LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: ‘Cancer’, Amnesia & The Recurring Liberian Tragedy

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Dear Readers,

On July 22nd 2014 I stumbled upon a Facebook post from the then fiery head of mobilization for the then opposition Congress for Democratic Change, Mr. Mulbah Morlu. The post was paying homage to what our newspaper had been doing to foster good governance by holding the then ruling Unity Party’s feet to the fire and most importantly providing a platform for everyone to express their views without fear or favor.

In particular, Mr. Morlu went on to hail our newspaper for its contribution in trumpeting his advocacy for a war crimes court in Liberia.

In the post, headlined: “War Crimes Imminent for Liberia? Mr. Morlu wrote: “Thanks to the US Government; this is what we campaigned for, advocated for, got lambasted and went to jail for; We were beaten, arrested, insulted, called different names, yet remained undeterred until the TRC recommended Prosecution for the commission of heinous crimes; war crimes & crimes against humanity committed against the Liberian people.”

Mr. Morlu went on to save his best for last in lavishing praise on our newspaper, stating: “Thanks to FrontPageAfrica and its publisher Rodney Sieh, a great paper and publisher that continues to be a champion of freedom, justice and good governance.”

The truth of the matter is, we all cannot be sycophants and praise singers, if that was the case, William V.S. Tubman would never had ruled Liberia under a one-party regime for 27 unbroken years -until his death in a London hospital on July 23, 1971, neither would there have been a civil war. I guess it is fair to say that William R. Tolbert would have completed his term in office and there would never have been a Samuel Doe, a Charles Taylor – or even an Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Each and every time this post by Mr. Morlu makes the syndication rounds on Facebook, I get questions from a lot of you wondering what went wrong? How did FrontPageAfrica become such a nuisance to the current administration and others who only yesterday trumpeted our work when they were members of the opposition but have suddenly been struck with amnesia when we are simply doing what we did when the previous government was in power?

To tell you the truth, I wish I knew the answer.

Chatters from the ‘War Room’

Early Friday morning a source within the party called to tell me that they had something to share with me. The source said they were concerned about my safety and thinks that I need to see what they had to share and take precautions.

By midday Friday, I received screenshots from what I have been told are discussions from the war room chat forum of the Coalition for Democratic Change.

The source was right.

The discussions suggest that participants in the chatroom have this notion that we are somehow against the George Weah-led government’s quest to secure two shady loans marred by complications with serious implications for Liberia’s immediate political and economic future.

One of the discussant wrote: “FPA is about to cross the red line. This paper is becoming a cancer in Liberia, and it needs to be stopped by the people not the government or CDC. Why would anyone oppose getting money from any company to rebuild our country? As private citizens we might have to educate our fellow Liberians at home so they can boycott FPA if this continues. We need to write to expose FPA’s dangerous campaign against the future of Liberia.”

The post reminded me of something similar I intercepted during one of our biggest investigative reports dubbed Knucklesgate II, containing a chain of emails we received from sources in which several threats made behind our backs by the powers of day was brought to light in a series of reports linking several senior officials in the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led government to corruption and conflict of interests.

One of those threats came from the late Harry A. Greaves, who was head of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company(LPRC).

Mr. Greaves in a correspondence dated August 17, 2008, with several of the former President’s top brass wrote: “This Sieh man has escalated his rhetoric and is now challenging our future.  Despite what he said in conversation yesterday, it is clear that he is a Trojan horse with a mission and I am so mad at all of us because it is so easy to get rid of that country boy.”

What I had told Mr. Greaves in conversation was that I was simply doing my job. A greater context of this is explained in my upcoming memoir, JOURNALIST ON TRIAL, due out in October from Manor House Publishing in Canada.

Today, there are many in the ruling party and others enjoying the ears of President Weah, who sternly believe that we are on some kind of mission as one discussant put it: “Rodney and FPA have had a mission from the day the CDC elected Mr. Weah, now President Weah as her standard bearer. That mission was and still is to continuously paint negatives about the CDC and President Weah. If one was to do a year after year collection of their reports covering us, 95 percent of those reports will be negative. But guess what, the real beneficiaries(the masses) are the true witnesses to what been reported to that of what this government of practicality is doing. There will come a time when they become irrelevant to their readerships as a result of their own false reporting. All I say to THEE President and his able lieutenants, let your work be your voice and we will be judged by what’s been done.”

Another discussant wrote: “FrontPageAfrica is considered to be an opposition to me because they’re targeting us for no reason or reasons. We’re doing our best and the people that we are serving are excited with what we are doing. This is a total distraction but that won’t stop us from accomplishing our goals. Our detractors will always push for negative topics. They forgot to post the housing project from yesterday but posting about the finance minister to declare his assets. What a shame?”

A Shame for Liberia

Indeed, it is a shame and brings me back to the question, what has gone wrong?

It is a question, many before me and FrontPageAfrica have had to grappled with under previous governments since Liberia’s independence in 1847.

Leaders and rulers say one thing out of power but do things totally differently when it is within their grasp.

I recalled fully when Samuel Doe seized power on April 12, 1980. He came to liberate Liberia from greed, nepotism and corruption. Prince Johnson, who broke away from Charles Taylor to form the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia even went as far as to write a book titled: The gun that liberates should not rule: The philosophy of the I.N.P.F.L. Today, he is a sitting Senator from vote-rich Nimba with two presidential contests under his belt.

My uncle Kenneth Best had his newspaper offices burned down a few times and his staff imprisoned for simply trying to speak truth to power.

My grand uncle Albert Porte endured the same under reigns of William V.S. Tubman and William R. Tolbert when he tried to speak truth to power. He was imprisoned multiple times, harassed and hounded by the government from the 1920s.

Today, the dawn of social media has elevated threat levels to an all-time high with a new degree of sycophancy that has followers of Mr. Weah issuing vague threats against journalists and those seen as critical to the administration’s controversial loans.

President Weah has not helped matters by declaring that those against the loans are enemies of the state and his administration.

Said the President during an appearance in Bong County recently: “My people, don’t listen to those criticizing me for lobbying for loans. Those doing so are enemies of the country. The loans I am taking will be able to complete the roads in three years. When I am asking partners for loans any of them who tell me that they want complete the roads in six years, I can say no because I know in the next six years, if I don’t do anything for you, I will not be re-elected.”

The truth of the matter is our scrutiny of these two loans which won 4-G passages in the national legislature is in no way a sign that we are unpatriotic or against the government of the day. It only validates the point that the media is the Fourth Estate, the last bastion of hope when the three branches of governments have failed to heed the cries of a people when everything points to something fishy about these two deals.

The truth of the matter is that we are fully aware of the influence of the media in any society. Although we are not formally recognized as being part of the political system, we owe it to our readers and to Liberia to dissect, scrutinize and ensure that Liberia’s interest is first and foremost – even if those elected to serve misuse their power and try to stifle unscrupulous loans that will come back to haunt Liberia down our throats.

Two Loans With a Fishy Smell

This is the function of the Fourth Estate. In the same realm of the traditional European concept of the three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners, the equivalent term fourth power often refers to the separation of powers in government into a legislature, an executive and a judiciary.

Our scrutiny of these two loans have been bolstered by our own investigation which found that Eton Financial Private Limited which recently signed a US$536 million loan deal to construct roads in Liberia, was struck off from the Singapore Stock Exchange and had even declared its annual Return in Singapore, on September 5, 2016, that it had been dormant since its formation.

The ETON Financing loan covers 505.3km of roads including the corridor from Grand Bassa County in Buchanan through Cestos City in Rivercess County to Greenville City in Sinoe County onward to Barclayville City in Grand Kru County -316km road.

“Thanks to FrontPageAfrica and its publisher Rodney Sieh, a great paper and publisher that continues to be a champion of freedom, justice and good governance.”

– Mr. Mulbah Morlu, Chairman, Ruling Coalition for Democratic Change

Our investigation further uncovered that the Singaporean Business Registration Portal (www.bizfile.gov.sg) using the Unique Entity Number obtained from the Eton Finance Private Limited, 200510984K, shows that the company status is still listed as “Struck Off”, raising more questions about their capability to raise the money for the Liberia loan.

In the past 48 hours, a video produced by two brothers, Al and Hassan Fadiga who recently made a trip to Hong Kong found that the address that Eton lists as its headquarters on the agreement with Liberia has been used by another company for the past ten years, meaning that Liberia has gone into a deal with what many are now convinced is not just a shady company but a ghost one.

Hong Kong government website shows that Eton on its registration form stated its address as 6/F, Fung Sang Trading Building, 54 Bonham Strand West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong but investigators who spoke with two individuals at said address said the address was correct, but they were not aware of Eton Finance Private Limited.

The men—who were executives of a wholesale distributing company, Ultrasia Limited Uniwell (HK) Limited—told investigators that their company had been at the address mentioned for about 10 years.

The investigators continued its investigation by visiting another business establishment with a similar name: Eton Property Limited, at Eton Tower, 8 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. A representative of Eton Property Limited told investigators that Eton Finance Private Limited was not an affiliate of said company.

The team observed that both signatories to the Eton firm were residing outside Hong Kong. Sang-Hun Kwon’s on-record residential address is 301 46-I Daesagwan-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Metropolitan, Republic of Korea, while Mr. Shigesato Kono’s residential address is 11 Adelabu Street, Surulere Lagos, Nigeria.

Similarly, the second loan, a $US420,810,000 package involving the Burkinabe firm, EBAMOF is also swirling in controversy since President Weah was forced to acknowledged that the firm is managed by Mr. Mahamadou Bonkoungou, the wealthy Burkinabe businessman who President Weah has acknowledged is friend who just happened to provide a plane which the President has been using for his presidential travels since his inauguration.

According to the loan agreement between the company and Liberia, the construction is expected to cover the pavement of 323.7 km roads including the Somalia Drive via Kesselly Boulevard to Sinkor in Monrovia -16km, Tappita to Zwedru in Nimba and Grand GedehCounties and from Toe Town in Grand Gedeh County to Ivory Coast Border-10.2km road. It includes the 185km road from Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County to Greenville in Sinoe County.

“I want to say, can you imagine even in a public perception that FrontPage Africa was very negative and I got to realize and I speak this to a good friend Rodney Sieh and I want to say thank you for your intervention. Let us not allow our differences, our disagreement to amount to animosity.

– Mr. Jefferson Koijee, Mayor, Monrovia City Corporation

Lenders Have Issues With Loans

This week, I completed a trip to East Africa where I was fortunate to run into some executives of the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. What they both share in common with me bore some similarities to what we have been reporting of late.

One of those experts confided to FrontPageAfrica after a careful review of both loan agreements, that a normal lender on arm’s length basis would expect far more protections than what are currently contained in both the EBOMAF and Eton agreements.

In fact, a senior official in the Weah administration has confirmed off record that both deals are likely to go beyond the fifty banking days and even longer because there are serious issues in both loans. On the EBAMOF agreement in particular, the source said: “They will need more than fifty days. The agreement will have to be redone for a proper lender to take it.”

All this could have been avoided if those in the three branches of government had taken their time to dissect these loan agreements so as to avoid bringing unnecessary embarrassment to the government and people of Liberia.

We all should not pretend that we do not know the drill.

In 2013, an audit of lucrative resource deals in Liberia found that almost all the concessions awarded by the government since 2009 were not been compliant with the law.

In a damning report commissioned by the Liberian government, and undertaken by the London-based accounting firm Moore Stephens, international auditors found that only two out of 68 resource contracts worth $8bn (£5.1bn) were conducted properly. Concessions granted in agriculture, forestry, mining and oil – including a lucrative deal with oil company Chevron – were either wholly or partially flawed.

Down This Road Before

Similarly, back in 2007, our investigation found that Broadway, a company awarded Oil Block 13 was a ghost company with no website and fake shareholders. Sound familiar? The former government failed to listen and today that deal has left a stain on the Sirleaf legacy.

Similarly, when our investigation from the Knucklesgate chain of emails found that the South African firm Delta Mining, along with two other companies had promised then minister of state Mr. Willis Knuckles ten percent of their interests if he could guarantee them the concession, Sirleaf ordered an investigation but failed to implement the findings.

The end result? Delta Mining changed its name the Sable Mining and we all know the legacy that has left on the Sirleaf government thanks to a damning report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness which recently unraveled that Sable paid bribes to several government officials in a bid to have the mining laws changed to its advantage.

Perhaps, had the Sirleaf administration follow through on the recommendations of the Dunn Commission the embarrassment that climaxed her reign would have been avoided.

For those still wondering what went wrong between FrontPageAfrica and the current government, we still do not know. What we do know is that we will stop at nothing in pursuit of the truth – even if it means our imprisonment or death.

Hopefully, we would not have to come to that.

This is why I’m glad that the Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee, one of the key beneficiaries of our open platform when the now ruling party was in the opposition, recognized this week that we mean no harm.

Welcoming Koijee’s Turnaround

During a news conference this week, Mayor Koijee said of our coverage of his car accident last week:

“I want to say; can you imagine even in a public perception that FrontPage Africa was very negative and I got to realize and I speak this to a good friend Rodney Sieh and I want to say thank you for your intervention. Let us not allow our differences, our disagreement to amount to animosity. This is Liberia that we have, whatsoever we do must be those things that are geared towards a successful forward march of our country; Even if you disagree with a journalist, you must bear in your subconscious mind that such journalist is a Liberian first before having said position; even if you disagree with a political person you should also bear in your inner soul that such person is a Liberian.”

We have been down this road before and we strongly believe that in spite of the numerous challenges, Liberia will one day get there and everyone will come to understand why we do what we do. Simply put, independence is a necessity for any democracy.

The truth of the matter is, we all cannot be sycophants and praise singers, if that was the case, Tubman would never had ruled Liberia under a one-party regime for 27 unbroken years -until his death in a London hospital on July 23, 1971, neither would there have been a civil war.

I guess it is fair to say that William R. Tolbert would have completed his term in office and there would never have been a Samuel Doe, a Charles Taylor – or even an Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Hope Must Not Die; Change is Key

This is the beauty of our democracy and this is why many before us laid their lives on the line for the peace we enjoy today.

The truth of the matter is, Liberia is not the property of any one group of people but it belongs to all of us. We are all embarking on this journey we call life and humility, compassion and respect for each other   – and the rule of law is the only way we can ensure that we do not regress to our painful past which continues to haunt us each and every day.

We can all stand by and do nothing or raise our voices and red flags, so that we do not return to that ugly chapter in our history, I’m pretty sure we all would want to forget.

The fact remains that each and every Liberian is clinging onto a hope for change even when some still appear to be confused about the change for hope. But we could take solace from author Stephen King’s characters in his novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, when Tim Robbins Character, Andy Dufrane tells his friend, “Red” played by Morgan Freeman in the movie that “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

For Liberia’s sake, I hope that we all can come to the realization that those who raise their voices are not enemies of the state, but players on a team called Liberia, simply looking for our government to do the right thing; and demanding more from those we elected to serve Liberia’s interests and not their own.

The Editor,

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