Liberia: Makenneh Keita to be Investigated by Legal Advisor to the President over US$5M Bribery Claims, Not the LACC


MONROVIA – On a rather unusual procedure, Madam Makenneh Keita, Special Projects Coordinator at the Executive Mansion, accused of soliciting kickback in the tone of US$5 million from foreign investors, would be investigated by the Legal Advisor to the President instead of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.

However, the Minister of State for Presidential Affair, Mr. Nathaniel McGill, told the VOA that Ms. Keita works directly for the President, therefore, the President’s lawyer needs to establish if there are facts in the allegation of bribery as alleged by the complainants.

“There is a process in the ministry you have to go through. So, you have to exhaust that before going to the Ministry of Justice. The legal advisor is an internal lawyer of the ministry, and he establishes the facts.  When he established the facts, he advises the president that the matter needs to proceed to that level,” Min. McGill said.

When pushed by James Butty during the interview that there could be no smoke without a fire, he replied, “But when fire is there, we will extinguish the fire and take appropriate action.”

President Weah over the weekend suspended Ms. Keita for the alleged solicitation of bribe and asked her to report the office of the Legal Advisor to the President for investigation.

What Transpired

According to the complainants, three South African, they were invited by Madam Keita to come to Liberia in order to discuss their proposals for power/energy and waste management projects they wanted to undertake in Liberia.

They claimed that their invitation to Liberia came through Cannon Group of Companies which apparently arranged their coming through Madam Keita’s office.

“We had the intention to stay in Liberia for full visa term of 30 days and booked our flights to that effect accordingly. It was our intention to complete site visits and to use the time to gather data on weather patterns and other environmental statistics in order to finalize our presentation to the government of Liberia,” they stated in their complaint.

They stated that they were introduced to Ms. Keita by the company as Minister of Special Projects after which they were asked to excuse the alleged Minister’s office for a private chat between she and the company.

They stated: “After the private meeting between the Alleged Minister and Cannon Group we were called back into the room and then advised that we had to DEPART THE COUNTRY with immediate effect as Immigration officials had NOT granted us a VISA. Despite the Invitation Letter stating clearly “VISA ON ARRIVAL”. 

“We were devastated about this as we had an invitation from the Minister’s Office and could not understand what the reasons were for being so thoroughly dismissed in this manner.” 

The complaint continued:

After a bit of talking back and forth, it was our understanding that the Alleged Minister could NOT meet with us officially as we did not have permission to be in the country and therefore had to leave the country immediately. Her reasons. 

We explained to the Alleged Minister that this would take some time as we had to first check with the travel agent back in South Africa and of course if the flights would cater for that shortened trip as well as the fact that we needed a minimum of 3 days to do the departure covid test as required by international and local laws. 

She (The Alleged Minister) agreed that this would be acceptable period but that we had to inform of the change in flights as soon as possible. We then left the meeting (being driven back via a circuitous route) and returned to the Hotel. At this point it was already too late to change the flights as the travel agent had already closed for the day. 

A few hours later, that same night. Dr Saydee (Cannon Group) and Amos (who we understood was the Ministers Aide) came to my room. I called my fellow director (Mr. Gerhard Dirksen), and we had an informal meeting. The contents of which I discuss below: 

Being very upset about the lack of civility and professionalism being reflected by the Minister and the Department and not really understanding this sudden turn of events, I requested our passports be returned to us right away as we needed to confirm the covid tests and because it is the only form of legal identification, we had with us. We were assured that the passports would be returned to us the next day (being Friday) and that Dr Saydee would attend to this. 

He then stated that in order for us to SIGN any contract with the Minister we would be required to put $5million into a bank account and were told that this would prove beyond doubt our ability to invest in Liberia and would secure us ANY contract. I immediately started arguing about this, as this was NEVER agreed to NOR was it something that we as International Investors would countenance as an acceptable way to do business. I loudly stated that it would NEVER happen that we paid “advance deposits” for ANY business that we do. To say I was shocked and embarrassed that they even thought we would do something like that is very offensive to me and our company and the investors whom I am licensed through and represent. 

I then commented that IF they wanted a payment like that, the GOVERNMENT would need to place a 2% Performance Bond of the contract value in escrow as a token of their good faith. The fact that they thought that was a good idea clearly shows they have NO IDEA on how impossible that would be for Liberia. I said that in Jest, but they took it as a “way forward”. There NEVER was a discussion about MOU, Agreements, or contracts regarding this “2% Performance Bond”. 

They then left the hotel. 

The next morning, first thing, we then “obeyed” the demand of the alleged minister and booked and paid for our flights to get out of the country as soon as possible. And to never return and to caution our Investors and our intentions to warn our associates about doing business in Liberia again. 

We had numerous calls with Dr Saydee requesting our passports back. But to no avail. At this time, we were feeling very intimidated and concerned about our continued safety and about the passports being held back.

I therefore reached out the Liberian Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa to assist and I contacted the South African Council here in Monrovia for assistance to obtain our passports back. 

Our view was that the Government of Liberia is holding us, as international investors, to ransom. 

Later that evening Mr. Williams by happenstance called me to check on me and I then briefly explained the situation to him. He was totally shocked and the horror in his voice was comforting to me. He advised he would stop everything and come to us at the hotel to get to the bottom of the matter. 

After arrival at my hotel room, we explained to him the situation and our impression. Mr. Williams calmed us down and assured us that at no time were we actually DEALING with the minister, that there was NO CHANCE whatsoever that the Liberian Government would behave in this/such a manner and he himself was devastated about the treatment we had received. He placed numerous calls determining the exact nature of the situation. 

During the following days, we wrote an official complaint against the Cannon Group of Dr. Saydee to the Government of Liberia, and we were contacted by The LNP who immediately investigated the matter, the perpetrators of the criminal act were arrested and placed in jail. 

Pres. Weah against Corruption

The Minister of State in his interview with the VOA stated that the appointment of a new Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is an indication of President’s Weah’s commitment towards the fight against corruption.

“The president is very serious in making sure that corruption is delt with. So, not even individuals associated with the president will engage in anything and go with impunity. So, the fact that Mrs. Keita works in the president’s office, in the Ministry of State and she has been complained about, that’s the reason why the president took the action that she is suspended. And an immediate investigation is done by the legal advisor who is the lawyer of the president and of the Ministry of State,” Min. McGill stated.

No Short Cuts

The Minister of State discouraged investors from attempting to bypass the proper procedures which is expressing their interest to invest in Liberia through the National Investment Commission (NIC).

McGill: “One of the things we see in Africa is that all investors coming to the country want to be associated with the president, which is wrong. Investors must learn to follow the procedure. There should be no short cut. Individuals wanting to come to Liberia to invest, Liberia is a free country. You have the right a right to come to invest. When any individual tells that, look, I want to take you to the president, say I am going through the process. You do not need any special favoritism or favor to come and see the president. Once you go through the NIC, and the NIC believes that you are a genuine investor, and there is a need to see the president, the NIC will make sure that you see the president.”