Liberia: The Problem With First Lady Clar Weah’s ‘Foundation’

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DURING A RECENT VISIT to Beijing, Liberia’s First Lady, Mrs. Clar Marie Weah, made an appeal on behalf of her “Clar Hope Foundation” to humanitarians, philanthropists and others to provide needed support and assistance to improve the lives of the country’s vulnerable population, making special emphasis on women, the elderly, orphans, special need children as well as wayward young youths.

Through the “Clar Hope Foundation”, Mrs. Weah indicated that her goal is to improve the living conditions of both urban and rural women, increase the income of rural women through agriculture; rehabilitate, educate and train young boys and girls that are in the streets of Liberia.

THE FIRST LADY EXPLAINED that her motivation came from her husband, President George Weah’s Inaugural Address where he promised unification, a business-friendly environment, and more importantly to improve the conditions of the most vulnerable population in Liberia through a Pro-Poor Agenda.

MRS. WEAH THEN promised to make her husband’ dream a reality and outlined plans to build a facility to be called “City of Hope”, which will consist of a home for disadvantaged children, a rehabilitation center for girls from the street, a school, shelters for orphans and a feeding program for the elderly.

WHILE WE APPRECIATE the first lady’s desire to help those in need, Liberia’s history and current predicament and reluctance toward transparency and accountability forces us to demand thorough scrutiny.

IT IS VERY RARE for leaders and their families to start up foundations while in office for the obvious reasons that it draws unnecessary attention and scrutiny.

FORMER US PRESIDENT Bill Clinton set up his Clinton Foundation charity after he wrapped up his presidency in 2001 with the idea of bringing government, businesses and social groups together to tackle big problems.  The foundation is made up of 11 non-profit groups that work on four major issues: global health and wellness, climate change, economic development and improving opportunities for girls and women.

WITH ALL THE GOOD intentions of the foundation, questions arose when former President Clinton’s wife, Hilary decided to run for President.

ALTHOUGH HE WAS NO longer in office, his wife’s bid triggered concerns about transparency even prior to her presidential bid when she served as secretary of state. Critics charged that some donors, especially foreign governments, may have been trying to buy influence.

THIS IS WHERE OUR problem lies in Liberia’s current first lady, the first in a long time, trying to start a foundation after the election of her husband as President.

CLOSER TO HOME, our neighbors Senegal is a clear example of how ruling families can easily run into trouble – even if on the surface they aim to do well under the guise of private foundations.

IN MARCH 2010, Former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade claimed 35 percent of an extravagant statue’s tourist revenue for one of his private foundations run by his daughter Sindiely Wade. The President went on to justifies his appropriation of the infamous “35 percent” because of “intellectual property” rights.

THE 328-FOOT STATUE estimated at $US70 million marked a striking symbol of corruption in Senegal under Wade.

FOUR YEARS LATER, his son, Karim Wade was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and fined $230m (£150m) for illegal enrichment during his father’s 12-year rule.

KARIM WADE was accused of illegally amassing about $1.4 billion but was cleared of some of the charges by a special anti-corruption court in the capital, Dakar.  At his sentencing, the judge said Wade had hidden away funds in offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and Panama.

THIS HAS BEEN A TREND for decades. Leaders and rulers have found themselves running into trouble either while in office or after they leave.

MOHAMED SUHARTO, ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, and was accused of embezzling between US$15 billion to US$31 billion during his 31 years in office.

SUHARTO was accused of using a system of patronage to ensure loyalty, while cementing his control of state-run monopolies, and special tax breaks to companies owned by his four children, family members and close friends.

BUSINESSES looking to gain access to the Presidency used Suharto’s crony business activities and family foundations to cut bureaucratic red tape.

ACCORDING TO ROBERT ELSON, SUHARTO’S BIOGRAPHER, many of those who played by those rules returned the favor with kickbacks and tribute payments, under the guise of charitable donations to dozens of foundations overseen by Suharto. The foundations were in effect, a personal piggy bank for Suharto and donating millions to them, making the scheme a major part of the cost of doing business in Indonesia during that era.

JEAN CLAUDE DUVALIER, who ruled Haiti from 1971 – 1986 was accused of amassing $US300 million to $800 million during his fifteen years in office.

NICKNAMED, “Baby Doc”, Duvalier inherited Haiti’s presidency (aged 19) on the death of his father François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in April 1971.

THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND in 1980 reported that some $22 million in aid were siphoned off, with $16 million going to the Duvalier family through foundations.

APART FROM A CASE being appealed in Switzerland (of $6.5 million), the only other asset recovery related case recorded, is the long running proceedings involving Duvalier assets held in the name of the Foundation Brouilly.  Based in Liechtenstein, the Brouilly Foundation is owned by a Panama based company, which in turn is owned by members of the Duvalier family.

IN LIBERIA, it is no secret that the last twelve years was bombarded with allegations and reports that the Sirleaf-led government was siphoning funds through her son, Robert A. Sirleaf Foundation.

IN FACT, the current administration which was in the opposition at the time took the Sirleaf government to task on a number of occasions regarding not just the foundation but Sirleaf’s own Market Women Fund.

IN 2012, the party’s youth leader was taken to court by Sirleaf’s son, Robert who Mr. Jefferson Koijee accused of becoming a billionaire while siphoning oil funds to his private foundation. Robert Sirleaf’s lawsuit expressed unhappiness about a comparison between him and the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President, who has been accused of misusing his country’s oil funds.

SIMILARLY, Representative Acarous Gray (Montserrado County, District No. 8), on numerous occasions threatened impeachment of President Sirleaf.

THE TRIP down memory lane is intended to remind the current administration of the many frailties they fought for in the past in a bid to ensure that Liberia progress past the ugly chapters of yesteryears that brought us too much heartache, chaos and despair.

IN THE CURRENT BUDGET now being debated, there is an appropriation of $US1M for “humanitarian services” for the first lady’s office.

WE FEEL THAT SHOULD BE ENOUGH to undertake projects the First Lady holds to her heart in one budget year, especially for a government preaching a pro-poor agenda.

WE CANNOT IN GOOD faith encourage the office of the first lady to go around the world pleading for aid for her foundation, especially when her husband, President George Manneh Weah and the new government have been reluctant to exhibit transparency and accountability regarding government expenditures and paying a deaf ear to numerous calls to declare their assets.

A HINT TO THE WISE!!!

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