Liberia: Beware President Weah, There’s No Free Lunch in Politics & Business
DISPELLING REPORTS of his alleged purchase of a US$30 million plane last Saturday, President George Manneh Weah promised that he will never keep Liberians in the dark. “I want you to understand that there’s nothing that will be done here by the leaders that you will not know.”
THE PRESIDENT went on to say that if he decides to buy a plane, his administration would first go after a commercial airliner to benefit all Liberians. “It will be a commercial plane that will take Liberians from here to Guinea, Ghana and Ivory Coast. We’ve been talking to a few people. We need Liberia to be a hub where people can catch a flight – because we are situated in the middle where everybody can come to us. We’ve been approached for our zones to be a hub. We are still in that discussion.”
THE SAD REALITY IS that the administration’s practice over the last few months, since assuming office has been the total opposite.
THE NEW GOVERNMENT can put an end to all the speculations surrounding the President by simply declaring his assets and being more forthcoming with the Liberian people.
SECRECY HAS BEEN a major debacle for the new administration. The lack of transparency and accountability is a major recipe for failure, a recurring theme that has laid the premise for many failed governments before this one.
UNTIL LAST WEEK when FrontPageAfrica made inquiries about speculations that the Presidency had purchased a presidential jet said to be valued at US$30 million dollars, the public was kept in the dark amid murmurs upon murmurs as bystanders and travelers at the Roberts International Airport spotted a mysterious plane parked at the RIA – and routinely seen taking the president on travels.
PRESS SECRETARY MANNAH finally broke the ice when he responded to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry last week, stating the following: “The plane is a private plane being provided to the President to facilitate his travels. It is not owned by the President; neither is it a chartered plane. We have been blessed to have a President who has many friends.”
THE FAILURE of Mr. Mannah to put a name to the President’s friend drew ire from many critics who raised issues of multiple violations of the code of conduct.
THEN CAME SATURDAY when President Weah while addressing an event at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the reports of him allegedly purchasing a US$30 million presidential jet was causing him problems. “This buying plane business is causing trouble,” the President said as he explained that he has a lot of wealthy businesspeople he considered friend, including one from Burkina Faso but did not reveal the name.
PRESIDENT THEN revealed the following without putting a face to his ‘friend’: “The plane that they talking about, I got a friend in Burkina Faso, the managing director of Ebomaf. He said George I have a plane. I see you take the Republic of Cote d’ivoire – that’s good but you also when you going to meetings, you need to also build your prestige. He said when you ready to travel just tell me and I will send the plane to you – and that’s the plane when it comes one day it stays, that’s the plane, that’s the plane they say we buying US$30,000 – I mean US$30 million”.
IT WAS FROM THERE that FrontPageAfrica began digging.
OUR INVESTIGATIVE STORY today offers chilling details about Mr. Mahamadou Gonkougou, the President and CEO of the Burkina Faso-based construction company Ebomaf.
EBOMAF HAS BEEN INVOLVED in road construction projects mainly in French-speaking West Africa – Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Chad, Ivory Coast and Guinea, according to the company’s website.
JEUNEAFRIQUE, the influential French-language pan-African weekly news magazine, recently describe Mr. Bonkoungou, as having forged close ties with many heads of state in West Africa and a key supplier of election funding to candidates eyeing presidencies in the region.
BESIDES THE CONSTRUCTION business, Mr. Bonkoungou also owns the airline, Lisa Transport International from which the Dassault Falcon 900 Ex Easy plane was borrowed to the Liberian President.
ON MONDAY, MR. Bonkoungou confirmed to the West African Democracy Radio(WADR) that he was the one who offered the plane to President Weah but that there were no strings attached.
THE BURKINABE BUSINESSMAN SAID: “Mr. Bonkoungou does not need planes to build roads, building roads is the main activity of the EBOMAF group and it has nothing to do with the friendship between President George WEAH and us. The plane is no longer with him; he had two trips to make so we put it at his disposal so he could make them for free. After his journey, the plane left for other destinations.
MR. BONKOUNGOU also revealed that he also provided plane service for candidate George Weah during the 2017 presidential elections.
JUST AS WE FEARED Mr. Gonkoungou’s ties to road construction has up the ante in the unfolding saga involving financial disclosures, accountability and transparency.
DESPITE MR. GONKOUNGOU’S DENIAL another angle to the story offers room from valid fears and concerns.
THE BUSINESSMAN is said to be currently embroiled in a nasty legal wrangle with the former Prime Minister of Benin, Lionel Zinsou, whom Mr. Bonkoungou has accused of refusing to repay him money loaned Zinsou for his failed 2016 Presidential bid in Benin.
IS PRESIDENT CONFIDENT that this administration will endure the same fate as the former Prime Minister in Benin?
WHAT GUARANTEES ARE there that this administration did not make promises to Mr. Bonkoungou prior to the elections of 2017.
WE FIND IT VERY troubling that both President Weah and his press secretary have failed to acknowledge that gifts of such significant value create an actual or potential conflict of interests, which could lead to awarding of government contracts or influencing of legislation that could directly or indirectly affect the financial material interest of the person providing the gifts, especially if such a person is a businessman who could have a potential interest in business from the government of Liberia.
THERE MAY NOT have been any promises made to Mr. Bonkoungou but it is possible that there may have been. The lack of transparency and accountability gives room to speculations and rumors, two things this government can avoid if it is serious about restoring economic and political sanity to Liberia in the midst of looming uncertainty, rising prices and inflation.
THE WEAH-LED GOVERNMENT can do itself well by avoiding businessmen-bearing gifts in all shapes, forms and sizes. Politics is dirty business and no one gives something for nothing. In the interest of transparency and accountability, it is important to avoid perceptions of conflict of interests to avoid speculations, rumors and the massive political toll that comes with such a territory.