Liberia: Gov’t To Re-Probe MTM Rape Scandal Amid Suspicions From Advocates
Monrovia – The Government of Liberia (GOL) has ordered the More than Me case re-open in order to determine new evidence and further culpability, but advocates are expressing incertitude.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]
Some civil society organizations and women groups have opted to independently work with lines ministries to ensure that roles and responsibilities articulated in the government move are implemented.
In a statement released Wednesday by the Ministry of Information, GOL said several meetings were held with the board of MTM since ProPublica and Times reported the scandal at the American charity.
According to the release, the Ministry of Education will strengthen the monitoring and evaluation, and ensure that the regulation and compliance surrounding all schools are intensified; while Ministry of Health will work to address all health issues relating to the matter.
The Ministry of Labor will investigate to determine whether there was strict adherence to the National HIV/AIDS workplace policy at More Than Me Academy and whether any labor laws were violated, the release said.
“For the Ministry of Youth and Sports, they will lead the anti-stigmatization efforts to ensure the protection of the survivals and other unrelated persons, who may have otherwise been affected,” it added.
The meeting also instructed the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to work on strengthening the implementation of monitoring, compliance, and enforcement to ensure proper processes leading to accreditation of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO); and Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to ascertain if there were any lapses in adherence to the provisions of the Children Law of Liberia, 2011, and will at the same time engage the affected community at the granular level.
While the government’s announcement is expected to allay the growing outrage from many people who have criticized the American charity, several other women organizations in Monrovia have expressed concern.
Naomi Tulay Solanke of Peace and Security Network of Women in ECOWAS said they do not trust GOL position because it was an elected government that failed the survivors.
“I still do not trust government because it was an elected government that failed those girls.” Solanke said.
She wondered as to who will regulate the line ministries, adding that GOL should constitute an independent body locally that will seek justice for survivors.
Madam Solanke recommended that sexual exploitation and abuse policy be implemented in all education facilities along with the grievance committee to channel sexual related complaints.
Siatta Scott Johnson, president of the Female journalist Association of Liberia (FEJAL), told FPA that stepping aside of the MTM founder is not enough.
“The school needs to be temporarily closed because it is a crime scene. Off course there were lapses so I don’t understand what will the Gender Ministry be ascertaining. So, the release should not say the Gender Ministry will ascertain as to if there elapses, If there weren’t any lapses we would not have been at this point,” she said after the government made the announcement Tuesday evening.
The FeJAL president said MFDP should strengthen its monitoring and compliance and at the same time be more proactive with the investigation.
“The girls need that now!! Reopening the case is good but it is not enough they need to remove all the previous lawyers on the case and appoint new lawyers. The Government should also look into the issue allegations of bribing jurors,” she said.
“Finally, they need to get those girls out of the community and provide safety and psychological counseling for them and their families.”
Meanwhile, FPA can confirm that the Ministry of Justice was aware of the magnitude of the sexual abuse but choose to ignore the role played by the charity, only placing its focus on the perpetrator.
Death of the perpetrator meant that the sex victims couldn’t get redress because the state didn’t see any reason why the More than Me should be prosecuted.
The Sexual Gender Base Violence Unit at the Ministry of Justice Head Cllr. John Africanus Gabriel said their action to prosecute the perpetrator alone is to protect the “girls” by keeping the school open.
“Considering the variable, you can’t come out and say you closing down the school, or expel MTM, we were looking at the variables,” Cllr. Gabriel said.
Cllr. Gabriel continued: “If we just go to work and say that we should close down the school, you wouldn’t be hurting MTM but will hurt the Liberian girls, and we were careful.”
Peace and Security Network of Women in ECOWAS recommended that GOL initiates an investigation to determine the culpability of Cllr Gabriel and why he tried to relieve MTM of any liability despite unconvincing evidence there were probable cause that the charity had knowledge of the abuses from the very beginning.
“While these investigations are ongoing, we recommend that he be suspended from his position.
In an exclusive interview, Cllr Gabriel said he is not a policeman but a lawyer, “If the police only arrested Mcintosh Johnson and we prosecuted him and he died in our custody, what else do they want me to do, the crime was reported by MTM, Michelle Spada. She reported it on behalf of Katie, we presented nine witnesses, and we did not see that MTM participated in the commission of the crime.”
“So, they wanted me to revoke the ghost, when the man died the case died, to say that I never paraded Katie and Spada in court I don’t think why they will say so,” said Cllr. Gabriel, who didn’t directly participate in the trial but was speaking as head SGBV unit.
“If anybody is calling for my suspension then they need to prove me wrong, I think I am one of the best criminal lawyers if they want me suspended it left with the government of Liberia.
“One thing I know if the person died the case died, and crime is not transferable. The Liberian people can go for MTM on civil damages, even MTM can sue ProPublica, but to say they are calling for the suspension of Cllr. Gabriel, they must prove why I should be suspended.”
Cllr. Gabriel consented that Katie and Michelle did not testify because they were out of the country.
“No executive from the school testify, the school wasn’t on trial, it was an individual in the school that was at trial, Mcintosh Johnson was the staff of the school that was standing trial.”
Board Member of MTM Quits
With less a day, the Liberian Board Advisory (LAB) constituted a panel to investigate the charity, a member of the board has resigned.
Samuel Sampson told the board that they all have been through a lot and the decision was triggered following family discussions. He asked that the board discontinue immediately everything associated with the organization and him.
“We all have been through a lot over the last few days trying to find ways to keep the future of our girls protected. This has been my commitment since I accepted to join the Liberian board of MTM,” he said.
“However, after consulting my family, friends, and others that I trust, I have made a decision to officially resign from the board. This decision is a tough one but thoughtfully made.”
“In line with this decision, I am asking that everything that associates me with the organization’s activities is discontinued immediately,” he wrote.
‘Suspend MTM License’
The House of Representatives chair on Education and Nimba Representative Johnson Gwaikolo has called for the Ministry of Education to suspend the operating license of MTM until a final determination in the case.
He also requested the Health Ministry to intervene and properly manage the survivors living with HIV and other forms of sexually transmitted diseases.
At the same time, Liberian Feminist forum has requested GOL to immediately revoke the accreditation of More Than Me (MTM) Academy and their management of schools under the Government of Liberia-Ministry of Education’s Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP).