FOR THE SECOND TIME in as many months, a senior, high-profile member of the U.S. government has been sentenced to prison.
Sentencing of the former Speaker of the House of Representative in the U.S. a sighting rarely seen in Africa’s oldest republic; perhaps it is time to revisit the unwritten rule
DENNIS HASTERT, the Republican who for eight years presided over the House and was second in the line of succession to the presidency, was sentenced Wednesday to more than a year in prison in the hush-money case that included accusations he sexually abused teenagers while coaching high school wrestling.
LAST SEPTEMBER, Former Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., completed his prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2013 to looting $750,000 from campaign funds that he and his wife used for lavish and mundane personal expenses. Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit false statements and mail and wire fraud.
JACKSON’S WIFE, Sandi, pleaded guilty to filing a false federal income tax return and was sentenced to one year in prison.
WEDNESDAY’S SENTENCING of Mr. Hastert made him one of the highest-ranking politicians in American history to be sentenced to prison after pleading guilty last fall to violating banking law as he sought to pay $3.5 million to someone referred to in court papers only as Individual A to keep the sex abuse secret.
A FORMER ATHLETE who said he was molested by Hastert decades ago told the courtroom that he was “devastated” by the abuse. The man, now in his 50s, said Hastert abused him while they were alone in a locker room. He struggled to hold back tears as he described the incident in detail. In the years since, he said, he sought professional help and had trouble sleeping. He said the memory still causes him pain.
RARELY HAS LIBERIA seen a scene of such magnitude, that a sitting or former official is paraded by officers of the law and escorted to prison after being found guilty of a crime.
IN THE FEW INSTANCES, that have surfaced, a succeeding government has been involved in trying to set example on a former by parading them in the public light.
IN NOVEMBER 2009, former transitional government head, Charles Gyude Bryant was arrested on charges of economic sabotage and accused of embezzling more than $1 million during his two-year rule. His successor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has made fighting corruption one of the major priorities of her presidency.
THREE YEARS EARLIER, in March 2006, former President Charles Taylor, who served as president from 1997 until he resigned under pressure in August 2003, became the first former African head of state to face international criminal charges for alleged misdeeds while in office.
TAYLOR HAD stepped down and went into exile in the southeastern Nigerian tourist city of Calabar, but Nigerian authorities agreed to return him to Liberia at the request of the newly elected president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
MORE RECENTLY, Liberia have only gotten a glimpse of a courtroom sideshow as a handful of former officials from the Sirleaf administration have made cameo appearances in courtrooms on a wave of corruption allegations.
IN A RARE high-profile case involving the former head of the National Oil Company of Liberia, Clemenceau Urey, a judge initially quashed pleads for the indictment to be dismissed after the accused sought to link the presidency to the allegations of corruption.
UREY AND OTHERS were indicted alongside eight others who allegedly engaged in acts which denote economic sabotage, bribery and criminal conspiracy.
THE CASE AGAINST the accused was later dropped because the trial borders on the integrity of presidency.
MORE RECENTLY, Mr. T. Nelson Williams, the former Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company and the former minister of Commerce Miatta Beysolow were indicted along with a host of others for their alleged role in the illegal sale of the Japanese Oil Grant.
BUT MANY OF THESE CASES, it appears justice has been either stalled, influenced or compromised.
THE U.S. ANNUAL Human Rights report which has chided Liberia in the past decade for various forms of abuses, again cited in its recent report that jurors were subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermined their neutrality. “Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.”
LIBERIA-U.S. RELATIONS date back to 1819, when the US Congress appropriated $100,000 for the establishment of Liberia. The United States officially recognized Liberia in 1862, 15 years after its establishment as a sovereign nation, and the two nations shared very close diplomatic, economic, and military ties.
THE RELATIONSHIP HAS led many to consider the U.S.as Liberia adopted Stepfather. Besides the capitol city Monrovia being named after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States (1817-1825), many Liberians consider America home away from home. The country has and continues to enjoy millions of dollars in U.S. aid and overwhelming congressional support.
NEVERTHELESS, the country continues to rank low in Transparency International’s annual rankings. In 2015, the post-war nation was ranked 83 out of 168 countries, making it one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Although, the country could be considered least corrupt when placed in comparison with other African countries like Nigeria, Chad, Burundi or Somalia, lack of accountability and corruption is causing decay in the Liberian economy, TI reported.
PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF made the fight against corruption one of her top priorities when she was elected in 2005 but while it has implemented some strategies for reform including the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, which gives members of the press and the general public unrestrained access to public records and the setting up of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to expose and combat official corruption, confidence is low in the government’s effort to eradicate graft.
WITH SUCH strong ties between Liberia and America, we hope that governments both current and future will push for improved laws and judicial remedies that will ensure that officials allegedly engaged in corruption face the full weight of the law without fear or favour.
IMPUNITY MUST NOT OR NEVER define a country’s existence neither should a government allow itself to fall prey to the ills of the past.
THE SENTENCING OF Mr. Hastert and previously Mr. Jackson and others must serve as the perfect model for Liberia resurging democracy. It is the only way international stakeholders will have confidence in our political will and the only way those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder will have confidence in the ability of their government to stop the recurring wheel of impunity.