Setting A Historic Precedent: An Anti-Corruption First For Liberia

NEVER BEFORE in Liberia’s history has a sitting Speaker of the House of Representative and the chairman of a party in power been subjected to the rule of the law.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 25, 2016 will no doubt go down as one for the record books when a Special Presidential Task Force set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to probe the Global Witness (GW) corruption report involving current and former officials of government, drew an indictment against key individuals linked to the scandal.

AS EARLY AS 8:30am, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, the chair of the ruling Unity Party was picked up from his home and taken to the Criminal Court C where he was charged for allegedly participating in a bribery scheme to get government officials to change a mining law to help a British firm.

CLLR. SHERMAN was later joined by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Alex Tyler appeared. Both were charged with bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage and criminal facilitation, according to state radio. Both men denied the allegations and were released on bail.

THE CHARGES stem from a report by the environmental group Global Witness which alleged that Sherman, a lawyer in 2010 for Sable Mining, distributed $950,000 to top Liberian officials to persuade them to alter the mining concession law to help the British firm secure rights to the Wologizi iron ore concession in northern Liberia in 2010. The report also alleged that the current Speaker of the House, Tyler, received money to alter the law.

SHERMAN HAS denied the report and rejected calls to appear before the Task Force set up by the President. “To the best of my knowledge, none of these alleged payments were ever made to any of these Liberian officials,” said the ruling party leader who has so far declined to talk about any financial deal between him and Sable Mining, saying that as a professional lawyer he was prohibited by law.

SPEAKER TYLER, for his part, had called for an independent investigative panel outside of government, saying only an independent panel could render fair justice. The Wologizi Mountain, on the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone, remains untouched.

BESIDES TYLER AND SHERMAN, Businessman Christopher Ononuga, Sable Mining Inc., and former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Mr. ECB Jones were also indicted.

HOURS PRIOR to the indictment, it seemed both the Legislative and Executive Branches of government were headed for a showdown after Senator Armah Jallah (Gbarpolu), the President Pro Temp and Tyler shook hands on a joint statement calling on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to instruct the Special Presidential taskforce to cease attacks on former and current members of the Legislature “The Legislature therefore calls on the President to instruct the special Taskforce to cease attacking the person and property of any present or former member of the Legislature while the joint committee carries out the investigation.”

THE STATEMENT from the Legislature comes a day after House Speaker, Alex Tyler, reportedly agreed to appear before the Special Presidential Task Force which has been set up in the wake of a recent Global Witness report, which alleged that US$950,000 were paid in bribes by the UK based Sable Mining via the Sherman & Sherman Law firm, owned by Grand Cape Mount County Senator, Varney Sherman, who has also been named in the report as the one instructing payments to top officials of government to change the PPCC Act for Sable to acquire the Wologizi Mountain.

BOTH HOUSES are convinced that the Executive has failed to observe the principle of coordination consistent with the constitution and rules of the House and Senate choosing instead to probe the matter themselves. “The Joint committee of the Legislature will investigate this allegation as the legislature is the branch of government constitutionally charged to make laws,” the statement said.

NOT TO BE DETERRED, the Task Force pressed ahead and before the break of dawn both Sherman and Tyler had their homes surrounded by PSU officers all set to enforce arrests.

THE WRIT OF ARREST issued Wednesday by the Criminal Court “C” before his honour Judge Emery Paye from the Clerk of the court Knowles Shain reads: You are hereby commanded to arrest the living bodies of Varney Sherman, E C B Jones, Christopher Onanuga, Alex Tyler and the Sable Mining Inc., by and thru its authorized representative charged with the commission of the crimes, bribery, criminal facilitation, conspiracy, solicitation and economic sabotage.” The writ further stated that the defendants have been charged based upon the indictment prepared against the Grand Jury of Montserrado County duly selected empanelled and sworn to inquire in and for the people of Montserrado county sitting in its May 2016 Term and forthwith bring them before this court to answer to the crimes mentioned supra.

AS UNPRECEDENTED AS Wednesday’s arrest is, we feel strongly that any aggressive action that highlights corruption in a light that has brought powerful forces to the doorsteps of the Criminal Court signals that Liberia may finally be slowly treading toward an era where no one is above the law.

IN RECENT PAST, arrogance has taken a form that has made some lawmakers into untouchable men and women, refusing to obey the laws of the land – whether it is running amok in traffic or changing license plates on several vehicles, elected officials appear to have forgotten why they were elected. So much so that have become invincible men and women unwilling and unprepared to disclose their salaries and benefits – even after a media institution puts in a request through the Freedom of Information Act which they signed and which has been approved by the President.

IT IS A FACT that the Sirleaf administration has turned its back on corruption; it is a fact that many both locally and international feel that corruption has been left for dead. On Wednesday, it appears a glimmer of hope resurrected in an unexpected fashion; showing some lawmakers the despite differences of opinions of the law, no one is above the laws of the land. But more importantly, it is about time that someone from up there get a taste of what those at the bottom of the economic ladder are going through on a daily basis – if only for a short while.

Global Witness
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