Liberia: Resurrecting Old Wines – Ex-Speaker’s Appointment Undermines President’s Anti-Graft Pledge

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PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH WEAH on Tuesday named Mr. Alex J. Tyler, former Speaker of the House of Representatives as his administration’s representative to Mittal Operating Company in Liberia.

UNDER NORMAL circumstances, the man who was once third in line of succession to the Liberian presidency would have been an obvious choice for the job. But these are not normal circumstances and the former speaker is not just another Liberian being named to a position in government – without baggage.

BESIDES BEING one of several indictees in the controversial Sable Mining bribery saga, the former Speaker of the Lower House was in September 2016, ousted from his position by his own peers through a resolution signed by 49 members of the House of Representatives in keeping with Article 49 of the Constitution which states: “The Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and other officers so elected may be removed from office for cause by resolution of two-thirds majority of the members of the House.”

THE DECISION by the 49 lawmakers was a result of a report from the committee on Rules, Orders and Administration which recommended that, in keeping with the House of Representatives rules 48.1, and 48.3 in the committee report, it was unanimously recommended that Representative Tyler be removed from his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

THE COMMITTEE REPORT is a result of a mandate given the committee by the plenary of the House of Representatives to investigate complaints brought before that body by Representative Henry Fahnbulleh (Unity Party, Montserrado County) and Samuel Korgar of Nimba County who accused lawmaker Tyler of taking bribe and other alleged criminal conducts against his position as a Speaker.

THE ISSUE OF BRIBERY was also a central theme in the charges against the former Speaker in the Sable Mining Saga.

IN JUNE 2016, a grand jury indicted Speaker Tyler along with the chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, Andrew Groves, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials, including Senator Varney Sherman, Richard Tolbert, former head of the National Investment Commission and Ernest C.B. Jones, a former Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy who were all accused of having used their positions to amend Liberia’s public procurement and concessions law.

THE LONDON-BASED watchdog group, Global Witness had reported that Sable attempted to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia by paying bribes to Tyler, Sherman and others. 

ADDITIONALLY, IN FEBRUARY, 2017, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) found the former Speaker Tyler and the current Speaker, Bhofal Chambers to be in violation of ‘conflict of interest’ protocols and ‘violation of article 90, section A, B, & C of the Constitution of Liberia,’ as well as the National Code of Conduct, section 1.3.6.

THE LACC ALSO found former representative Kettehkumeh E. Murray, to be in violation of the Constitution in relation to their shares in the China United Investment Group.

AT THE TIME, the LACC recommended penalties as required in Part 15.1 of the Code of Conduct, which includes “dismissal, removal from office, reprimand, fines, demotion, seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired from abuse of office and interdiction/suspension from duty with half pay.” 

THE TRIO HAD cunningly setup a firm to win the contract for the construction of the Bong County Technical College (BCTC), sending shock waves to Liberians and international stakeholders.

IN APPOINTING THE FORMER Speaker Tuesday, President Weah broke the code and his pledge to Liberia and the world. The President was clear when he assumed the mantle of authority last January, that he would be tough on graft. 

SAID THE PRESIDENT: “I further believe that the overwhelming mandate I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service. I promise to deliver on this mandate. As officials of Government, it is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit amongst our people, we must end it. We must pay civil servants a living wage, so that corruption is not an excuse for taking what is not theirs. Those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people – the law will take its course. I say today that you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

MORE THAN ONE YEAR later, the President on May 29th of this year, once more sounded an alarm on corruption when he declared. “My Fellow Citizens: We intend to intensify our fight against corruption. But as we battle corruption, our fight will be based on the facts and the evidence of corrupt activities that is adduced by reports from audits that have been professionally conducted, rather than mere perceptions and unsubstantiated allegations.”

THE PRESIDENT WENT on to say that his administration is in the process of reviewing of all General Auditing Commission audits over the past 10 years, and will commence legal actions against every person implicated in these audit reports.  “Anyone found culpable will face the full force of the law,” the President said.

WHERE IT GETS confusing for us, is when the President openly, knowingly and purposely flaunt ignorance of the law and his own mandate to appoint a former official who is under indictment.

WE WOULD LIKE to take the President seriously when he acknowledges that his administration is facing many challenges such as managing inflation, creating jobs, and fighting corruption. In the same vein, we are struggling, perhaps too hard to believe the President when he says, he and his administration are committed to democratic principles and good governance.

THE PRESIDENT cannot in one breathe say that he has instructed his Attorney General Frank Musah Dean and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate corruption and irregularities while resurrecting old wines with serious baggage issues weighing heavily and undermining his own professed claims to fight against graft.

EACH AND EVERY DAY and in every way, President Weah and those in his inner circle continue to  embark on a path of bad governance, greed, corruption and serious lack of transparency and accountability.

THE RECENT PROTEST by Liberians under the banner of the Council of Patriots was meant to send a clear message that Liberians are fed up and tired with repetition of the same old vices that led Africa’s oldest republic to a brutal civil war.

THESE VERY VICES, if not corrected are recipe for chaos and conflict. Liberia has been down this road before – and the experience was very bad. For the sake of Liberia’s unborn generation, and those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder, it is important that the government open its ears to the voice of the people. 

HISTORY HAS had a laundry list of leaders and rulers who refused to listen to the voice of the people,  a practice aptly captured in Proverbs 28:13-14: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”

THIS IS IN no way a condemnation or caution against calamity but a strong warning to President Weah and his lieutenant to avoid throwing caution to the wind. Liberia and Liberians have suffered too much, let those at the helm of power and enjoying the President’s ears, come to their senses before it’s too late.

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