government but shall promptly declare such gift to his or her superior who shall decide whether the Public Official or Employee of Government may retain the gift or must surrender it to Government.”

THESE LAWS WERE put in place in a bid to discourage outside interference in governance and ensure that those appointed or elected to public office are not influenced by outside forces during the discharge of their duties as Section 9.6 regarding the Use of Office for Private Interest states: “No Public Official or Employee of Government should use an official position to pursue private interests that may result in conflict of interest.”

THIS IS NOT about a witch hunt but ensuring that the Weah-led administration understand abides by the basic principles of governance and the rule of law.

LIBERIA HAS HAD A rugged history regarding presidential jet and private luxuries.

THE LAST PRESIDENT to actually purchase a plane was Samuel Kanyon Doe through the instrumentality of a familiar face in Mr. Emmanuel Shaw, currently one of the current President Weah’s key aides. Ironically, Shaw was entangled in a major scandal over the sale of the plane after the demise of Doe. It is alleged that he later sold the jet after Doe’s demise for millions before fleeing the country.

LATE PRESIDENT WILLIAM V.S. Tubman was often criticized for purchasing a yacht while in office when many of his citizens were dying from simple illnesses.

WHEN HIS SUCCESSOR William R. Tolbert came on the scene, he declared that he had had enough.
PRESIDENT TOLBERT decided to sell the Presidential yacht, which was costing taxpayers US$25,000 to maintain.

THE NEW YORK TIMES QUOTED a Liberian in an October 1971 report as saying: “Liberia has never been like Haiti, and Mr. Tubman, who was known as “Uncle Shad,” was not a vicious dictator, but he did inspire awe approaching fear.”

If we cannot correct the mistakes made by predecessors Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf but continue to adopt their failed ways, we are bound to fail to the detriment of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

IN FACT, veteran Liberian pamphleteer and social justice crusader Albert Porte took issues with President Tubman in an August 25, 1951 letter in which he slammed the President as being unwise to purchase a yacht given Tubman’s autocratic tendencies especially at a time when he was near to silencing his critics. Porte cautioned the Liberian chief executive not to purchase a luxury Presidential yacht which is said to have been 463-tons with a passenger capacity of 36. The posh carrier required an international crew, and a separate department within the Department of State and bought at $125,000.00.

FOR DECADES, Liberia has been classified among some of the undeveloped countries of the world and many times over, Liberians have wailed, over the lack of basic minimum necessities for survival.

THIS IS WHY we find it troubling that the current leadership which prides itself on a pro poor agenda would choose to make one bad mistake after the next when many are living in abject poverty, when prices of major but basic commodities are at an all time high, when the foreign exchange rate is sky-rocketing by the day and many are now shifting the blame on the predecessor, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

IF WE CANNOT correct the mistakes made by predecessors Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and Sirleaf but continue to adopt their failed ways, we are bound to fail to the detriment of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

THE EXPLANATION that the plane President Weah currently used to travel is a gift from one of his many friends is not enough an explanation for Liberia and its people. For the sake of transparency and accountability, the government is obligated to inform the Liberian people about the identity of the person or persons who has put their plane at the disposal of our president and what they are expecting in return.

THIS IS GOOD governance and erases perceptions, speculations and doubts from inquiring minds wanting to know and demanding answers from those they elected to serve.

A HINT TO THE WISE!!!

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