Dictatorship Brewing in Liberia: Weah Must Muster Courage to Avoid Return to Ugly Past


IN AN 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, Archbishop of the Church of England, the historian and moralist, Lord Acton wrote: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” implying that “Power tends to corrupt” to those in authority.

IN THE LAST 48 hours, Liberian President George Manneh Weah triggered wave of reactions regarding a bill submitted to the national legislature seeking to prohibit the Tenure of Public officials. 

THE BILL ENTITLED “An Act Prohibiting the Tenure of Public Officials Within the Executive Branch of Government” was captured on the agenda read by the Deputy Chief Clerk, J. Sayfah Geeplay, of the House of Representatives during the first day sitting of the Legislature’s re-called session on Tuesday, October 30.

IN HIS SUBMISSION, President Weah states without much detail, that the status of tenured personnel of the Liberian Government would impede and obstruct the development agenda of the President. Although the bill did not outline how tenure position might obstruct the development agenda of the President, it gives the president full powers over the Executive Branch of Government.

THE BILL consists of four sections, the first  of which reads: “Except as otherwise provided in the constitution of the Republic of Liberia, all statutory provisions of laws providing for tenure of office, terms of office, tenure, or anything that provides security of tenure, of all public officials appointed by the President under the Executive Branch of Government are hereby repealed.

SECTION TWO: “The President shall have and exercise all the powers necessary and convenient for the effective administration of the Executive Branch and all the institutions under its control, and to this end, all appointed officials thereof shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the president.”

SECTION THREE ADDS: “That the law supersedes all other statutory provisions regarding tenure office under the Executive Branch of Government; while Section Four calls for the law to take effect immediately upon publication into hand bills”.

FOR A NATION emerging out of years of civil war, mostly brought on by alleged and perceived dictatorial tendencies of past rulers, it is important for the Weah-led government to bring some clarity to this matter, particularly regarding which institutions of government the President is seeking control.

THE FUTURE of several key integrity and political institutions are in limbo regarding the bill submitted by the President. They include: The National Elections Commission, the General Auditing Commission, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC), the Liberia Revenue Authority(LRA) and the Public Procurement Concessions Commission(PPCC).

GIVING THE CURRENT and future presidents the right to fire at will these institutions could open a can of worms that led Liberia to a bloody and ruthless civil war.

THE HISTORY OF contentious elections is well-documented in Liberia and no political party is aware that the ruling party which is on record for objecting to election results in the past.

ALL THIS comes as the President this week validated reports in recent weeks that the Executive Mansion has been behind the planned impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh. 

THE PRESIDENT, in keeping with Article 67 of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, on Tuesday appointed His Honor J. Boima Kontoe as Ad-Hoc Justice to sit for the hearing and determination of a Writ of Prohibition in the matter brought on behalf of His Honor Kabineh M. Ja’neh, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Liberia- “Petitioner” versus The House of Representatives of the National Legislature, by and through its Speaker, Honorable Bhofal Chambers-“Respondents.” 

THE RUBBER STAMP LEGISLATURE which has demonstrated a knack for passing everything submitted from the presidency will more than likely turn a blind eye to the concerns many are raising about President Weah’s attempts to usurp functions of integrity institutions while diminishing the impact of checks and balances in government.

IN RECENT WEEKS, the Weah Presidency has alienated many Liberians over its decision to grant no objection and single sourcing to several government contracts to companies with strong ties to the Presidency.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA, using the Freedom of Information Act this week, received confirmation from the Public Procurement Concessions Commission that the administration has granted Single Sourcing  to Lebanese national Mohamad Bittar who has been contracted for work on the 14 Military Hospital. Another Lebanese National, Ali Kobiessi of Building Materials Center (BMC) is reportedly contracted to revamp the VIP terminal at the RIA.

BOTH BITTAR AND ALI OF BMC are also said to be involved in construction of several of President Weah’s private properties including the reconstruction of the 9th Street property, the Jamaica Lodge Resort, and what is believed to be his dream house near the Baptist Seminary on the Roberts field highway. Bittar was also awarded the Doe Community road contract. The PPCC informed FrontPageAfrica that the Bittar Construction Company was awarded the contract for the supply of building materials worth US$2,977,230.31 for the construction of the 14 Military Hospital.

IN A CONFIRMATION letter to the FrontPageAfrica, PPCC noted that the Ministry of Defense which requested ‘No Objection to Bittar Construction Company for the supply of building materials, the Ministry assured the PPCC that construction works would be carried out by the Engineering battalion of the Armed Forces of Liberia. 

MR. BITTAR IS ALSO  long-time business partner with the President and multiple sources have hinted to FPA that the President’s business interest with Bittar is listed on his assets declaration filed recently which the Executive Mansion has refused to make public. Despite several efforts by FPA through the Freedom of Information Act, it has been nearly impossible to get access to President’s filing. 

GRANTING SINGLE SOURCING to Bittar is a clear breach of the PPCC laws which states that a procuring entity can only sole source when: 

(a) When only one (1) supplier has the exclusive right to manufacture the goods, carry out the works or perform the services to be procured and no suitable alternative is available; 

(b) For additional deliveries of goods by the original supplier which are intended either as replacement parts for existing goods, services or installations or as the extension of existing goods, services or installations where a change of supplier would compel the Procuring Entity to procure equipment or services not meeting requirements of interchangeability with already existing equipment or services; 

(c) When additional works not included in the initial contract have, through unforeseeable circumstances, become necessary and the separation of the additional works or services from the initial contract would be difficult for technical or economic reasons, among others.

THIS IS BEING COMPOUNDED by new reports reaching FPA that the President has instructed authorities at the Roberts International Airport to grant the business lounge and two shops at the newly-constructed airport to his friend, Angela List, of Ghana.

ALL THIS as President Weah repeatedly stressed the need to include Liberians in the resuscitation of Liberia’s struggling economy. 

THE WEAH-LED government is embarking on a journey less traveled by only a few rulers in recent times. The end result has not been good and is threatening to erase all the gains made in the past decade to restore Liberia on the path of international respectability and good governance.

TODAY, MANY of the country’s international partners are quietly expressing concerns and making some of those known to the powers that be. It appears however that those red flags and advices are falling on deaf ears.

SIMILARLY, concerns raised by many Liberians have so far fallen on deaf ears – to the administration’s own detriment. Two controversial loans panned by critics have been missing in action despite 4-G passage by the national legislature with the Minister of Finance Samuel D. Tweah all but declaring the two loans dead. Just as many predicted, owing to the numerous red flags and questions surrounding those deals, the government appears to be struggling to explain its way out of the embarrassing fallout from the Eton and Ebomaf loans.

AS AN OPPOSITION, the CDC made a lot of noise and took former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to task and even threatened her with impeachment. Today, the current government has shied away from prosecuting the government it says was corrupt, leaving itself open to more dogging questions from an antsy nation yet to receive any good explanation  regarding what many see as a breach of mistrust and so far unfulfilled pledges from President Weah regarding good governance, transparency and accountability.