MONROVIA – A former top aide of ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she failed ‘the Liberian people big time’ during her 12-year reign, and worst among her shortcomings was she institutionalized bribery at the Legislature.
Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, who served as Solicitor General and in other high profile positions in the Sirleaf’s administration said by her constant bribery of the Legislature to do her biddings, Liberia’s first post-war president set a bad precedent that is being practiced today by her successor, something that is corroding the country’s governance system.
Cllr. Gongloe: “The Presidents of Liberia have a diversionary tactic. If they don’t want to solve something, they set up a committee or commission that serves as a shocks absolver to take the pressure off their backs when they have no intention. When I was a Solicitor General of Liberia, I experienced it under one of the Presidents we had expected to lay a firm foundation for good governance, human rights and respect for the rule of law.”
He continued: “That’s why I left government because there was complete failure between pronouncements and actions. President Sirleaf fail us big time. And the worst thing she did, she institutionalized bribery of the Legislature. Today, nothing goes to the Legislature without envelope. So, if the Legislature that makes our laws is bribed and can only act on the basis of bribery, we can never succeed. It means the best interest of the country will be buried until their pockets are full.”
Sirleaf’s Mixed Legacy
President Sirleaf, a career politician, made history when she broke the glass ceiling in 2005 by becoming Liberia and Africa’s first elected female President. But that feat came with a price: she inherited a broken economy, a heavy debt burden and a divided nation reeling from dreadful back-to-back civil wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people.
President Sirleaf duped as the ‘Iron Lady’ gained international stardom and respect for her leadership role at home and on the world stage. She received some of the highest awards in leadership, good governance and democracy such as the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 which she shared with fellow compatriot Layma Gbowee, and the Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman. In 2018, she won the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
However, her approval ratings at home following her 12-year rule is somewhat mixed. While many hailed her for putting Liberia back among the comity of nations, erasing the huge debt burden and restructuring the governance system, some criticized her for being complacent in the fight against corruption. And Cllr. Gongloe, who served in her administration as Minister of Labor and Solicitor General, is one of those who believed that his former boss failed the Liberian people.
During her presidency, there were a widespread report that the Legislature were bribed to pass laws and take a certain decision in favor of the Executive. A lawmaker infamously admitted to receiving an envelope of cash in the 53rd Legislature. In 2009, then-House Speaker Edwin M. Snowe accused the Executive Branch of Government of bribing some members with US$5,000 each to remove him. The government, under Sirleaf’s watch, denied any involvement. Ironically, in 2016, Snowe’s successor, former Speaker J. Alex Tyler would later complain that his removal was masterminded by the Executive.
‘Accepting Bribery But Refuting Justice’
Cllr. Gongloe, who is now the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) said the act of bribery is still continuing in the current 54th Legislature.
Speaking at the observance of the International Justice Day over the weekend, he said it was appalling for the Legislature, who should be checkmating the President and holding him accountable for the full implementation of the TRC report to be shielding those responsible for the mayhems and deaths of over 250,000 Liberians, while the souls of victims cry out for justice.
Cllr. Gongloe: “For some of them, they want to win the election, some want a contract and some of them want a favor from the Executive mansion. They refused to even seek accountability for their own relatives. We can’t be diplomatic about it anymore. How low can we sink?” he asked rhetorically.
He continued: “Clearly, the shielding of the killers that have started at the Senate may go to the House. The last time in the House of Representatives, 54 of them put their names on a resolution, the speaker said he can’t find the list. They will have to produce a new list. That means they will get to people who signed earlier to change their decision; which means that in the end, it will not happen. We will keep advocating, but while we are advocating, the shielding and the protection of the killers is going on and they are using cash which makes it difficult for us to succeed.”
The event held on Saturday was organized by the CSO Human Rights Platform and justice advocates.