Over the last few weeks, we have had a lot of jabs thrown our way from a lot of folks close to the corridors of power in Liberia, regarding the image being portrayed in the media about Africa’s oldest republic. There are some of you who feel that we publish way too many negative stories about corruption, greed, abuse of resources, and the lack of transparency and accountability in government. Thus, driving investors away and projecting Liberia in a bad light.
In one of a couple of interactions with former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf since leaving office, she too expressed concerns and even made an appeal for us to give the new government a break.
My response, “Madam President, I don’t think it would be fair to you if we did.”
Sirleaf would later go on to rant as she urged the media, not to focus too much on the negatives but highlight the positives in government.
The fact of the matter is, our newspaper and many Liberians, including the now ruling party which was in the opposition at the time, never gave the former government the break many, including her, are now seeking – under the guise of protecting Liberia’s image.
The fact of the matter is, from day one of the Sirleaf government, we were on her back, scrutinizing every questionable government transaction and every perceivable shady deal we were able to expose – with of course, the backing of supporting documents.
This has been our claim to infamy. Starting with the first year of the Sirleaf Presidency, when our staff of dedicated and hard-working reporters began assessing the performances of appointed and elected officials in government in hopes of throwing some light on their strengths and weaknesses, and offering an outlook into the future.
The goal of this exercise, now in its thirteenth year, is to ensure that Liberia does not return to the ugly past and this is our way of making meaningful contributions to Liberia.
The truth of the matter is, the images are still vivid of April 22nd, 1980 when thirteen members of former President William R. Tolbert’s government were shot and killed by the Samuel Kanyon Doe-led People’s Redemption Council who accused the fallen government of rampant corruption.
I remember hearing the then, young Doe speaking passionately on the radio when he announced the toppling of the Tolbert government, about how bad things were for the indigenous people and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.
The coup ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule but Doe’s reign was soon eclipsed by echoes of the very sins he and his peers accused Tolbert of. It didn’t take long before antsy Liberians began to accuse Doe of the same; corruption, human rights abuse, lack of transparency and accountability – you name it, Doe felt it, the familiar refrains of a nation riding on a galore of contradictions with itself.
In less than a decade, Doe’s reign came to an end. It was a pyrrhic victory of sorts – a civil war brought on by Charles Taylor, a fugitive from Doe’s version of justice, resulted in a season of killings, mayhem, chaos and confusion – all under the guise of ridding Liberia of Doe.
Like the coup of 1980, the so-called liberators and their gun-toting rebels killed many of those who worked in the Doe government because they were perceived as either corrupt, nepotistic, greedy or just in the wrong place at the wrong time – or simply belonging to the wrong tribe.
My next-door neighbor Henrique Langford, who had just graduated from the University of Liberia with a degree in agriculture, was gunned down in cold blood simply because his father was head of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Liberia National Police.
I nearly lost my life on a number of occasions during the war because my uncle Charles Brewer who raised me along with my aunt, was a vice president at the Agriculture Cooperative Development Bank. I guess the rebels thought that he had money stashed away in the house somewhere when they laid him and my aunt in a swarm of ants because he refused to give them the keys to his car, idly parked in the garage.
Many others lost their lives because a mother, a father, or relative worked under Doe.
The popular theme in all of this begins and ends with corruption – succeeding groups accusing the preceding of Liberia’s unforgivable sin, corruption.
Here is a nation, which as far back as the 1800’s deposed in a coup d’etat, Edward James Roye, the man regarded as the first pure black person to become President with variation of historical accounts surrounding reports of money being tied in a belt around his waist at the time of his death, as he tried to escape when his canoe capsized.
At the grand old age of 171, Liberia, it seems is still struggling with how to deal with this unforgivable sin described as a vampire by former President Sirleaf, and now considered by some a witchcraft under the current administration.
Amid the many calls for us to ease up on the corruption stories in a bid to project the so-called good image of Liberia, we find it difficult to do so at this time. The hard truth is that, easing up on reporting about the unforgivable sin now would simply mean, giving an easy pass to leaders of today when others before them where not so lucky or fortunate – and even paid dearly with the loss of their lives all because the sin was unforgivable.
This medium belongs to the people of Liberia. It is a medium I believed in when we started more than a decade ago and one which we feel strongly is necessary to keep the fire burning against wanton waste, abuse, corruption and greed.
Most importantly, it is a medium necessary to keep a check on government because, as we all know, the legislative and judiciary branches of government are failing to provide proper check and balance on the executive branch of government.
It is for these reasons that we are moved to announce to you, our readers, that some folks who are unhappy with Liberia’s ugly past and eager to help the current government succeed, have released to us a chain of vouchers, receipts, invoices and approved expenditures in the tone of millions of dollars disbursed in just one year of the current administration.
Some of the documents in our possession draw stark similarities to the Ellen Corkrum controversy. Corkrum, who if you may recall fled the country, was a former Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority, along with her boyfriend Melvin Johnson, were accused of embezzling from the government of Liberia thousands of dollars.
The more things change, it appears, the more they remain the same.
In the coming weeks, beginning Monday, December 17, we will dissect the documents in our possession involving officials at the highest level of the current government; thoroughly investigate and begin releasing them to the public.
This is necessary because Liberia has been through so much in so little time, and appears to be going nowhere because a handful of people want to use their positions of power or proximity to the presidency, to steal from government in broad daylight.
Not since our release of a chain of emails dubbed Knucklesgate II, linking top officials of the former Sirleaf administration to allegations of corruption, have we seen so much misuse of public money and wanton disregard for transparency and accountability.
This is why, we cannot in good faith, hold on to evidence of alleged foul play while many are struggling to make ends meet. Contrary to what some of you may think, feel or hear, we bleed red, white and blue – with a star in the left-hand corner.
Shielding the realities of corruption and greed from the rest of the world under the guise of protecting Liberia’s image is not the best solution to avoiding the unforgivable sin. Naming and shaming.
Those elected or appointed to serve must realize that service in government is a privilege and not a right, and must do all they can to avoid the trappings and arrogance of power.
President Weah may have a good heart but he needs to muster the courage, political will and wisdom if he is to succeed. No amount of prayers and wishes will do that for him; no amount of sycophancy will do that for him. Leaders before him had a lot of those. Thanks to our 171-year-old history, we all know how those reigns ended – and how they are being remembered today.
The buck, Mr. President, must begin and end with you…A Hint to the Very Wise!!!