Looming Conflict of Interest Over Committee to Probe Concession Agreements
Monrovia – Lawyers appointed by President George Manneh Weah to the committee established to review all concession agreements in the country should recuse themselves if they are providing legal counsel for a specific company under scrutiny, says Representative Vincent S.T, Willie.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni – [email protected]
The Grand Bassa County District four lawmaker hailed President Weah for his farsightedness in setting up the body to scrutinize “old age agreements that don’t meet present days’ reality”.
But he stressed that although members of the committee are astute legal luminaries, the public must be cognizant about the legal service that they also render to companies that would come under revision by the committee.
“I am counting on them to recuse themselves if and only if they are connected to any of these concessions that they will be reviewing.”
“Once it comes to a concession that they are providing legal advice for they should recuse themselves from the committee,” he suggested.
Those appointed to the committee are, Hon. Archie Bernard, Legal Advisor to the President as Chairman; Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner, Vice Chair; and Charles Bright, Economic Advisor to the President as member.
Other members appointed to the committee are: Cllr. Necular Y. Edwards,
Cllr. Bendu E. Clark, Ms. Juah Nancy Cassell, Cllr. Jallah Barbu, Cllr. Teplah Reeves and Cllr. David A. B. Jallah.
The committee was setup Wednesday, February 14 and mandated to review and ensure that all contracts entered into by the Government of Liberia and Concessionaires are executed according to agreed principles in accordance with the Laws of Liberia.
President Weah also instructed the committee “to ascertain and ensure that all contracts meet the legal requirements of the laws of Liberia and are fully implemented.”
According to an Executive Mansion release, the committee is to ensure that during its investigation, the concessionaires and the Republic of Liberia are in good standing with all current performance under the Terms and Conditions of the agreement and contracts signed.
The formation of the committee has received commendations from many Liberians who are optimistic that its work would impact the lives of many Liberians working with concession companies and benefit communities.
The 52nd Legislature during former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration passed into law 66 concession agreements. The passage of the agreements created dissatisfaction amongst many Liberians who claimed the process didn’t meet international best practices and the agreements were not in the interest of the country.
Flagging Conflict of Interest
And Rep. Willie, who is now the Chair of the House of Representatives’ committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and environment, asserts that most members on the committee own law firms that obviously provided legal counsel for concession companies in the country.
“They should do the Liberian people due diligence by recusing themselves so that the process is done void of controversies and missteps that might lead to the suffering of the Liberian people again because of conflict of interest,” he said.
The Grand Bassa County lawmaker was reluctant to mention names of individuals on the committee that may be embroiled in a possible conflict of interest saga.
But he warned that he would be unstoppable in disclosing more details about their connections with concession companies if they ignore issues of integrity that may dent the purpose of the committee.
Said Hon. Willie: “I will hold back with all of the information that I have, because I have already sent out the message and I will await. But if the committee comes out with its report and we don’t see the recusal of individuals that are connected with a specific company and he or she did not recuse himself from the revision of that particular contract then we will have to bring it to book.”
He said the President’s preference of appointees was based on their integrity and he, too, is confident in their ability to perform without dashing the hope of many Liberians.
However, he warned that members of the committee’s reputation would come into public disrepute once they thread the wrong path, which will obviously defeat the intention of the President.
Said Willie: “My fear here is that you cannot be a referee and a player at the same time, which means we cannot have a person who is providing legal guidance for a specific company by carving a contract in the interest of a company – which was best for their clients, perhaps at the time they were not looking at the interest of the Liberian people.”
“Some of them did not care for the interest of the Liberian people because of their clients’ interest and now they must do justice to the Liberian people since they have been appointed to this committee.”
Responding to criticisms dogging appointments by President Weah, the new lawmaker, who was voted as an independent candidate, said it’s improbable for the chief executive to know the personal dealings of every individual tipped for nomination to a position.
However, he said it is incumbent upon these appointees to uphold ethical standards in order to avoid conflict of interest and seek the interest of the nation.
Rectify LAC Concession Agreement
Meanwhile, Rep. Willie has stressed that the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) concession agreement must be given preference for rectification because according to him the agreement is outdated.
He is the representative of the constituency where LAC has vast portion of its rubber plantation.
He said the “agreement was the agreement of that time but not an agreement for the 21 Century”.
“I have called on the President one or two times so that he can listen to the cry of the people of Wee Statutory District, that the LAC concession agreement, which was signed in 1959, is just seven pages and not even readable, and this is something that needs to be review because it doesn’t meet present day scenario,” he said.
He called on Cllr. David Jallah, who is a member of the committee and a native of Grand Bassa County, to ensure that the LAC concession agreement the placed as number one priority since it’s the oldest agreement yet to be rectified by the government.
“If we are reviewing all of the concessions, it should be the oldest concession in the country since the Firestone agreement has already been reviewed. So, I am counting on this committee to firstly pick up the LAC agreement and look at it,” he said.